COPYRIGHT 1999 Anne Lehmkuhl
All rights reserved
Updated on 09 January 2008

A brief history of European settlement in South Africa
Beginning your research
Sources of information
South African genealogical research service
Maps of South Africa
South African Timeline
Effective use of search engines for genealogy


The first permanent European settlement was established by the Dutch on 06 April 1652, when they established a garrisoned trading station at Table Bay. On that April day, Jan van Riebeeck arrived with 3 ships and a company of 90 men, women and children. In 1657 nine of these settlers established a settlement in the Liesbeeck Valley. They grew crops to supply the Cape and the many passing ships. As shipping traffic increased around the Cape, these farmers needed more labour to replenish the passing ships. Jan van Riebeeck brought in slaves from places such as Java, Madagascar and Angola to work on the farms. The Cape Coloured people started emerging due to mixed marriages between Europeans, Asians and the indigenous peoples.

The Dutch, through the Dutch East India Company, governed the expanding Cape Colony from 1652 to 1795. During this period many European settlers arrived, including the French Huguenot refugees (about 200, mostly young and married) in 1688.

The first British occupation of the Cape Colony was from 1795 to 1803. Between 1803 and 1806, the colony was ruled by the Batavian Republic. The British ruled the Cape again from  1806 to 1823. During this period, missionaries started arriving, at first only from the Morovian Brethren and the London Missionary Society, but later they were joined by German, Dutch, Danish and Flemish missionaries. From 1820 to 1824, about 4 500  immigrants arrived from Ireland, England and Scotland. These immigrants are referred to as  the 1820 British Settlers. In 1836, a group of earlier Dutch settler families started migrating into the interior of the country. This migration is referred to as the Great Trek and it led to the formation of the two Boer republics, the Orange Free State and the Transvaal. The diamond fields in Kimberley were discovered in 1869. The gold fields in the Transvaal were discovered in 1886. These discoveries brought an influx of fortune seekers.

Prior to the Union of South Africa in 1910, the country consisted of:
- the colony of the Cape of Good Hope
- the colony of Natal
- Zululand (which included Tongaland), administered as part of Natal
- the Transvaal (South African Republic)
- the Orange River Colony (Orange Free State)

The colony of the Cape of Good Hope, included the following areas:
- South or Little Namaqualand, now Namaqualand
- Bushmanland
- East Griqualand (Adam Kok's Country), ceded to the British by Faku in 1861, annexed to the Cape Colony in 1879
- Griqualand West, the territory of Chief Nicholas Waterboer and the Griquas, originally containing the districts of Klipdrift, Pniel and Griqua Town. Proclaimed British on 27 October 1871, a territory governed by Lt-Gov. Sir Henry Barkly until it was placed under the control of the Governor of the Cape Colony on 20 August 1872, and was annexed to the Cape in 1885 when it became a province of that Colony.
- Part of British Bechuanaland which was annexed in 1895 to the Cape Colony, as the Districts of Gordonia, Vryburg and    Mafeking.
- British Kaffraria (1847 - 1866) (from the Keiskamma River to the Kei River)
- The Transkei was incorporated into the Cape as a separate territory in 1879. It consisted of Fingoland and Idutywa reserve, which were annexed in 1879, and Galekaland, which was conquered in 1877-78.
- Pondoland, part of the later Republic of the Transkei but earlier referred to as a separate region
- Tembuland, a province under the jurisdiction of the Ministerial Division of the Secretary for Native Affairs, consisting of Tembuland Proper, Emigrant Tembuland and Bomvanaland. Tembuland Proper was ceded by Gangelizwe in 1875. Emigrant Tembuland was conquered in 1858. Bomvanaland was occupied in 1878.
- Walvis Bay, which was ceded to Namibia in 1993.
- Lesotho, called Basutoland or British Basutoland by the Cape authorities, until 1884 when it became the Basutoland Protectorate
- St. John's River Territory was purchased in 1878 from Nquiliso and annexed to the Cape Colony in 1884
- The Northern Border, proclaimed as part of the Colony in 1847.
- Walfish Bay (later Walvis Bay), annexed in 1884

After Union in 1910, the four colonies were called: the Transvaal, the Orange Free State, Natal, Cape Province

The Transkei, which included Tembuland and Pondoland, became known as The Republic of Transkei.
East Griqualand remained part of the Cape Province but was incorporated into Natal in 1983.
The Colony of Natal, subdivided into counties and districts, and Zululand, formed a political unit until Union, when Zululand, including Tongaland, became a part of Natal. Natal and Zululand were separated by the lower reaches of the Tugela River and the Buffalo River, until the Utrecht and Vryheid areas were annexed by the Transvaal (later South African) Republic. At a later stage these two districts became known as Northern Natal.

At the end of the Anglo-Boer War (1899-1902) the magisterial districts of the Transvaal were:
Waterberg, Zoutpansberg, Rustenburg, Marico, Lichtenburg, Potchefstroom, Pretoria, Krugersdorp, Middelburg, Lijdenburg (Lydenburg), Heidelburg, Standerton, Carolina, Ermelo, Wakkerstroom, Bloemhof, Wolmaransstad, Piet Retief, Utrecht, Vrijheid (Vryheid)

After 1902 the Districts of Utrecht and Vrijheid (The New Republic) were annexed to Natal, and became known as Northern Natal.
Sekukuniland is a territory in the eastern part of Northern Transvaal.

