The Genealogical Society of South Africa

Genealogical Research in Namibia: A Preliminary Overview

By Werner Hillebrecht This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.

Researchers can count on the following institutions:
1) The National Archives of Namibia. Because of frequent staff change and an unstable mail connection via the Ministry of Education, the National Archives has in the past sometimes been difficult to reach. The new email connection is reliable: national.archivesĀ®nlas.gov.na. Postal address: P/Bag 13250, Windhoek. Fax +264-61-2935217, Phone 2035211. Enquiries are free, copies and digital copies for a fee. The Archives reading room is open Mon-Fri 9:00-16:00. The service is usually fast, documents are being fetched within 15 minutes (but not between 12:00-14:00, although the reading room remains open). Photographing documents is allowed. Photocopies or scans can be ordered. However, estates are tightly bound, making photocopies difficult, damaging and sometimes impossible, and then photographing is the only allowed method.
2) The Ministry of Home Affairs and Immigration. Write to: The Permanent Secretary, P/Bag 13200, Windhoek. Fax +264-61-243766
3) The Master of the High Court. P/Bag 13190, Windhoek. Fax+264-61-236802
4) The NG Kerk in Namibie" Archives. Ds Clemens Marais, This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.
5) The German Lutheran Church Archives. PO Box 884, Windhoek, fax 221470
6) The Sam Cohen Library, Swakopmund. This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it., Trudie Stols

The main resources and where they can be found:

Deceased estates
Estate files from the German colonial period and the WW1 between 1893-1920 are found in the record group NLA (Nachlassakten) in the National Archives. They were originally created by the German district courts, but were centralised around 1920 to facilitate dealing with property-related enquiries, therefore NLA also contains files on the property of German businesses.
Estate files since 1920 were created by the Master of the High Court, and for the period 1920-1960 are in the record group EST (Deceased Estates) in the National Archives. Estate files as from 1961 onwards are still with the Master of the High Court.
All estates in NLA and in EST until 1956 are computer-indexed with full name, including names of surviving spouses and birth names of married women, on the database FILES in the National Archives. The names are also listed in alphabetical order in the Finding Aid 1/1/217, which currently provides access to 11,315 files with 19,463 names. The database and the finding aid are not accessible onlineand can only by consulted at the National Archives.
Data entry of the estates 1957-1960 has started, but currently the estates from this period can only be identified through the register at the Master of the High Court.
According to the South African legal provisions. Estates of "Whites" were registered with the High Court, while the Estates of "Natives" were either dealt with by customary law (in most cases) or by the Magistrates (especially for migrant workers). It seems that many of those "Native estate" files were destroyed, and those that were transferred to the National Archives were not indexed. Or unknown reasons, also a number of "White" estates were dealt with only by Magistrates. Indexing of all these estates has only started recently and is still far from complete.
In 1908-1914, when there were many migrant workers from the Cape Province in Namibia, if they died their estates were handled by the British Consul in Luderitz and sent to the Master of the High Court in Cape Town.

Birth, death and marriage records
Births, deaths and marriages of German citizens in Namibia during the German period were recorded by the Standesamt offices in the districts, but they were reported to Germany and apparently no local record kept. They can be requested from the Standesamt 1 in Berlin, https://www.berlin.de/labo/buergerdien$te/standesamt-i-in-berlin/urkundenanforderung/artikel.94831.php which keeps the records from all such registers of Germans abroad, including the German colonies. Apparently, most of the colonial records have meanwhile been transferred to the Landesarchiv Berlin http://landesarchiv-berlin.de/. Since South Africa took over, birth/death/marriage records were dealt with by Home Affairs. Births, deaths and marriages under South African rule were at some stage all centralised by Home Affairs in Pretoria. Since 2000, these Namibian records have been repatriated to the Ministry of Home Affairs in Namibia, which has an ongoing programme to digitise these records. I have currently no information how far this has proceeded.

Divorce records
Divorces of persons classified as "white" were handled only by the High Court. They were registered under the heading "Illiquid cases" together with all kinds of property disputes, and not as a separate category. The High Court case records until 1980 have been transferred to the National Archives in the archival group SCW Supreme Court Windhoek, and have mostly been indexed on the database COURT, although the registration for the period 1961-1980 still has some gaps. Like with the estates divorces of persons classified as "Native", "Bantu", "Coloured" etc were handled by the Magistrates, and their records often neglected. Relatively few "Native divorce" cases were transferred to the archives, and they are not yet indexed. This is now often creating problems in property disputes.

