by Ann Rabinowitz
This past September 2019, a new Facebook page was created by Michelle and Stephan Lurie that focuses on Jewish genealogy in South Africa. It is called “South African Jews – Tracing Our Ancestors” and has much of interest for South African researchers.
One of the first things covered was how to use the South Africa Jewish Year Books. A very helpful resource for finding relatives is the “Who’s Who” section of these Year Books. The page pictured below is from the 1929 issue and it shows mostly the Lurie family residents in South Africa.
The people who appear in the Year Books either submitted their bios or their family or organizations did. They were mainly the prominent or active Jews of the country. You may also search JewishGen’s South Africa database, which contains entries from several of the Year Books. There is a more detailed explanation of the Year Books there:
In addition, the 1976-1977 Year Book contains a section about the South African Jews who settled in Israel and also those who fell in battle there.
Apart from the online “Who’s Who” listings, there are no databases for the rest of the information in the Year Books. The only way to obtain that data, other than finding a library that carries the books, is to inquire on the South African Jews – Tracing Our Ancestors Facebook page.
For instance, another important aspect of the Year Books is the listing of Jewish communities and organizations, and the people involved. An example is the town of Bethlehem, which is shown below.
Other interesting entries in the Year Books include discussions of individuals and corporations involved in particular professions or businesses, advertisements for businesses, and historical discussions of South African Jewry.
Using the Year Books is a good way to start your South African Jewry research, and then graduating to the South African Jewish Rootsweb and the National Archives of South Africa, which will provide more specific background for your family roots research.
Combine this research with asking about your families on the above-mentioned South African Facebook page and on the JewishGen Discussion Groups, and by reviewing the information on JewishGen’s Southern Africa Jewish Genealogy Special Interest Group (SA-SIG) webpage (https://www.jewishgen.org/SAfrica/). Then, perhaps, by adding a bit of DNA matching capability, you will be all set to find what you require and break down your brick walls.
For those researchers who are looking for their ancestors who came from the Baltic States, such as Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania, don’t forget to use these South African resources, as you may certainly find unknown or lost branches of your families. It is well-known that South Africa attracted many families from the Baltic, as well as from Poland, Ukraine and Germany. Many Sephardic families also settled in South Africa.
Born in Manchester, England, genealogist Ann Rabinowitz is a resident of South Florida and has been involved in genealogical pursuits since the age of ten. A prolific writer, her articles have been published on the JewishGen Blog, in numerous Jewish genealogy journals, on Facebook, and in various newspapers.