In 1994, South Africa was again re-defined (see map link at bottom of this page):
The Transvaal and Cape were divided into a number of smaller provinces. Part of the Piet Retief district of the former Transvaal province between the Pongola river and Swaziland was included in Natal, which was renamed KwaZulu-Natal. The 9 current provinces are:

Gauteng (mostly the Pretoria-Witwatersrand-Vereeniging area)
Northern Province (mostly the old Northern Transvaal)
Mpumalanga (mostly the old Eastern Transvaal)
Northwest Province
Northern Cape
Western Cape
Eastern Cape
Free State

In 1961 South Africa left the Commonwealth  and became a republic. Today, South Africa is once again a member of the Commonwealth.

Genealogy is the study of the descent of families and persons from an ancestor or ancestors. Genealogy creates a skeleton of the family and family history puts flesh onto the bones of the family. Genealogical research has to be conducted logically, step-by-step, gathering information so that the answer to one question provides a clue to the next question. ALWAYS start with yourself and work backwards. Genealogical research is time consuming and can cost money. The information gathered is kept on specific types of charts and forms on paper or on computer.

Before starting, decide on what it is that you want to achieve. Do you want to trace all your ancestors on your paternal (father's) side? Do you want to trace all your ancestors on your maternal (mother's) side? Do you want to trace all your ancestors on both your paternal and maternal lines? Do you want to trace all the descendants of a common progenitor, perhaps the first person to arrive in South Africa with your surname? Only once you have decided what you want to achieve can you decide what to look for. Always START WITH YOURSELF and work backwards to you parents, grandparents, great-grandparents, etc... working from the known into the unknown. This sequence of starting with yourself and working back in time should be followed even if you want to try and prove a link to a famous person or your descent from a common progenitor or from a particular group. Nothing could be worse than trying to trace all the descendants of a particular person and then finding out that you are not even related. Each generation doubles up - two parents, four grandparents, eight great-grandparents and so on.

Try to find out if anyone else has researched your family. Even if you don't find someone else who has researched your family, you should keep on checking, particularly as your research progresses. Make contact with others who are researching your or an allied family with a view to sharing information.

Always note the source of information that you record or copy, and date it. If the material is from a book, write the
name, author, publisher, year of publication, ISBN, and the library where you found it. Make photocopies or keep backups of all letters and e-mail messages you send. Don't procrastinate in responding to letters or messages you receive. Make frequent backups of your computer disks. Store your backups and photocopies of your irreplaceable documents somewhere other than your home.

To keep information you collect in a logical manner, you should record the data on a Pedigree chart and Family Group sheet.
You can also use Descendant and Ancestral charts. Genealogical software programmes make it easy to store and retrieve information and to print it out in the correct format. Three programmes that are very popular: PAF, Brother's Keeper, and Family Tree Maker.
Remember that the spelling of surnames may not have remained constant over time. When recording surnames always write them in CAPITAL LETTERS. Many surnames can be mistaken for first names. Record dates in dd.mmm.yyyy format (e.g. 25 Aug 2000). Place names should be recorded in full, including parish or township, county or district, state or province, and country. Use the place names as they were at the time of the event, and add a note if the place name has changed or no longer exists. Double-check all dates to make sure they are reasonable.

Look for information at home. This can include: personal knowledge; parents' knowledge; grandparents' knowledge; other relatives including brothers and sisters, cousins, nephews, nieces, uncles and aunts, etc...; others who may have associated with the person/s being researched; family bibles; certificates of birth, marriage or death; baptism or christening certificates; diaries; old letters; work records; school records; military service records; pension records; baby books; photo albums; newspaper clippings; obituaries; copies of wills, deeds and mortgages; citizenship or naturalization papers; passports; etc...
Talk to all your older relatives (before they're all gone). Once you've covered these bases, you are ready to move onto official and other records.


Family history research involves 6 basic steps.

Step 1. Remember Your Ancestors
Begin by remembering information about each member in your family that will identify that person. Each person can be identified by personal information, such as the following:
Other members of the family
Dates and places of important events such as birth, marriage, and death
Ancestral village

Get forms or computer programs you can use to record your family information. They make the task of recording and organizing easier.
If you prefer writing information on paper, you will need:
Pedigree Chart — A pedigree chart lets you list your pedigree (your parents, grandparents, great grandparents, and so on)
Family Group Record — A family group record lets you list an entire family and their information. You will need several copies.

If you prefer using a computer, download the free programme Personal Ancestral File, or try Brother's Keeper which is shareware and very easy to use for beginning searchers.
Record the information you remember about your family on the forms or in the family history programme.
First fill out a form for your own family, and then work back to your parents, grandparents, etc...
You can quickly see what you know and what information is missing or incomplete.

Step 2. Use Sources in Your Home
Look for sources in your home that might contain the missing or incomplete family information. Useful sources include:
birth, marriage and death certificates
family bibles
funeral programmes
wedding announcements
family registers
ancestral tablets

Add this information to your pedigree charts and family group records.
Record the sources of the information. This helps you and others know where the information came from.

