Southern Africa Jewish Genealogy SA-SIG
Formal South African Sources
Editor: Dr Saul Issroff
Copyright © 1999 Saul Issroff, Mike Getz, SAfrica SIG
and Jewishgen Inc.
Revised: 9 December 1999
Department of Home Affairs
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All birth, marriage and death certificates as well as immigration papers are kept here. Details such as forename, surname, date of birth, death or marriage, ID number, and so forth, should be provided.
The documents available from the Department of Home Affairs are:
- Birth Certificates
- Marriage Certificates
- Death Certificates
Approximate commencing dates for the registration of Births, marriages and deaths in the various provinces is as follows:
|Orange Free State
The facilities, files and records of the Department of Home Affairs
are not accessible or available to private sector genealogists and
researchers. No index is available to the public, but applications
can be made for copies of birth, marriage and death certificates.
Two types of certificate:
- Abridged certificates with limited personal information.
- Full certificates are more useful and include details of parents, dates and places, etc.
and should always be obtained. Official application forms can be completed and handed in at any local Department of Home Affairs
office within South Africa.
Outside South Africa mail requests to the Department of Home Affairs in Pretoria, or to
a South African Consulate. Payment can usually be made in local currency at a consulate.
Master of the Supreme Court
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The documents available at the Master of the Supreme Court are:
Probate or Estate Files have:
- A death notice
- A last will and testament
- The distribution account of the estate
- Commencing dates for the estate files kept at the various Masters Offices
|Orange Free State
* Eastern Cape Only. Information passed on to the Archives for storage may lead to a
change in these dates.
Prior to the above dates the estate files are kept in the relevant Archives Department.
The function of the Masters Office is to:
- Administer the liquidation and distribution of the estates of deceased persons
- Administer trust property given under the control of any person by a deceased person
- Administer the property of minors and persons under curatorship
- Administer derelict estates
- Regulate the rights of beneficiaries under mutual wills made by any two or more persons
There are four provincial offices and one office presided over by an Assistant Master
at Kimberley, whose area of jurisdiction is that of the Griqualand West Local Division of
the Supreme Court. The provincial offices are at the seats of the provincial divisions of
the Supreme Court, namely, Pretoria in the Transvaal; Bloemfontein in the Orange Free
State; Pietermaritzburg in Natal; and Cape Town in the Cape Province.
The Masters Office is an office of supervision and also an office of record. Complete information is filed regarding every estate within the jurisdiction, and, with
certain exceptions, any person may at any time during office hours inspect any document
and have a certified copy made of any document on payment of the relevant fee.
Public access to files is only available after the estate has been wound up.
Not all deceased persons have estate files. Estate files are not opened for those who
owned little or no assets. These very important documents give much information about the
deceased including personal details, those of his/her spouse(s), children and other
beneficiaries. Addresses often also give clues to the researcher about where to find
relatives of the deceased. Note that many people with British Nationality also filed wills
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There are archives depots in Pretoria, Cape Town, Bloemfontein, Durban,
Pietermaritzburg and Port Elizabeth; responsible for custody of archives and other
documents relevant to the province in which they are situated.
The Central Archives Depot in Pretoria have the archives of central government
departments. The Central Archives Depot is housed in the same building as the Transvaal
Archives Depot and the two depots share the same facilities.
Thus several central State and regional provincial archives exist. Few professional
researchers are available and there are no specialist researchers in Jewish genealogy
A central computerised database exists. A request can be made for a listing of a
particular name at the reading rooms of the Human Sciences Research Council and the
individual regional archives. These listings may be very informative giving vital
statistics (Births, Marriages, Deaths), legal matters, passport applications,
naturalisations, wills and probates. A printout will provide direction to where the
particular documents are housed. The staff are extremely helpful and will deal with postal
The documents available at an Archives depot include:
- The correspondence files, registers and other documents of government offices and the
offices of local authorities that are, or were, located in the provinces concerned
- Photographs, Maps and official publications
- Microfilms of documents housed in the depot concerned
- The Estate Files before those dates listed under The Master of the Supreme Court for the
Most SA Consular representatives are often helpful in forwarding inquiries and will
take payment in foreign currency.
