By Kimberly Brown, Family Historian
Last Friday kicked off the 2010 FIFA World Cup, hosted in South Africa. South Africa today is one of the most diverse nations in the world, with eleven official languages and many ethnic and ancestral groups.
In 1587, Portuguese explorer Bartolomeu Dias was the first European to land at the southern tip of Africa; he named it the Cape of Good Hope. In 1652 Jan van Riebeek established an outpost there for the Dutch East India Company; this would later become the booming city of Cape Town. Slaves were imported there from Indonesia, India, and Madagascar. The discovery of diamonds in the area led to the Boer Wars between the British colonists and the Boers, settlers of Dutch, Flemish, French, and German descent. The British took over Cape Town in 1806.
Today about 80 percent of South Africa's population is black, about ten percent is white, and about ten percent is "colored;" the term colored is used to refer to those of mixed origin, descendants of whites, Indians, and slaves from east Africa. The white population of South Africa is decreasing; more than a million white South Africans have emigrated in the last fifteen years, most citing the high crime rate as the reason.
South Africa has a substantial Jewish population, most of whom came from Lithuania at the turn of the 20th century. The majority of the population, however, is Christian; denominations include Zion Christian, Pentecostal, Roman Catholic, Methodist, Dutch Reformed, and Anglican. Records of these churches-especially the Dutch Reformed Church-can be used to conduct genealogical research.
South African census records are routinely destroyed after the statistical data is extracted, so census records cannot be used as a resource by genealogists. There are civil registers of births, marriages, and deaths, however. The records began in the following years:
For the Cape Colony: marriages 1700, births and deaths 1895
For the Natal Colony: marriages 1845, births 1868, deaths 1888
For Transvaal: marriages 1870, births and deaths 1901
For the Orange Free State: marriages 1848, births and deaths 1903
To research ancestors before the inception of civil registration, try church records. The Dutch Reformed Church records date back to 1665; since this was the only official church in South Africa until 1778, any ancestors-not just Dutch-may have been baptized in the Dutch Reformed Church. You can find these church records, as well as civil registration and other records, on the Family History Library Catalog. These records can be borrowed at your local family history center. Other good resources include the Genealogical Society of South Africa, and www.genealogyworld.net, where South Africa passenger lists are being added all the time.