Step 3. Ask Relatives for Information
Make a list of other relatives and the family information they may have.
Contact the relatives — visit, call, write, or e-mail them.
Be sure to ask specifically for the information you would like. (For example, "Do you know when Aunt Jane was born?").
Add the information to your pedigree charts and family group records.
Record the names of the relatives who gave you the information.

Once you have filled out family group records and pedigree charts with the information your family has, you are ready to look for information in other records.

Step 4. Choose a Family or Ancestor You Want to Learn More About
Look for missing or incomplete information on your pedigree chart and family records.
Select a family or ancestor with missing or incomplete information.
Start with the generations closest to you, and work your way back. Usually, it is easier to find information for a family member or ancestor born in a recent period.

Step 5. See if Someone Else Has Already Found the Information
A common mistake is to gather every reference to the surname even if the person is not clearly a relative. Stick to your direct lines in the beginning. Search for other researchers into your family history - on the Internet and off-line.

Step 6. Search Records for Information about Your Ancestor
This can be original records, such as birth records, based on where the person lived and the time of his or her birth, marriage, or death.

Typical information that is required:
1. Full names and Surnames of principal family member.
2. Dates and Places of : birth, death and marriages for all.
3. Details of spouse
4. Details of children
5. Details of parents

For helpful e-books on South African roots, see Generations - the book , and Routes to Roots


This government department acts as Registrar of births, marriages and deaths. Approximate commencing dates for the official registration of births, marriages and deaths in the various provinces is as follows:
Orange Free State

The public has no direct access to the records held by the Department of Home Affairs in Pretoria. The facilities, files and records of the Department of Home Affairs are not open to the public or researchers. There is no index for perusal by the public. The public may submit applications for copies of birth, marriage and death certificates. Two types of certificates are available - an abridged certificate and a full certificate. For genealogical purposes, always request FULL certificates, as they contain more details. Within South Africa, application can be made at any Department of Home Affairs office. To apply for certificates from outside South Africa one must do so through the nearest South African Embassy, Consulate or High Commission.  There is a charge associated with obtaining copies of these certificates. The Department of Home Affairs should not be your first choice when researching South African births, marriages or deaths for family history purposes. The Department is not attaining an acceptable level of service to the public, and most importantly, South African certificates are not as useful to family history research as in other countries. Rather try other sources first. The South African National Archives has some marriage and death registers older than 20 years, for some areas of the country, although the issue of official certificates can only be done by the Department of Home Affairs. The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (LDS) / Mormom Church, through its genealogical department, has microfilmed a number of South African civil registration records, which can be consulted at their Family History Centres. Not all Centres have the microfilms in stock - they may have to be ordered from the country's main Centre or from Salt Lake City, Utah.

These offices hold Estate files, which contain a death notice, a last will and testament, and the liquidation and distribution account. The purpose of the Master's 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, and to 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: Pretoria in the Transvaal; Bloemfontein in the Orange Free State; Pietermaritzburg in Natal; and Cape Town in the Cape Province. The Master's Office keeps information filed regarding every estate within his 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 fees. If the estate has not yet been wound up, the public do not have access to that file. Not all deceased persons have estate files. Estate files are not opened for those who owned little or no assets. The documents give information about the deceased including personal details, those of his/her spouse(s), children and other beneficiaries. Addresses often also give clues about where to find relatives of the deceased, while wills are valuable for signatures. It must be noted that the death notice is a legal document which is filled in after the death of a person. If correctly completed, it contains full names of the deceased, place and date of birth, names of deceased's parents and his /her children's names. Commencing dates for the estate files kept at the various Master's Offices are:
Cape 1959 onwards
Grahamstown (Eastern Cape only) 1962 onwards
Natal 1975 onwards
Transvaal 1977 onwards
Orange Free State 1951 onwards
1957 onwards

The above dates change as information is passed on to the Archives for storage. Before the above dates the Estate files are kept in the relevant Archives. Since 2004, the Pretoria Master's Office has only handled estates for the provinces of Gauteng, Mpumalanga and North West Province. Since January 2004, Limpopo province has had its own Master's Office. Mpumalanga province was set to get its own Master's Office from 2005 or 2006.

There are archive repositories in Pretoria, Cape Town, Bloemfontein, Durban and Pietermaritzburg. They are responsible for the custody of the archives and other documents that have a bearing on the province in which they are situated. The National Archives in Pretoria houses the archives of central government departments and the Transvaal Archives Repository. The documents available at an Archives repository include: 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; microfilms; and Estate files before the dates listed under The Master of the Supreme Court, for the various Provinces. Each Archives Repository has a library with books of a genealogical and historical nature, as well as microfilm readers.
In many instances photocopying restrictions apply to earlier estate files to prevent damage to them. Researchers can transcribe the details from the estate file.
Microfilms are also available through Family History Centres of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints (Mormons).
Death notices (note: not the same as death certificates) for the Cape started in 1834, Northern Cape 1871, OFS 1836, Transvaal 1873, and Natal 1840. The death notice is a legal document and forms part of the deceased's estate file, which also includes, where available, the last will, an inventory of the deceased's estate and the final liquidation and distribution account. Death notices are not available for every person who died, it usually depended on the size/value of the estate and/or other legal matters.
Due to shortages of staff and funds, the Archive Repositories rarely reply to enquiries. To get copies of Archive documents, the best way is for someone to access them in person or using a reputable genealogical researcher with extensive knowledge of South African records.

