Friday, February 5, 2010

When did my ancestor arrive in SA and on which ship?

This is the most frequently asked question in South African family history research. It’s also one of the most difficult to answer. To begin with, it depends on the ancestor’s point of departure: was it Hamburg or some other port in Europe. Did he sail from a British port? And during which decade?

If your ancestor embarked at a British port after 1890, outward-bound passenger lists are now online at findmypast

These lists exist from 1890-1960 and originate from Board of Trade records held in BT 27 at The National Archives, Kew. Destinations include Australia, New Zealand, South Africa, India, Canada and USA.

Online access to these passenger lists is a valuable resource: there were no indexes to the original registers, many of them were fragile and took time to search. As they were arranged monthly by port of departure it was necessary to know an approximate date of departure and the port to have any hope of finding an ancestor. The online facility is a gigantic step forwards.

However, 1890 was the start of the final decade of the 19th c and the great era of British emigration to South Africa began much earlier, in the second decade of that century.

There are two points to bear in mind:

1. If an ancestor was part of an organized emigration scheme, there is a good chance of finding out more about him – or about them, if the entire family emigrated together.

2. If an individual passenger wasn’t part of an organized group but paid for his own passage and was free to settle in whatever part of the country he chose, his arrival is usually less easy to trace.

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