- State Archives
Cape Town: Roeland Street (in the old Roeland Street jail, near the top/south end, between Solan St and McKenzie St, below the intersection with De Waal Drive and Jutland Avenue).
Telephone: 021-462 4050. Facsimile: 021-465 2960.
Hours (as at 7 June 2004): Mon-Wed: 0800-1600. Thu: 0800-1900. Fri: 0800-1600. Sat-Sun: closed.
The Cape Town Archives are listed in the Telkom telephone directory for Cape Town 2003-2004 under "Arts, Culture, Science & Technology" on page 1288 in the Government blue pages at the end of the directory.
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South Africa must be one of the few countries where census enumeration records have
been destroyed (with the exception of an 1857 Cape Census)! The statistics from each
census have been kept. However, voters rolls are available in certain archives. The
State Archives in Cape Town advises that the Cape Colony Publications contain census lists
for 1875, 1891, 1904 and 1911 only. These documents provide collective population
statistics for various areas throughout the Cape but do not specify names of individuals.
Places of birth are mentioned pertaining to the number of people resident in different
areas born outside South Africa. Blue books and statistical Registers, part of the
archives of the Colonial Office (CO) Great Britain cover the period 1821-1809.
The Orange Free State has census reports taken 31 March 1880, 1890 and 17th
April 1904. These have information and statistical data on birthplaces, ages, education,
religions, occupations and sickness and infirmities of the inhabitants. No information
regarding relationships of individuals is given.
Old republican and colonial voters rolls of 1884, 1888, 1889, 1893, 1895, 1896, 1897,
1898, 1899, 1900 and 1907 are also available. These have surnames, first names,
occupations and places of residence. Some post 1910 rolls are also available. These are
accessible for personal research and photocopies can be made.
Census and Tax Registers for Transvaal: 1873 and 1890, 1904 - Transvaal Archives.
census and Tax Records for South Africa as a whole are in the Department of Statistics,
Pretoria. A Johannesburg census was held on 15 July 1896.
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Naturalisation certificates: State Archives have copies of Naturalisation certificates
and background papers to applications (copy certificates may be obtained by mail but the
background papers are only available to personal researchers). The majority of Jewish
Immigrants (Lithuanian males) applied for Naturalisation and this was usually granted.
A register of Jews arriving at the Cape is in the archives of the Jewish Board of Deputies in Johannesburg. This deals with naturalisation applications in
the Cape between 1904-1906. The board had to investigate aliens prior to naturalisation
approval. These 1236 applicants represented 6.5% of the Jewish population of the Cape at
that time. Details of birthplace, occupation, age, length of residence and addresses are
given. Over half were born in Lithuania, 30% from Kurland (Latvia) and 10% gave Russia as
an origin (mainly Minsk and Dvinsk). A quarter were under 21years of age. A similar
register exists for the 1920s in Cape town and in Johannesburg.
Some Jews already
had British nationality and did not need any assistance from the Board of Deputies. There
are Mormon FHL microfilms (see appendix) with files on Naturalisations (citizenship)
1865-1910, 1883-1908, lists 1910, 1901-5, 1909-11, Foreigners in Port Elizabeth
1905-approx. 1910, Naturalisation in the Cape of Good Hope 1904-1908, 1909-1911 The
majority of these naturalisations were Jews of Lithuanian origin.
Shipping and Passenger Records
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Jewish immigrants came by ship with the major port of entry being at Cape Town, although a minority entered at Port Elizabeth, Durban and Lourenco Marques (now Maputo). The major waves of migration occurred from 1895 onwards. Shipping agents, Knie and Co. and Spiro and Co., had sub-agents in shtetls who accepted bookings for passage to South Africa. Many of the Jews embarked initially at the ports of Libau and were transported on small cargo boats under crude conditions to England. A smaller number passed through Hamburg or Bremen. Many came first to Grimsby or London and were taken to the Poor Jews Temporary Shelter in Leman Street in the East End of London. Many records of the inmates of the Shelter are available. Some assistance in the form of board, lodging, medical advice and advice on travel was given by the Shelter. In one year from Nov 1902, 3600 out of 4500 inmates went onto SA. From here most went on the Union Castle Line to the Cape. In 1902 the fare was £10.10.0 (ten guineas)- more than the fare to America. (For a more detailed discussion of these and shipping records see the article by Prof. A Newman SHEMOT Vol. 1:3, 1993. This is the Journal of the Jewish Genealogy Society of Great Britain.