CHURCH RECORDS  (Baptisms, marriages & deaths)
Until 1778 the Dutch Reformed Church (Nederduitse Gereformeerde Kerk or NGK) was the only official church in South Africa. This church's records date from 1665. The next oldest church is the Lutheran Church with records dating from 1778. The Anglican Church records date from 1806. The Methodist Church dates from 1816, the Presbyterians from 1824, the Church of England from 1870 and the Catholic Church from 1837. The Nederduitse Hervormde Kerk has records from 1842 and the Gereformeerde Kerk (Dopper) from 1859. Church records are the oldest records preceding the information available from the Department of Home Affairs. Some churches keep records of burials performed from the church or of persons buried on church property. Church Minute books can have varied information of genealogical interest, depending entirely on the situation. You can request copies of church register entries from the church but not all churches have a central repository and many are kept at parish level. The NGK Archives are in Cape Town. The Methodist registers and English registers are kept at the Cory Library in Grahamstown. Wits University has many Anglican registers.
In the earlier days, most baptisms took place in the NGK as there was no English church established at that time. For example, in the NGK in Middelburg (Cape), you find nearly all the early English settlers such as Biggs, Gilfillan, Green, Bennie and Cawood, amongst others. In Grahamstown you find many Afrikaans baptisms in the Anglican Church of St. Michael and St. George. In the early days, many settlers were married in the Marriage Court and then in church.

The first NGK parishes include:



Cape Town






























Alexandria (Olifantshoek)










Lady Grey
















Nieu Bethesda












Port Elizabeth


Sondagsrivier ( Kirkwood)






Uitenhage de Mist


Uitenhage Oos


Uitenhage Mosel


Uitenhage Kanonheuwel


Van Stadensrivier ( St Albans)


















































* these were in Rhodesia . The registers are in Bloemfontein at the NGK Archives.



















Heidelbrg, Tvl


Middelburg, Tvl


















Schweizer Reneke


Piet Retief








Nelspruit ( Barberton)



















Weenen - from Pietermaritzburg






Melmoth Eshowe






Pietermaritzburg Wes

VERY IMPORTANT: The difference between a death notice and a death certificate in South African research:

Death Notice: First introduced in 1834. Completed soon after death, usually but not always, by next-of-kin. It is a legal document used to inform the relevant authorities of the death and is forwarded to the Master of the High Court, where it becomes the founding document in the estate file. If there is no estate the death notice will be archived.  The Master of the High Court deals with deceased estates.  On the current death notice form there are options to provide: date and place of birth; name of spouse(s) and children, including married names of daughters; date and place of death; place of residence; whether the deceased left property (moveable and immovable). The extent and accuracy of the information depends on the informant. The estate file remains with the High Court for a specified period, after which it is archived at the relevant archive depot.

Death Certificate: First introduced at the Cape in 1895. It must always be completed by someone who is considered legally competent to certify death, usually, but not always, a doctor. It is a civil document and is sent to and archived by the Department of Home Affairs. Usually the mortician obtains the original from the doctor and files it with Home Affairs and the official certificates are then issued. The mortician does this because he/she is the first person who requires it after the death - burial or cremation cannot take place without it. Once the original certificate has been lodged with Home Affairs, they issue official copies for a variety of uses - both legal and  civil. A copy of the death certificate is often, but not always, found in the estate file. It does not include as much information as the death notice, but lists cause of death and sometimes, the place of burial.

Cemetery offices keep records of tombstone inscriptions and burial registers. There are many rural or farm cemeteries outside the jurisdiction of municipalities. The Genealogical Society of South Africa is busy with an on-going Cemetery Recording Project by which it is hoped to document the headstone inscriptions of all the cemeteries in South Africa, including rural farm cemeteries. This information is indexed by cemetery, and is available at Archive Repositories; the libraries of the Universities of Cape Town, Pretoria, Port Elizabeth, Witwatersrand and UNISA; the Cory Library in Grahamstown; the HSRC in Pretoria; the South African Library; and the Transvaal Provincial Library. 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 person's full names, his date of burial and his age at death. Burial registers only exist for cemeteries within municipal boundaries and are kept by the town council concerned. These registers are valuable when a person is buried in a grave that doesn't have a headstone.

South Africa is one of the few countries where census enumeration records are destroyed. Only statistics from each census are kept. The Archives in Cape Town have the Cape Colony Publications which contain census lists for 1875, 1891, 1904 and 1911 only - 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) cover the period 1821-1809.
The "Opgaafrollen" were taken for tax purposes in the Cape and cover the period from 1692 until about 1845.
The Orange Free State has census reports taken 31 March 1880, 1890 and 17 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.
Census and Tax Registers for the Transvaal are available for 1873 and 1890, 1904. A Johannesburg census was held on 15
 July 1896.
Census and Tax records for South Africa as a whole are in the Department of Statistics, Pretoria.

