How to find South African records on Ancestry

Recently I’ve had a run of queries about which Southern African record sets have become available on Ancestry.  These all seem to come from people  who’ve found relevant records ‘by accident’ and want to know how to find and access any other record sets that might be available.

In the absence of an Explore by Location tab, getting at specific South African record sets, including those that Ancestry has taken over from Ancestry 24 and elsewhere, is not easy for the unwary.  There is no relevant tab, for example, on the Explore by Location feature for the Card Catalogue.

But there is a Filter by Location oppportunity, which is useful if you want to see what’s available, or to focus a search on a specific set of records.

So, here are some steps that will help you to do this.

  1. Go to the Home Page of Ancestry UK.
  2. Click on the Search button and choose Card Catalogue (at the very bottom of the list).
  3. Focus on the navigation bar on the left hand side of the page.
  4. Leave the Title and Keyword(s) boxes blank.
  5. Remove the tick next to Only records for the UK & Ireland (or from any geographical restriction immediately below the orange Search button).
  6. Now scroll down the page, still focusing on the Filters listed on the left, until you reach the heading Filter by Location.
  7. Scan the locations and click on Africa.
  8. Once the page has automatically refreshed, you will see that Filter by Location now offers you several African countries.  Click on South Africa.
  9. When this page has in turn automatically refreshed, you will see a new set of eleven locations under Filter by Location.  This is puzzling because, since 1994, South Africa has had nine provinces.  Don’t be too flummoxed by this because, whichever region you click on, you are going to get offered the same data sets, so you safely ignore them for the foreseeable future.  Perhaps Ancestry hasn’t got its head around the new jurisdictions either.
  10. So instead of clicking on a region here, click your browser’s back arrow, and return to the page which had filtered the South African records for you.
  11. The records are conveniently grouped under the heading Filter by Collection.  Perhaps you chose Birth, Marriage and Death, including Parish.  If so, after loading that page, you will see that these records are grouped by Birth, Baptism and Christening; Marriage and Divorce; Death, Burial, Cemeteries and Obituaries.
  12. Now pay more attention to the list of record sets, choose one you want, and a search page for that set of records will appear.

Explanatory notes
I think that what Ancestry distinguishes as North West South Africa, Northwestern South Africa and Northern Province are all versions of the province officially known as North West.

When you find a record set that you think you will use again—Methodist Parish Registers, perhaps—then it’s worth creating a bookmarks folder for the South African records and bookmarking the search page for those records inside your South African folder.