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How to find birth records

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Thanks to Ancestry24 I found children born to Hermanus Johannes Murray and his wife in the Bredasdorp Saints Anglican Baptismal records. He was the youngest son of our progenitor John Murray.” – Percy Murray, Ancestry24 member

Birth Records

Access to birth records in South Africa is very different to other countries. There is no official online archive except a growing database on Ancestry24. The following databases are available on Ancestry24 for searching birth records specifically as well as births within baptism records:

When did Civil Registration begin for birth records in South Africa?

Birth certificates were introduced officially in the late 1800′s and was not compulsory until 1905: Cape: 1895 Natal: 1868 Transvaal: 1901 Orange Free State: 1903 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 a 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 birth unknown”. While the Department of Home Affairs in Pretoria is the official custodian of birth records, the general public may view these in the various provincial archival repositories. Access to the birth registers is closed for a period of 100 years to protect individuals.


All the millions of records are indexed. These indexes are also housed in the provincial archival repositories with the following references:

Index Name Repository
HAWC – Home Affairs Western Cape Cape Town Archives
HAEC – Eastern Cape Home Affairs Cape Town Archives
HANC – Home Affairs Northern Cape Cape Town Archives
HAN – Home Affairs Natal Pietermaritzburg Archives
HAFS – Home Affairs Free State Bloemfontein Archives
HAT – Home Affairs Transvaal Pretoria Archives

Where to start you search

You will first need to know in which magisterial district the birth took place as this will determine which Archives those records are held. These indexes are not searchable electronically except for the Western Cape Index on Ancestry24. 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 birth place 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 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.

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 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 not allowed.

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 1870′s.

Ordering birth certificate copies

If you are looking for a copy of your own birth certificate or someone who died within the last 100 years, you need to apply to the Department of Home Affairs directly. Birth certificates can be requested by filling in this form and paying a R75.00 for an unabridged certificates and R20.00 for an abridged. Waiting time is 6 – 8 weeks. When ordering a birth certificate it is important to understand the difference between these: An abridged certificate generally answers to the purpose for which a marriage certificate is required in the Republic of South Africa.. Certified copy of birth register  is the same as an original or a vault copy-  Computer printed or abridged copy – this is a computerised shortened version of a certified copy. Handwritten abridged copy – this is a handwritten shortened version of a certified copy.

I cannot find a reference to a birth record online?

Should you be unable to physically go to the archives or the Department of Home Affairs please contact us to recommend a private researcher.