Periods covered by the Register Volumes
Vol. From 29 May 1896 to 11 Sep 1914 with some missing years
The Supplementary Registers: Five so-called supplementary registers have been found which, for unknown reasons, duplicate or partially duplicate some of the entries in the main registers.
The Poor Jews Temporary Shelter Database is a project of Professor Aubrey Newman and Dr. Graham Smith, both of the Department of History in University of Leicester, in the United Kingdom. Because many of the people that passed through the Shelter between the years of 1895 and 1914 came to South Africa, the project is of considerable potential interest to the South African Jewish community, and has been financially supported by the
Kaplan Centre at the University of Cape Town.
Also Poor Jews Temporary Shelter database.
Emigration Records from Great Britain
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Ships Passenger Lists at the Public Records Office, Kew, London are stored under
reference BT 26 Passenger Lists, Inwards, 1878-1888 and 1890-1960, these lists give the
names of all passengers arriving in the United Kingdom where the ships voyage began
at a port outside Europe and the Mediterranean Sea. Names of passengers who boarded these
ships at European ports and disembarked in the UK are be included in the lists. Passenger
lists for ships whose voyages both began and ended within Europe (including the UK and the
Mediterranean Sea) are not included.
A small collection of lists exists for the years between 1878 and 1888. The continuous
run begins in 1890. They have not been microfilmed, many are in fragile condition and
searching can be very time-consuming. No indexes of names exist, and most lists are not
alphabetical. The information given varies, but may include age, occupation and sometimes
a proposed address in the UK. Lists are arranged monthly by port of arrival. To have any
realistic hope of finding a specific passengers name, a researcher must know at
least the approximate date of arrival and the port.
Another set of records, BT 27 Passenger Lists, Outwards, 1890-1960, give the names of
all passengers leaving the UK where the ships eventual destination was a port
outside Europe and the Mediterranean Sea. Names of passengers who disembarked at European
ports from these ships will be included in these lists. Passenger lists for ships whose
voyages both began and ended within Europe (including the UK and the Mediterranean Sea)
are not included.
Lists earlier than 1890 have not survived. Post-1890 lists have not been microfilmed,
many of them are in fragile condition and searching them can be very time consuming. There
are no indexes of names, and most lists are not alphabetical. The information given
varies, but can include age, occupation, last address and proposed destination. They are
arranged monthly by port of departure. To use them, a researcher must know at least the
approximate date of departure and the port to have any realistic hope of finding a
passengers name. BT 32 Registers of Passenger Lists, date from 1906. They include
names of ships for which passenger lists exist in BT 26 and BT 27. The entries are not
complete, however; the earliest years have entries for a few ports only, and there are
omissions. For readers hoping to find the name of a passenger in BT 26 or BT 27, they are
of limited use and may be helpful only if the name of the ship is known. They do not
include names of passengers or the destination of the ships entered in the registers.
A photographic archive of all Union Castle ships (no passenger records) exists at the
Cape Archives Department, Cape Town.
Hamburg is the only European port for which complete passenger lists exist for the
years 1850-1934. The lists document more than 5.5 million persons and include sailing's to
other European ports and to overseas locations in North America, the Caribbean, South
Africa. Each passengers hometown (place of origin, not necessarily birthplace) is
included. The lists are alphabetically arranged, 1850-1854, and indexed, 1855-1934. The
Family History Library has microfilms of these materials.
