I am looking for information about Mr/Dr Ernst Ludwig Wittman who came to South Africa in the 1920's to work as medical Dr for Iscor, a South African steel company. When did he arrive and by what ship? Where should I search the information?

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    Possible duplicate? genealogy.stackexchange.com/questions/9708/…
    – user104
    Aug 29, 2016 at 11:55
  • 2
    It would be helpful if you could tell us what searches you've already made unsuccessfully. You can use the Edit button below your post to update it. And if you don't know where to start, that's fine -- just tell us.
    – user104
    Aug 29, 2016 at 14:58

1 Answer 1


If you are on Facebook, there is a closed and private group called 'South African Genealogy' that has lots of helpful and active members who know their way around the South African information sites.

Join up, make a post with as much info as you have, and you should get dozens of responses within a few hours to day or so....or you can research yourself.

Familysearch has a lot of records digitised and NAIRS is the National Archives of South Africa Website. NAIRS is a searchable INDEX of South African Records only. This is more an online index (no actual records are available on this website). BUT it is useful to help find images on the Mormon LDS Church's Global FamilySearch Database. They have nearly all the South African records on Microfilm. Not all digitised and available online yet. Which, is very, very frustrating sometimes...

It is best to use them in conjunction with each other (there is a list of shortcuts to the relevant South African FamilySearch catalogues pinned as the first post on the Facebook group I mentioned. But it is not my work, so I don't think I can share it here).

NAIRS has records of an individual's court proceedings, divorces, annulments, adoptions, land sales, death notices, wills, and estate papers. I thought earlier that immigration lists might not be indexed but I just saw some when I went to get some generic screenshots. But this is rare! FOREWARNING: not everything is indexed, not everything is Microfilmed, and not everything has been digitised.

You might get lucky and find your ancestor on an indexed immigration list, but if you don't you should be able to work backwards from the information supplied on his death notice. The Death Notice normally records the names of surviving/predeceased spouses, minor children and very often major children as well. As well as birth location, parents names and death location (not always filled out accurately). Use any dates of marriages (if date is recorded) and children born after he is known to have arrived in South Africa, to narrow down your search window. No use looking for immigration lists in 1928 if he had a child born in 1925!


Search NAIRS first. Find the image reference number. You will have to search the various provincial archives separately. I believe the records are normally stored in the province that the event occurred in. If someone had a divorce in Johannesburg but died in Cape Town, the two records will be stored in Pretoria TAB and Cape Town KAB Archives respectively. The Reference Number will normally be a two part number xxxxxx/XX. The first, and typically longer, set will be the actual image record number and the second set of numbers will be the year in either 2 or 4 digit form. E.g. in the image below, John Smith xxxx/XX in the Cape Town Archives has a record number xxxx and this is from the year 19XX. johnSmith

Then go to family search, find the Microfilm image set for the region and year. Then instead of searching each individual film (microfiche), you can jump straight to the correct film. There will normally be a range of numbers for each film e.g. "123456-156678, 19XX". Make sure the first set of the reference numbers (xxxx) fall inside the film file name range and corresponds to the record year number. enter image description here

You will have to jump around in the actual film set to find the image but it is still related to the reference number. Unfortunately the image number is not related to the actual page number that it will show up on. You can use the size of the image batch to your advantage. If your record number is halfway between the start and end of your batch numbers, you should be able to skip to the middle of your batch and work forwards/backwards from there. So you should be able to figure out roughly were in the batch to look and then quickly scan the images for the reference number found in the top right hand corner of the first page. (I say first page - sometimes you will get lucky and find several pages relating to one individual - which is why the page number does not always line up!).

image search

You can also order from NAIRS (I think) but expect a very, very, long wait for delivery... I would not recommend it.

  • Are you recommending a global search on NAIRS, or a search in a particular collection there?
    – Jan Murphy
    Aug 29, 2016 at 17:35
  • NAIRS only has records from SA. It would not return anything from Ernst's point of origin. But it could have records for court proceedings, death notices, wills and probates. I just realised it most likely doesn't have immigration lists but you will be able to use this search to narrow down the time period of when he arrived. Eg if his death notice lists children born after his arrival you can use their DOB to work out roughly when he arrived. Aug 29, 2016 at 17:44
  • Using NAIRS in conjuction with family search, helps limit family search's global databases. NAIRS also provides you with a specific year to look for images...which helps... Aug 29, 2016 at 17:45
  • Feel free to edit your answer to include these points. You know how it works. ;)
    – Jan Murphy
    Aug 29, 2016 at 19:46
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    Upvoted after your excellent edit!
    – Jan Murphy
    Aug 29, 2016 at 21:48

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