Land ownership records (known as title deeds in South Africa) and deeds of transfer, are filed with the Deeds Offices in the relevant district. Land records were started in 1685. Marriage contracts and donations inter vivos are also kept at the Deeds Offices. These offices can be of assistance in locating farms.

The South African National Defence Force Archives have the Archives of the Commandant General, Transvaal Republic 1881-1899; Archives of the Military Governor, Pretoria, 1900-1902 (Records of the British Occupation forces, containing the names of those who died during the Anglo Boer War); Archives of the officer charged with gathering information concerning deaths among the Republican fighting forces and civilians, 1899-1902 (gives name of deceased, age, address and place of death). The particulars of all persons who served in the South African Armed Forces from 1910 are available from the SANDF Documentation Centre. You need permission from the person concerned or from his eldest living relative to obtain information from these records. The Defence Force Archives are not open to the public, but you may write to obtain information. The Commonwealth War Graves Board has lists of casualties in South Africa, including South African deaths outside the country and British military deaths in South Africa.

The South African Archives have naturalisation records (taking on of South African citizenship) for some people, not all. These files contain copies of naturalisation certificates and background papers to applications. Details of birthplace, occupation, age, length of residence in South Africa and addresses are given.

The major port of entry by ship was Cape Town. The ports of Port Elizabeth, East London and Durban were also used. Finding these records for South Africa is not as easy as in other countries such as the USA, Australia and New Zealand. If the new settler went to South Africa as part of an emigration scheme (such as the 1820 British Settlers, the German settlers to Kaffraria, etc...), then these lists are easily available.
It is usually easier to trace shipping and passenger records in the port of departure. Ships’ passenger lists at the Public Records Office, Kew, London, UK, are stored under reference BT 27 Passenger Lists, Outwards, 1890-1960. These lists give the names of all passengers leaving the UK where the ship’s eventual destination was a port outside Europe and the Mediterranean Sea. 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 passenger’s 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.
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 sailings to other European ports and to overseas locations in North America, the Caribbean, South America and Africa. Each passenger’s hometown (place of origin, not necessarily birthplace) is included. The lists are alphabetically arranged and indexed for 1850-1854 and 1855-1934. The Mormon FHL has microfilms.
A photographic archive of all Union Castle ships (no passenger records) exists at the South African Archives in Cape Town.

Many public libraries have phone books; Voters Rolls; newspapers and much more that can help. University libraries also contain sections of genealogical interest. Museums, especially specialist museums, hold information pertinent to particular cultures, fashions of the day, historical themes or eras.

These centres belong to the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints (Mormons). Since its foundation in 1894, the first Family History Library in Salt Lake City, Utah, USA, has become the largest of its kind in the world. Microfilming of world-wide records began in 1938 and continues to the present. Copies of the microfilms are sent to the various Family History Centres world-wide. While previous research can be very helpful, the information may be inaccurate or incomplete. Much of the information has been submitted by library patrons and has not been verified by the Family History Library , so always evaluate the information carefully.

The main society in South Africa is the Genealogical Society of South Africa , which was established in June 1964 and has regional branches. It does not undertake research. The Society and its branches publish journals and newsletters. For those living outside South Africa, the virtual branch of the GSSA is a great deal.

The Genealogical Institute of South Africa was formed in 1998 and is a private research centre, accessible to the public at a fee.

The Huguenot Society of South Africa preserves the French Huguenot heritage in South Africa. It collects information
about the Huguenots, arranges meetings and carries out genealogical research on Huguenot and related families.

The 1820 British Settlers records are mostly kept by the Albany Museum . The Genealogist is available to carry out research for a fee.

I am a freelance professional genealogist and provide a complete range of research services for individuals, businesses and media. I specialise in South African genealogical / family history and historical research. Amongst the services I offer are tracing your family history, finding missing people, writing your family history for publication, editing a family history manuscript for publication, or providing background research for authors. Some of my clients have been individuals, authors, academics, a rugby club, an art gallery and the BBC.

I started researching my own families in 1984, in South Africa and in Europe. In 1997, I started a professional research service  and since then have worked for clients in South Africa, Australia, New Zealand, USA, Mexico, Israel, Canada, Germany, Austria, The Netherlands, Namibia, and the UK. I am a long-standing member of the Genealogical Society of South Africa, and was editor of one of their branch newsletters. I have written articles and presented talks to genealogical societies in South Africa. As a former member of the South African Air Force, I enjoy military research. I have published two e-books on South African genealogy, and publish a monthly South African genealogical and heritage newsletter .  

To date, there has never been nor is there a professional association or regulating body for professional genealogists in South Africa. Most people providing services as South African professional researchers do so on a part-time basis, and the type of services provided, as well as resources available to them and knowledge of South African genealogy, history and geography, varies considerably.

Typical information that I need in order to see whether I can help you in your search:

1. Full names and Surnames of the person or people you're looking for.
2. Dates and places of birth, death and marriages, if known.
3. Details of spouse, if known.
4. Details of children, if known.
5. Details of parents, if known.
6. Any other information that may assist me.
E-mail Anne


S. Goldstone, USA:
I have used the services of Anne Lehmkuhl for genealogy research in South Africa. She is very competent, very professional and inexpensive. She found the person I was searching for in addition to many papers (death, estate, spouse, etc).

