By Emsie Martin
The day you decide to research your family is akin to throwing out a jigsaw puzzle of a 1000 pieces on the table and fitting all the pieces together. The only problem is that you don’t have all the pieces.
Searching for all the pieces sometimes yields interesting information and sometimes you are stumped. One thing is certain – you won’t complete this task within one day. If you are inclined to be impatient, you should think twice before tackling this venture.
This hobby can be practised by young and old. You already have some knowledge about your family’s history, some old family photos and old documents, but these aren’t nearly enough to compile a family tree. Following are some guidelines for beginners.
Where do I begin?
- Your family tree is a direct line from you to your ancestor who first arrived in South Africa. To get there, you have to start with yourself by making a copy of your birth certificate. It already contains the correct birthdates and names of your parents. Now you have to find the information about your grandfather, great-grandfather etc. up to your ancestor.
- The first step is to obtain the information about your parents’ full names and the dates of their birth and death, then those of their parents. Taking this first step will already provide you with considerable information.
- Clues may be found on the back of old photos (if someone was astute enough to write the names on the back) and in the family Bible. Sometimes families are reluctant to part with the relevant documents, so photograph them if possible.
- Write down all the information you gather from family members.
- Search the internet for information about your forebears. Several websites are available in this regard.
- When starting to look for information, always remember to use alternative spellings of names and surnames. In some registers names were entered differently from those on, for example, the person’s birth certificate.
- Learn more about the wide variety or types of records that can assist you in your search to find your ancestors, including testaments; birth, marriage and death certificates; deeds of property; immigration records and military records etc. Many of these are made available online by the website FamilySearch free of charge.
- Keep a research register with notes regarding what you have searched for and found (or not).
- Preferably start with one family name. Afterwards you can expand your research.
If you know where your ancestors are buried, you can visit www.eggsa.org. This is the website of the Genealogical Society of South Africa (GSSA) gravestone project. It contains a list of most cemeteries with photos of the graves. Sometimes you are just fortunate to find confirmation of your facts. In this website you can search under province, town and cemetery.
Church registers are a huge source of information, but some churches no longer hold the old baptism, marriage, parishioners and death registers, as these have already been sent to the central archives of the relevant province. Fortunately an international platform, www.familysearch.org, is available where thousands of church registers of South African churches can be found.
Approach your nearest GSSA for advice.
Here are some handy links that you can explore. There are many more; as your search progresses you will come across other links. Enjoy the journey!