Passport applications
Passport applications from 1919-1954 are in the National Archives. They are of interest for giving some personal details, often including passport photos. They are computer indexed, although often not with full names, on the database FILES. It seems that after 1954 all this was handled centrally in Pretoria, or the files never transferred, but I have not researched into this issue.

Immigration files
Individual "immigration deposit" files from 1934-1955 are in the National Archives, and indexed on the FILES database, although often not by full names. However, the detail on these files is very scanty, and I suspect another file with more detail would have been created at Home Affairs in Pretoria. This concerns overseas immigrants, because British/South African citizens did not need any applications, although they could be expelled from the territory as "undesirables" of there was any reason to do so. Therefore, it is often very difficult to find any proof of the presence of South Africans within Namibia if they were born and died in South Africa, unless they can be found in directories or as farm owners.

World War II files and "alien registration" files
While the registration of South Africans was almost non-existent, there is very much archival evidence of individual German citizens. Almost all Germans in the territory, who had been automatically naturalized in the 1920s, got their naturalization revoked in World War II and were under police surveillance (creating "Suspect" or "Nazi suspect" files in the SPO and SPW record groups; also a few South Africans got under surveillance, such as known Ossewa Brandwag members), correspondence censorship, or were interned. All the relevant files are in the National Archives, and fully computer-indexed (FILES and COURT databases).
Also, in 1939 "Aliens registration" cards were introduced, where Germans and other "alien" persons had to register their domicile and place of work, with passport photo. Such cards are present at the National Archives for between 1939-1957, and fully computer-indexed.

Church registers
All registers from the parishes of the NG Kerk have been centralized and are stored at the National Archives, but access is through the NG Kerk administrative office in Windhoek. They have also been digitized by Family Search, but I am not informed how far the lengthy process of indexing them has proceeded.
The Windhoek registers of the German Lutheran Church (DELK) are at the DELK Church office in Fidel Castro Street, while the registers of the various parishes around the country are still maintained by those parishes. A photocopy of the Otiiwarongo DELK register is at the National Archives. Church registers of the oldest mission church (Rhenish Mission), today ELCRN, are also mostly with the parishes, and some of the earliest got destroyed in the various wars. A photocopy of the Rehoboth register is at the National Archives. 
Church registers of the Finnish Mission - today ELCIN in Northern Namibia have been microfilmed, a microfilm copy is at the National Archives (currently inaccessible because the microfilm reader is out of service - purchase of a new reader is intended).

Angola Boers
A special case is the "Angola Boers" that were resettled in Namibia in the 1920s. The National Archives has very detailed documentation about them in several archival groups and private accessions, with various lists, but no case files about individuals that would be searchable on the databases. The relevant records are mentioned in the books by Nicol Stassen (Protea Books) who researched extensively in the National Archives of Namibia.

Passenger lists
The best source for passenger lists for sea entries to Namibia since German times is the Sam Cohen Library in Swakopmund. There are also passenger lists in the National Archives, but they have not been processed for easy research.

Directories and Who's Who
There is Meinert's Trade and Farms Directory (7 issues between 1923-1958), and the annual telephone directory since 1931 (with some gaps), as well as some other directories. Also the Who's Who of Southern Africa, which used to have a South West Africa section, is a goodsource for info on professionals and public personalities.

Gravestone lists
Mr von Schumann (see below, under Local research assistance) has compiled extensive lists of gravestone inscriptions. The Kriegsgraberfursorge has published an almost complete list of war graves in Namibia (from the colonial wars and World War I).

Further sources
There is a multitude of other resources on the National Archives databases that are mentioning names that can help to put together family histories. There are the complete farm files of the German administration 1884-1914, they are computer-indexed by farm name and owner. For later periods, there are the farm records of the Lands Branch (LAN), also indexed with farm name and owner. Also good resources for names are the Inspector of Mines prospecting licences (IMW). It should also be mentioned that the National Archives now has a "super-database" named NAN that allows searching through all catalogued records at the same time, including court files and government records, private accessions, literature, oral history, and photos. This allows sometimes to find unexpected additional material.

Local research assistance
It is of course preferable to visit Namibia and do the research on site. If this is not possible, and if contacting the institutions does not help, one can enlist the assistance of independent researchers for a fee. I am currently aware of the following researchers:Mr Gunter von Schumann This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.
Myself werner.This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.
Both have extensive experience in researching at the National Archives and in reading the old German handwriting (Sutterlin script).