B. Wilson, Canada:
I have been dealing with Anne on and off for the past 10 months. I was a little apprehensive, expecting her rates to be commensurate with her obvious status in the genealogy community. But my worries were for naught. She's forever doing little & big favours without charge and passing along free, useful info from her extensive knowledge and experience. When it comes to invoicing, there have never been any "surprises". I have always known pretty well how much I was committing for.

P. Mellet, South Africa:
In terms of the brief which I provided to Anne, she did a sterling job in a reasonable time at a reasonable cost. Anne understands the archival systems and has access to the archival systems in South Africa. She seems to be able to get hold of any document. There are no guarantees, but Anne probably does a better job than most, and certainly will deliver on what she sets out to do.

G. Howe, USA:
I have been using Anne's research service for about 4 months. She has been most professional finding a great deal of info that I previously did not know existed. In addition her rates are most reasonable.

J. Lindesay, Australia:
I used Anne's services last year to try to locate information about my family in South Africa.  She is obviously knowledgeable and was able to find and provide copies of a number of wills and divorce papers. This took a while, but I was delighted with the material I received, it was great and has helped me a lot.

J. Morris, South Africa:
I am absolutely overwhelmed with your findings... thank you, thank you, thank you... I am just so grateful.

R. Enstrom, Australia:
The information received was rather an emotional time for us (happy emotions) as in the 68 and a half years of his life he never knew the name of his biological mother. You have been so tremendous in your find. Many, many thanks and much appreciation.
C. Schafer, England:
I would like to say well done, I'm so amazed, you are spot on. Those really are my father's details you have found. MJ is indeed my grandmother. This is really interesting stuff!

D. Charles, England:
A million thanks for the information. I can`t tell you how thrilled I am to at last place my paternal grandfather in South Africa.

A. Chandler, South Africa:
Thank you so much for this information - it has been very useful and you are spot on! Brilliant.

S. Botha, South Africa:
I want to thank you for the information you presented at Potchefstroom. I was able to solve a 100-year riddle in my family because of this info! I was able to find three generations of the stamvader in South Africa, in the Netherlands. Now I now his origins and his family. Thanks a million for sharing your insights with us.

L. R-Platts, Australia:
Thank you so very much for your professional & prompt response to my request. Contact has updated me. Once again, thanks a million! I am recommending you to a friend trying to contact an old friend. God Bless you for your help.

D. Jones, Australia
Thank you most sincerely for the excellent service you have provided. We have completed a task that was undertaken in the 1960s without success. We all look forward to embracing our extended family.

A. Paynton, USA
I am speechless! Grateful! Printing all of this most wonderful information. Mom will be very grateful to you as well, and since she is now 75 years old, she was hoping to go to South Africa one last time, knowing more. You have accomplished this for us, and we are eternally grateful!

- The wonderful house and even more wonderful life of Shanghai Lil - Natal Witness newspaper, 15 Dec 2007
- Titanic and its South African connections - MyNews24 , 17 Apr 2007
- Routes to Roots: Tracing you European ancestors (4 part series) - Familia journal, 2007
- GSSA 40th anniversary special issue - genesis newsletter, July 2004
- Family Newsletters - genesis newsletter, 2004
- Grandparents and family history - genesis newsletter, 2004
- Discovering the slave wreck Meermin - genesis newsletter, 2004
- The Currie Cup - ancestry24, June 2007
- The Union Castle Line History, ancestry24, June 2007
- Newsmakers of 1882 - ancestry24, June 2007
- The year was 1882 - ancestry24, June 2007
- Mother's Day: Discover your mom's family history - ancestry24
- The National Archives - ancestry24
- Was your ancestor a beauty queen? - ancestry24
- Writing your family history - ancestry24
- How to write a biography - ancestry24
- Women in aviation in South Africa - ancestry24
- The Portuguese in South Africa - ancestry24
- Contents of Generations and Bygones & Byways newsletters
- Contents of Boerewors Express and Routes And Roots blogs

Presentation by Anne Lehmkuhl to the West Gauteng branch of the Genealogical Society on 22 January 2005
Copyright 2005 Anne Lehmkuhl

The Internet is a huge collection of information and it is growing by the day. For a genealogist, it can be a formidable task to locate valuable information. There are hundreds of search engines out there. Most of them do not provide much information of use to genealogists but some have a wealth of information if you know how to find it. One of the biggest mistakes people make when beginning to research their family tree on-line is believing all of the information they need will appear at a click of their mouse.

The Internet is the largest information repository in the world. The amount of information available often makes it difficult to find the specific information you want. More than a million pages of information are added to the Internet each day. It’s no wonder that searching the Internet is like looking for a needle, but not in a haystack: in a meadow! By learning how to search effectively, you'll spend a lot less time chasing dead ends. The Internet provides various ways to search for content.

