South Africa Church Records

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South Africa
Church Records

For information about records for non-Christian religions in South Africa, go to the Religious Records page.

How to Find the Records

Online Resources and Websites

Historical Background

Church records, including baptism, marriage, and burial registers, are reliable sources in doing genealogical research in South Africa, especially before civil registration began in 1895.

Dutch Reformed Church

The Dutch Reformed Church was introduced to South Africa by the Dutch East India Company's settlement in 1652 at Cape Town. The Dutch Reformed Church tradition is made up of three sister churches: the Nederduitse Gereformeerde Kerk (NGK), the Nederduitsch Hervormde Kerk (NHK), and the Gereformeerde Kerke (GK).

The Nederduitse Gereformeerde Kerk, or NGK, was first established in 1665 with the arrival of Johan van Arckel in Cape Town. The church was subordinate to Amsterdam's control and an extension of the Dutch Reformed Church. It held a monopoly over the the Cape; the Huguenots that arrived in 1688 initially were allowed to hold services in French but were eventually absorbed into the NGK. One exception was allowed - a Lutheran church was established in Cape Town to service the German employees of the Dutch East Indies Company, or VOC. The NGK kept ties to the Netherlands until the early nineteenth century. In 1795, the United Kingdom assumed control over the Cape Colony, and the church became increasingly influenced by the British. With the establishment of an autonomous synod in the Cape in 1824, all connection was severed to the Dutch Reformed Church in Amsterdam, and an independent church was set up in the Cape. Scottish Presbyterian ministers began presiding over some congregations.

The NGK was Cape-centric, and neglected the outlying areas in the interior of South Africa. Many of the boers involved in the Great Trek were distrustful of the Cape government, as well as the British-influenced NGK. In 1853, the Nederduitsch Hervormde Kerk, or NKH, was established, and in 1860 it became the state religion of the South African Republic, in what was later to become the Transvaal. Another schism in 1859 led to the creation of the Gereformeerde Kerke, or GK. The dispute was concerning hymnals: the main church (NGK) introduced a new hymn book and church members were threatened with excommunication for refusing new songs they considered blasphemous.

A seminary was established in the Cape, eliminating the need for overseas-trained clergymen. As Cape-born ministers began leading the church, it started to become more conservative, and embraced a newly-emerging Afrikaans identity. After the devastating Anglo-Boer War (1900-1902), the church worked to help the Afrikaners to rebuild their lives, and the church became a place for Afrikaner nationalism.

The NGK today is the largest of the sister churches in South Africa, boasting almost 1.1 million members in 1,158 congregations in South Africa, Namibia, eSwatini, and parts of Botswana, Zimbabwe, and Zambia. The NHK today has 130,000 members in 300 congregations in South Africa, Namibia, Botswana, Zambia, and Zimbabwe. The GK church has 415 congregations all over South Africa, Lesotho, Namibia, and Zimbabwe. [1][2][3]

During the 17th and 18th centuries, the Dutch Reformed Church was the only officially recognized Church denomination in South Africa; many white residents belonged to it. In later years, especially during the 19th century, other church denominations were created, leading to a decline in the membership in the Church.

Records for the Dutch Reformed Church have been maintained in good condition. The records were written in Dutch, Afrikaans, and English.

Other Churches

Methodism arrived in South Africa with British soldiers in 1806. A mission in the Cape was established in 1816. More missions were established in the next decades as Methodism expanded north.[4] Records were written in Afrikaans and English.

The Baptist Church entered South Africa in 1820 along with British emigrants. The first chapel was built in 1823. More chapels were constructed in the next decades as more Baptism emigrants entered South Africa and others joined.[5]

The Anglican Church first entered South Africa in 1795 and then in 1806 with British troops, civil servants, and settlers. The first missionary arrived in 1821 and the first bishop in 1848.[6]

Information Recorded in the Records

Dutch Reformed Church

Baptism

Baptism registers usually list:

  • Name
  • Date and place of baptism
  • Date of birth
  • Names of parents, sometimes including mother's maiden name
  • Name of person performing baptism

Marriage

Marriage registers usually list:

  • Date and place of marriage
  • Names and ages of bride and groom
  • Race of bride and groom
  • Country of birth and marital status of bride and groom
  • Occupation and residence of bride and groom
  • Marriage by license or banns
  • Names of persons giving consent
  • Names of witnesses
  • Name of officiant at ceremony

Burial

Burial registers usually list:

  • Date and place of burial
  • Name and age of deceased
  • Residence at time of death
  • Who performed burial ceremony

Membership

Membership records usually list:

  • Full name of member
  • Date of birth or age
  • Date of baptism
  • Where they joined
  • Pastor that oversaw joining

Church Meeting Minutes

Church meeting minutes usually list:

  • Name
  • Date of baptism
  • Membership status
  • Name of mission
  • Marital status or relationships may also be listed

Methodist Church

Baptism

Baptism registers usually list:

  • Date and place of baptism
  • Name and gender of child
  • Parents' names, including maiden name of mother
  • Parents' residence
  • Child's age or date of birth
  • Name of person who solemnized the baptism

Marriage

Marriage registers usually list:

  • Date and place of marriage
  • Full name and age of groom
  • Groom's marital status, occupation, and residence
  • Full name and age of bride
  • Bride's marital status, occupation, and residence
  • Marriage by license or banns
  • Names of person(s) giving consent for the marriage
  • Names of witnesses

Burial

Burial registers usually list:

  • Name and age of deceased
  • Residence of deceased
  • Date and place of burial
  • Name of person presiding at burial

References

  1. Wikipedia contributors, "Dutch Reformed Church in South Africa (NGK)," in Wikipedia: the Free Encyclopedia, https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Dutch_Reformed_Church_in_South_Africa_(NGK), accessed 18 September 2018.
  2. Wikipedia contributors, "Dutch Reformed Church in South Africa (NHK)," in Wikipedia: the Free Encyclopedia, https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Dutch_Reformed_Church_in_South_Africa_(NHK), accessed 18 September 2018.
  3. Wikipedia contributors, "Reformed Churches in South Africa," in Wikipedia: the Free Encyclopedia, https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Reformed_Churches_in_South_Africa, accessed 18 September 2018.
  4. Wikipedia Contributors, "Methodist Church of Southern Africa," in Wikipedia: the Free Encyclopedia, https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Methodist_Church_of_Southern_Africa, accessed 18 September 2018.
  5. Wikipedia Contributors, "Baptist Union of Southern Africa," in Wikipedia: the Free Encyclopedia, https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Baptist_Union_of_Southern_Africa, accessed 18 September 2018.
  6. Wikipedia Contributors, "Anglican Church of Southern Africa," in Wikipedia: the Free Encyclopedia, https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Anglican_Church_of_Southern_Africa, accessed 18 September 2018.