When did Civil Registration begin for birth records in South Africa?
The beginning of Civil Registration for Births, Marriage and Deaths in South Africa varies from one province to the other. These provinces are grouped into the four provinces of the Union of South Africa in 1910. Search for birth records here.
Civil Registration South Africa
Orange Free State
Birth records housed in the Cape Town Archives from 1895 – 1971 are now open to the public at the Cape Town Archives 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 the 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. Find out more.
Birth records (certificates) were introduced officially in the late 1800s and was not compulsory until 1905. These are the official dates of when it started in the various provinces:
Not everybody registered their child in the first month of birth. Some did it years later when they had more than one child to register. Additionally, not all our ancestors were law-abiding citizens and did not always conform. So do not expect to find registration of birth for every person. For information dating back earlier, you have to consult baptism records, death notices or burial records. Birth dates were not included into baptism registers until around 1800 and in most instances, it will say “date of the birth unknown”.
Getting a copy of a birth certificate
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 the birth certificate of someone else in your family and they no longer allow 3rd party applications.
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
An 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.
The 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.
Not all the birth registers have indexes. The one that do are housed in the provincial archives repositories with the following references:
How to start your search for Civil Registration Records
You will first need to know in which magisterial district the civil registration birth took place as this will determine which Archives those records are held. These indexes are not electronically searchable. If someone was born in the Northern Cape, Eastern Cape or Western Cape the records will be in the Cape Town Archives. Birth records from Natal would be in the Pietermaritzburg Archives etc. If birthplace is unknown, you can consult the deceased estate papers and look at the death notice. This should show a place of birth, although often it gives just the city and not the magisterial district. Next, consult the index to the birth in the magisterial area in which it was registered.
For a birth entry in Cape Town you might need to check places like Cape Town Central, Wynberg, Docks, Green Point, Sea Point, Woodstock, Observatory etc. all in separate registers. It varies, but as an example, Worcester has 62 Birth Registers dating back to 1895. There are about four years per register until 1933 and one register per year thereafter. For Worcester, the earliest reference number is 1/3/57/4/1 and it covers births from 1895 to June 1905. Not all the registers are available in the Cape Town archives as they have not received every one from Home Affairs, so there are gaps.
Information contained in the birth registers
Some of these books are very large, heavy and the pages are difficult to photograph because of their size. Once you have the particular register, you can get the date of birth, child’s name if given, mother and father, parents address, when and where the birth was registered, if the child was legitimate as well as race. Copies of official birth certificates cannot be issued from the archives and photographs or photocopies of these registers are allowed with special permission.
Other sources of birth dates
Apart from baptism records, you can consult inscriptions on tombstones. Backup evidence should be used to ensure the details are correct. The Government Gazette, which was established in 1800. Originally the title was Kaapsche Stads Courant en Africaansche Berigter or known by the English as The Cape Town Gazette and African Advertiser. It had a regular column for births, marriage and deaths. These advertisements were placed mainly by English- speaking people until the 1870s.