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Deceased Estate Records

Indexes to deceased estates

Bisho 1997+
Cape Town(1834-1955)
Cape Town 1956 -2010
Durban 2002+
Grahamstown 2000+
Kimberley 1994+
Mmbatho 2000+
Pietermaritzburg – dates of death very limited
Port Elizabeth
Transvaal (1855 – 1876)

The National Archives has documents up to these dates.

  • Cape Town 1959
  • Grahamstown 1962
  • Kwazulu-Natal 1975
  • Transvaal 1978
  • Orange Free State 1951
  • Kimberley 1957
  • Master of the High has documents after these dates in the city in which the death took place.
  • Government Gazettes and local newspapers print estate numbers in weekly.

What you will find in someone’s deceased estate papers

When searching for information on your ancestors, one of the most useful documents is the Estate Papers of the deceased which in brief gives the final summary and status of their life at the time of death. See also the article on Modern Deceased Estates. Depending on when the person died will depend how many of the following files below are included. The more recent estate papers will reveal more. Older Estate papers did not include wills and death notices and were filed as separate documents – pre 1900. In these documents you should find:

a) Will

A will can provide vital information of people and their addresses especially those that inherited property, money, valuables or jewellery. It can give clues to lovers, illegitimate children, favouritism and complete strangers.

b) Liquidation and distribution account

This reflects the assets and liabilities of the deceased as at the date of death, and how the balance of the assets of the estate were distributed amongst the heirs. The following are also sometimes included:

  • Liabilities
  • Taxes
  • Estate duties
  • Final bank statements
  • Funeral arrangements
  • ID number
  • Tax number
  • Fixed and movable assets in the estate
  • Creditors
  • Debtors
  • Investments and bonds etc.

Not all of the items above apply to all estates. Estates prior to 1975 do not show ID numbers. The older the estate papers the less of the above items are included. Notice of this account is published in local newspapers and the Government Gazette for objection. It is only after publication and the consideration of objections to his satisfaction that the Master of the High Court will approve the account and allow distribution to be effected. Depending on the complexity of the estate it could take a number of years to finalise this account. (click here to search the Government Gazettes on-line) When searching for estate papers, ensure that the ensuing year of death is also perused as sometimes the documents are not lodged in the year of death but in a later year.

c) Death Notice

Old Death notice Death notices as we know them today only came into existence in 1834 and sometimes it took several years until someone filled it in. However there were also death notices earlier than 1834 for slaves which appear in the deeds office as slaves were listed as property and not people. These early death notices can be found under the following references in the Cape Town Archives:

KAB MOOC 6/1/  Vol 3 (year 1758 – 1796)

KAB MOOC 6/2/  (year 1797 – 1821)

KAB MOOC 6/3/  Volume 4 (year 1822 – 1833).

KAB MOOC 6/9/ Volume 1 (year 1833 +)

MHG Pretoria Archives


A Death Notice is the official documentation handed to the Master of the High Court whose office has jurisdiction over the estate. It is used for informing the Master whether the deceased had assets, property or possessions to be passed on to heirs or claimants such as creditors, providing names of potential heirs, supplying the Master with details of where the deceased resided at the time of death and informing the Master whether the person reporting on the death is qualified to do so.

Want to know more?

The Death Notice contains fields for the following information:

  • Surname of deceased
  • Full first names
  • Identity number
  • Nationality
  • Age
  • Occupation
  • Ordinary place(s) of residence during the 12 months prior to death and the Province(s).
  • Date of birth
  • Place of birth
  • Date of death
  • Has the deceased left a will?
  • Marital status at time of death
  • If married, place where married
  • Full names of surviving spouse and his/her occupation
  • State whether marriage was in or out of community of property/whether accrual system is applicable
  • (a) Name(s) of predeceased spouse(s) and/or divorced spouse(s) (state opposite name of each whether predeceased or divorced)
  • (b) Date of death of predeceased spouse(s)
  • Master’s office(s) where predeceased estate(s) is/are registered and number(s) of estate(s), if available.
  • Full names of children of deceased (state whether major or minor or predeceased and in the latter event, whether they left issue and, if that be the case, the full names of such issue)
  • Names of parents of deceased (state whether parents alive or deceased).
    • (a) Father
    • (b) Mother


  • Name and address of person signing the death notice.
  • Dated at ……. the ……. day
  • Signature ………….
  • Capacity………………

One must bear in mind that when a person dies, the family is distraught and one of the members of the family will normally be the person filling in the Death Notice.

Expect errors in the information given if:

  • child has died before his/her parents, the child may not always be listed.
  • the deceased has been married more than once – the first spouse is sometimes omitted
  • a neighbour or friend filled in the form, they would not necessarily know who the deceased’s parents were, but sometimes guess.

Sometimes the death notice states a female’s surname as her maiden name (especially in Afrikaans families), even though she is married. People also tended to lie about their ages or sometimes do not know when and where they were born. Please remember that a death notice could either be perfect, semi-perfect or completely inaccurate and could send you on the wrong trail in tracing your ancestors. Make sure that you have other resources to complement and verify this information.

d) Death Certificate A full death certificate can include the following information:

  • Christian Names and Surname of deceased
  • Name of parent or guardian is the deceased is under the age of ten years old
  • Sex
  • Age
  • Race
  • Birthplace
  • Personal Status
  • Occupation
  • Pensioner or dependent of pensioner
  • Date of death
  • Place of death
  • Usual place of residence
  • Intended place of burial
  • Causes of death
  • Duration of disease of last illness
  • Name of Medical Practitioner Informant
  • Signature or mark of
  • Qualification
  • Residence

Full unabridged death certificate

An abridged death certificate

Modern Death Certificate

When and where a person died will determine where their estate papers are housed. Estate Papers will either be in the National Archives or with the Master of the Supreme Court. Estate Papers dating from before the dates below will be found in the Archives.

Source codes for the Transvaal Archives

Source codes for the Orange Free State Archives

Source codes for the Cape Town Archives

Source codes for the National Archives

Source codes for the Pietermaritzburg Archives

Source codes for the Cape Town Records Centre

Source codes for the Durban Archives

Source codes for the Port Elizabeth Archives