Burials and Cemeteries
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Death Certificates (as above)
Chevra Kadisha records: One of the unifying movements amongst the Jewish Community in
SA was the development of burial societies or Chevra Kadisha. These groups not only dealt
with burials but with general aid to the sick and needy. They exist in all main centres
and records from many of the older country societies still exist in Board Of Deputies
library and the Kaplan Centre. The IAJGS Cemetery database has records from all
Johannesburg, Pretoria, Bloemfontein, some Cape Town cemeteries and Bulawayo. Partial
listings of Aliwal North, Port Elizabeth and Rustenburg exist.
Much material is now part of the IAJGS
Cemetery Database project:
The Johannesburg Jewish Helping Hand and Burial Society (Chevra Kadisha). The majority
of Jews have been buried in large cities. Johannesburg probably accounts for over 75% of
all burials. The earliest record is that of Albert Rossetenstein in May 1887. So records
start in 1887 for Braamfontein cemetery, Brixton in 1914 and West Park in 1942. Burials
still occasionally take place in the two older cemeteries. Registers are kept on the
premises but in addition in 1980 the Mormons were given permission to microfilm burial
records. LDS Film no 1259151 refers to the Braamfontein cemetery. The Chevra Kadisha have
a database of every burial in West Park, the major cemetery since approximately 1942. At
present about 700 burials take place each year in Johannesburg.
Smaller country communities have largely vanished and the cemeteries are largely
maintained by the local councils. The LDS (FHL) microfilms have some details on a few of
these, but very little specifically Jewish. The FHL also have microfilms relating to some
cemeteries. See appendix..
The records available are:
- Tombstone Inscriptions
- Burial Registers
Tombstone inscriptions provide a wealth of information in that they provide information
such as date and place of birth and death, age of the deceased at death, place of origin,
names of other persons related to the deceased, besides the names, maiden surname and
pet names of the deceased.
The limitation is that the availability of the information is dependent on the location
of the tombstone and only for legible inscriptions.
Many rural or farm cemeteries are outside the jurisdiction of municipalities.
The National Council of the Genealogical Society- Cemetery Recording Project hopes to
documents the headstone inscriptions of all the cemeteries in South Africa, including
remote rural farm cemeteries. Information is indexed by cemetery, and published by the
State Archives Service. Copies are available at all archives depots and at various
libraries and institutions
The published indices can supplement your research by providing a quick reference, to
ascertain where a person is buried and thus at which provincial archive depot his death
notice is held; or where or when the person was born. The indices are particularly helpful
for children who died at a young age and for whom there is rarely a death notice.
Burial Registers rarely provide more information than the persons full names, his
date of burial and his age at death. Burial registers only exist for cemeteries within
municipal boundaries and are of course the property of the town council concerned.
These registers become invaluable when a person is buried in a grave
that doesnt have a headstone and the register is the only means of identifying where
and when he was buried.
A growing number of cemetery records are being entered into the IAJGS cemetery database
project. The larger cities and some adjacent towns are not necessarily included in this list.
For details of these cemeteries contact the Chevra Kadisha (burial society) in the
relevant city. This is a list of town names, with only CP, or inter or no additional information.
- CP = Pictures taken of every grave in these cemeteries.
- Inter = Jews interburied.
||HEIDELBURG (GAUTENG): CP
||PRETORIA: Hebrew Block D Rebecca
||RAMSGATE / MARGATE:
|BEAUFORT WEST: CP
||KING WILLIAMS TOWN: CP
||RUSTENBURG: old and new
||SOMERSET EAST: CP
|BLOEMFONTEIN: three cemeteries.
||SPRINGBOK / OKEIP: CP
||KROONSTAD: old and new
|CARNARVON: 1 Inter
||LOUIS TRICHARDT: CP
||MESSINA: old new
||VICTORIA WEST: CP
|DE AAR: CP
||MIDDELBURG (CAPE): CP
||ODENDAALSRUS: old new
||PIETERMARITZBURG: old and new
||PIET RETIEF: CP
|GRAHAMSTOWN: old and new CP
||PILGRIMS REST: old CP new CP
||ZEERUST: old CP and new CP