What is a Search Engine? A search engine is a searchable database of Web sites collected by a computer program (called a crawler, robot or spider). Search engines are the card catalogues of the Internet. The crawler reads millions of Web pages and indexes the text they contain into a very large database. Because Web documents are one of the least static forms of publishing (they change a lot), crawlers also update previously catalogued sites. Different search engines have different strengths in searching different types of information. The most powerful search engines for research purposes are, in my opinion, the advanced versions of Google, Northern Light, FASTSearch and Alta Vista. Two little-known search engines favoured by researchers are Teoma and Vivisimo (really Meta search engines).

Google: One of Google’s most useful features for genealogists is the cached feature. When you’ve done your search, if the Web page the link gives you is no longer available, click on the Cached link and you will see the page as last cached by Google.

Northern Light: This is the professional researcher’s favourite, because it organises material so well by topic. It is based in Canada.

FASTSearch: FASTSearch scans the Web every 7 to 11 days to ensure that it has fresh content and that there are no broken links. It supports searching in 49 different languages. Alta Vista: Also has a translation feature.

Ananzi: The Ananzi search engine is devoted to South African Web sites and was created early in 1996, making it the first South African search engine.



Search directories divide Web sites into topics and subtopics, eg Arts, Science, Health, Business, and News. You will find sites that appear only in the directory at the time but with a search engine you can locate sites all over the Web. Sites such as Yahoo are created by cataloguing information submitted by individuals or companies. Its strength lies in its structure of topics and subtopics.
Yahoo: Yahoo is the most popular search directory, although most people think it is a search engine. It is the largest guide to the Web and is compiled by 80+ editors who categorise Websites they come across.

Another powerful technique for searching is Meta search utilities that send your query to more than one search engine at the same time. Copernic, a Windows programme, at is a popular one. It takes complex search terms and contacts multiple search engines at the same time. The results are collated and further analysed by the program itself to perform search term logic not supported by individual search engines. It has advanced management features like filtering, grouping and summarising. It can also give you email alerts when Websites change or when new pages relevant to your searches are found.

The Invisible Web is the term used for Web pages that aren’t found by using conventional search engines or directories. It is made up of subject specific search engines or directories. The Librarian’s Index at is a very useful one, as is The Invisible Web Directory at Another little known aid for genealogists is the Internet Archive at This site allows you to search for lost Web pages. It contains 10-billion Web pages archived from 1996 to the present. To use it, you type the URL (the Websites address) into the search box.


Most people have a basic understanding of how to use search engines - they type in what they’re looking for and click "Go" or "Search". This works, but depending on your query, you usually get thousands of sites returned. Wading through many sites before finding what you want wastes time. When you get a large number of search results, concentrate on the top 10 or 20. This way you increase the chances of finding the needle in the haystack.

Here are some general tips for effective searching:

If you misspell the words you’re looking for, you might still find information but it will likely take longer or be unrelated to your query. Remember that spelling may vary, depending on where the Websites was created - in the USA or in the UK - both English but with different spelling (eg colour vs color, and favourite vs favorite). Another tip is choice of language - sometimes you won’t find what you're looking for in English, so try an Afrikaans search.

Most search engines treat lower case search phrases as universal, but will perform a case sensitive search if you capitalise any letter. It is better to use lower case letters in your searches. Example: paint will match paint, Paint, paINt, and so on; Paint will match only Paint.

Search engines facilitate finding information by the use of keywords. If you’re using a directory for your search, you don’t have to use keywords as you follow only the subject links provided by the directory. Type as many keywords as you can think of for your query. If you don’t know what a vintage jam pot looks like, you could use vintage jam pot as your search query. When queried like this, search engines will return pages containing any of your keywords, and those that contain them all are usually listed first. This is the type of search most people do, but it is not the most effective way.

Advanced searches are controlled by Boolean operators and certain keywords. Most search engines support Boolean searching. Boolean operators are words and symbols that, when used in conjunction with the keywords you're searching for, help to pinpoint your information. The main words are AND, OR and AND NOT. Most search engines allow substitute symbols such as + representing AND, a space representing OR, and - (minus) representing AND NOT. Here are a few examples, using Google:

AND (+)
+vintage +jam +pot
Returns Websites containing all 3 words (approximately 48 000 sites). The + symbol forces a key word to be included in the search results. Note there is no space between the + symbol and the keyword. Google does an AND search by default.

OR (a space)
vintage jam pot
Returns Websites containing either word, with those containing all three ranked highest (approximately 48 200 sites). AltaVista does an OR search by default.

-vintage +jam +pot
Returns Websites that contain the words jam and pot but do not contain the word vintage (approximately 752 000 sites). The - symbol forces a key word to be excluded from results. This is an extremely powerful research tool when you learn how to use it properly with the + symbol.

What is the difference between using them and not using them? If you search for "vintage jam pot" using quotation marks, search engines treat your query as an exact phrase and you get about 47 Websites listed. If you don’t use quotation marks, search engines return about 48 200 Websites!

You can string Boolean operators together for more complex, focused searches.

Typing +jam +pot +England +bone -vintage returns Websites mentioning the first four words but not the last word (approximately 19 300 sites). To narrow the search further, you can type +"jam pot" +bone -vintage, which returns Websites that contain the phrase jam pot, the word bone, and definitely will not contain the word vintage (approximately 1 230 sites).

