Birth records housed in the Cape Town Archives from 1895 – 1971 are now open to the public for birth registration in the Western Cape, Northern Cape and some of the Eastern Cape. However, actual copies of birth certificates in South Africa can only be obtained by physically going to any Department of Home Affairs branch and standing in a queue. They do not have forms on-line that you can download and you cannot apply on-line either. Only immediate family members can apply for a copy of birth certificate of someone else in your family and they no longer allow 3rd party applications. The Archives are extremely understaffed and you will either need to go in personally to access the records or you can contact me and I can do it for a fee.
Type of Birth Certificates
There are 3 different types of birth certificates issued in South Africa of which the abridged certificate (computer print-out)can be supplied immediately but the vault version there could be up to a 6 month waiting period or longer.
- Vault Copy birth certificate is original birth certificate filled in by the parents
- Unabridged birth certificate which gives the persons full name, date and place of birth as well as the fathers full name (if mentioned) and the mothers full name and maiden name (if mentioned) and is a handwritten COPY of the original vault version.
- Abridged birth certificate is now a computerised version which is literally a snapshot of the birth entry which gives the persons full name at birth, date and place of birth. This does not give the mothers maiden name or the fathers names.
The Department of Home Affairs is the Official custodian of birth records in South Africa, and the National Archives holds the birth registers for anything more than 50 years ago and can include records as early as 30 years ago.
The official registration of births varies from province to province, and it is important to remember that not all our ancestors were law-abiding citizens and did not always conform to the rules and regulations set out by local government at the time. So do not expect to find a registration of birth for every person. For instance, Natal’s official year for the commencement of birth registration was in 1868, but this does not mean that every child born was actually registered at birth. For example: on the 6th February 1869 a female child was born to Robert Forbes, a photographer residing at Loop Street Pietermaritzburg and his wife Isabella Bright. The birth was registered on 8th February 1869, but the child’s first name was only added on 20th June 1870 as Florence.
The Department of Home Affairs, in Pretoria, holds the most comprehensive compilation of personal resources for all South Africans. Access to the registers of births is closed until 1971, to protect individuals, as stipulated by the office of origin. These records are housed in the various archival repositories. If you live overseas and would want to apply for your own or a family members birth certificate you MUST only apply for an unabridged version from either your local South African Embassy or Consulate. Nobody else can apply on your behalf in South Africa for a birth certificate for either you or your mother – you have to do it yourself.
A normal period of closure remains as 20 years for Deaths and Marriages.
Birth records (certificates) were introduced officially in the late 1800’s and was not compulsory until 1905. These are the official dates of when it started in the various provinces:
Orange Free State: 1903
How to find the references to Birth Indexes
You will first need to know exactly in which magisterial district the event took place, before you can request the index. These indexes are not searchable electronically. The Home Affairs Western, Eastern and Northern Cape Indexes (HAWC) are housed in the Cape Town Archives
For a birth in Cape Town you will need to check places like Cape Town Central, Wynberg, Docks, Green Point, Sea Point, Woodstock, Observatory etc – these are all in separate registers.
To find the birth certificate of an individual first consult the index to the birth in the area in which it was registered i.e. Worcester. The earliest reference number begins with 1/3/57/4/1 –which covers births from 1895 to June 1905.
Once you have got the register 1/3/57/4/1, you will need to look for the dates between 1895 – 1905 for the particular birth registration. There are two volumes of birth registers that apply for this period being 1/3/57/3/1 to 1/3/57/3/2. The first volume covers January 1895 to June 1899, and the second one June 1899 until January 1905.
How many volumes of registers there are for each area will depend on the size of the initial index. Worcester has 62 Birth registers equal to about 4 years per book until 1933 and then one book per year thereafter. This does not apply to each area.
Some of these books are very large, heavy and the pages are difficult to photograph because of their size.
An important source for dates of births too, which could otherwise often be obtained only by search of registers overseas, are inscriptions on tombstones. These, however, should not be taken as gospel but used as a guideline. Backup evidence should be used to ensure the details are correct.
History of Birth Registration in South Africa
The Government Gazette which was established in 1800 (Originally the title was Kaapsche Stads Courant en Africaansche Berigter – The Cape Town Gazette and African Advertiser.) had a regular column for births, marriage and deaths. These advertisements were placed mainly by English- speaking people until the 1870’s.
It is also extremely important to remember that many genealogists and family historians mistakenly enter the date of baptism in the date of birth field as part of the recording of their family history. This mistake is potentially one of the most dangerous mistakes anyone can make. Before the official registration of births children were not baptized within days and sometimes, especially in the rural districts of South Africa, they were only baptised weeks or even years later.
Children were generally baptised on the Sunday following the birth of a child, or within a week at least., They were taken to church for baptism. The farmers, however, who lived a great distance away, could only travel to the nearest church perhaps within a month or so. Owing to the great distances involved in traveling by wagon, bad roads, swollen and impassable rivers in winter, had often to be taken into account. Sometimes the minister had to travel seven or eight days before he could baptize a child. As in the case of marriage, the church did not wish that baptisms should take place in the home. In such a case it was necessary that two church officers should be present.The regulations required that baptisms should take place on Sundays in public, when the people had assembled for worship. To discourage the practice of having children baptised on week days, the Church Council at Graaff-Reinet imposed a fee of three rixdollars (12s.) for the privilege of doing so.
Birth records to this day remain a vital part of our existence. and even more so than ever before.
Today, without hospital birth records, a child cannot be issued with a birth certificate and without a birth certificate, a child cannot be enrolled in school, cannot apply for a national identity… and the list goes on. Make sure you have your ancestors birth certificate, where possible, to ensure you are tracing the right family. Contact me to look up the birth registers.