An asterisk * is a wild card when doing a search. It is placed on the right-hand side of a word or embedded within a word with at least three characters to the left. Use an asterisk to find various spellings or related words. Example: paint* would return matches of paint, paints, painter and painting.

You use brackets that incorporate words and characters. Example: cape AND (cod OR town) lists Websites about Cape Cod or Cape Town.

Field searches look for very specific information of Web pages. You use a field name followed by a colon and then a search term. Valid field names include link (that will find the search term in links only), title (searches only in titles of pages), url (looks only in URLs), alt (looks in labels of images). If I want to know which Web sites link to my Web sites I’d use to see the results. Field names can be useful for genealogy.

Searching for information online is easy when you develop a detective’s mind. Learning how to translate your problems into appropriate keywords and symbols to use in search engines is like a switch being turned on in your mind and then the keys to the Internet are yours. The staple of genealogical research is records - births, marriages and deaths. Using your name or surname with the keywords born, died or married brings up mostly Web sites containing genealogical data. Adding the place name makes it more effective. Using Google I could try +"van der merwe" +married +born +died +"south africa" to find 602 Web sites containing genealogical information. Changing the search query to +"van der merwe" +trou +gebore +sterf +"suid-afrika" gives me 33 results and they are Afrikaans sites (Van der Merwe being predominantly Afrikaans).

Fine-tuning is necessary for the detective’s mind to find genealogical gems buried deep within the Internet. When you first try your search query, you may or may not see the results you want. Sometimes it takes 3 to 5 search queries to find what you want - this is part of the fine-tuning process. Enter keywords, examine the results. Add more keyword, examine the results, and so on. Sometimes you may have to remove a keyword, but usually you will be adding them. If you get 20 000 results, concentrate on the top 10 or 20 results. With fine-tuning, you get what you want to come to the top of the search results, making it easier to find the needle in the haystack.

Here is an example of fine-tuning:

I’m looking for the name of Hansie Cronje’s (the late South African cricket captain) mother. I don’t know what her name is.
I start my search with "hansie cronje" +mother
I receive about 629 results using Google.
The first 3 sites show her name as San-Marie, so now I can fine-tune my query to "hansie cronje" +"san-marie" This returns about 40 results but none of them give me her maiden name.
Further fine-tuning is required, so I try ewie +sanmarie
Note that I'm using his father’s name (Ewie) that I found in previous search results and I’ve also combined San-Marie into one word (possible Afrikaans spelling, this being an Afrikaans family).
This gives me 9 results and one of them shows that Sanmarie’s names are Susanna Maria.
More fine-tuning using "wessel johannes" +cronje +"susanna maria"
Note I’ve now used Hansie’s actual names and this returns 16 results with the very first site listed containing my genealogical gem - Hansie’s family tree back to the stamvader and his mother’s details too!

Another fine-tuning trick: When you have a name or surname that is the same as that of a famous person, you will get hundreds of results to wade through. To cut out the results referring to the famous person, you would have to use appropriate keywords and symbols. Here’s an example: If your surname is Reagan you will see that when you start doing searches many of the results are about President Ronald Reagan. To cut those out, use +reagan +born -president. Now the word president will not be in any of the results because it was forced to be excluded.

Another example is a common surname such as Morse or Cook, which are also the names of non-related things. To fine-tune this you could use:
 +morse +married -code (the word code is excluded because you don't want results about the Morse code).
+cook +died -food -chef (the words food and chef are excluded).

Other general keywords that are useful for genealogical searches include genealogy, stamvader, ancestors, descendants, family, history, certificate, buried, cemetery. Adding these to your specific keywords (name, surname, place name, year) results in more effective searches. Choosing significant keywords for genealogical searches is important.

Digging deeper means you’ll not only look at Web sites. There are e-mail groups, newsgroups, and databases that may not show up in searches. These need to be accessed directly once you know their URL. Examples include on-line newspaper archives, image search engines (Google has a good one), library catalogues, on-line telephone directories, and street directories. You can search newsgroups (back to 1995) via Google, by subject, author or specific newsgroup at Genealogy newsgroups are classified under the soc. main heading and then under the soc.genealogy sub-heading. Be aware that newsgroups contain a lot of spam where they are not strictly moderated.

Despite the importance of the Internet in establishing contacts and sharing information, this valuable research tool is still in the infancy stages when it comes to South African genealogy.

If you are a South African citizen who is looking to apply for an ancestral visa for immigration purposes:

Countries which issue ancestral visas require that the PERSON applying for such visa, have a GRANDparent (or sometimes parent) born in that country.
You also have to provide official documents (birth, marriage and / or death certificates) showing your line of descendent from the grandparent and/or parent.
The certificate MUST be a VAULT copy (which is a photocopy of the original entry in the Registrar Book held by the Department of Home Affairs). A vault copy will have two pinkish stamps of that department. One is a date stamp and the other states a "true copy of the original". FULL or UNABRIDGED certificates WILL NOT be accepted.
If you engage a genealogist to help you trace your ancestry for visa purposes, it is important that you make this fact known to such genealogist.

COPYRIGHT 1999 Anne Lehmkuhl
All rights reserved

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