The Genealogical Society of South Africa

Johannesburg Branch History

 1988 Small Beginnings BIG plans. The Southern Transvaal Branch of the GSSA was founded on 19th Jan 1988 by the following founders Con Roeloffze (Chairman), Chevalier Robert Laing (Vice Chairman), Valda Napier (Secretary) Willem Hefer, Frik Van Rensburg, Hans Hatecke, Bill Olivier and Shirley Roeloffze. The original Committee Attendance Register shows that the first Branch meeting was held on 3rd February 1988 at the Chairman’s home in Lambton, Germiston and attended by Valda Napier, Wendy Ross-Marsh, Bill Olivier, Hans Hatecke, Frik Van Rensburg, Shirley Roeloffze, Hercules Malan and Rob Leigh.

1989 By April , Frik van Rensburg had taken over as Chairman, as Con had been elected GSSA National Chairman, Rob Leigh now Treasurer, and Wendy Ross-Marsh was nominated as Secretary. Fellow committee members were Shirley Roeloffze , Valda Napier, Kurt Scheurer, Hans Hatecke and Dr. Hercules Malan. By the time the next meeting took place, in May 1989 Conrod Mercer had joined the Committee and plans were made for a lavish Christmas Dinner to be held at Emoyeni, Parktown, Johannesburg. At that time membership totalled 161 including the 1820 Settler Association and the Genealogical Society of Utah. In the October of that year Natalie da Silva joined the Branch as Secretary/Treasurer and the following month saw the resignation of Valda Napier.

1990 At the Branch Annual General Meeting held in January 1990 Conrod Mercer was nominated Chairman and the Committee then consisted of Con Roeloffze (Vice Chairman), Natalie da Silva (Sec/treasurer), Pietrus van der Merwe, Connie Nelson-Esche, Hans Hatecke, Joan Papoutsis (Membership) and Debbie Ziehl (PRO). Between Con, Joan and Hans the quarterly Newsletter “Tree Topics” was looking more and more professional. Hans took care of all the artwork which was right up his street as a calligraphist, he was also passionate about Heraldry and the Newsletter contained a regular insert dedicated to it. In those days the monthly Committee meetings were held in turns at the homes of the members, but we specially loved going to Joan Papoutsis’ home for she made the best chocolate Éclairs in the world.

1990- 1996 By mid-1990 final plans were made for the publication of the ‘Beginner’s Guide to Genealogy in South Africa’and presented the first Beginner’s Course to be held at the Red Cross House in Saxonwold, the original home of ex-Johannesburg Mayor Pat Lewis. The Branch had found a permanent home for its small Library and for the foreseeable future all meetings were held at this venue. In June 1990 Conrod Mercer initiated the “Genealogist of the Year Award”, hundreds of letters were written to invite nominations from all likeminded associations and Universities and responses were pouring in! Natalie’s husband Cesar donated the Trophy designed in bronze by Russell Scott and the Awards Banquet held in October at Old Edwardian’s had an attendance of 150 guests. This prestigious Award is now run by the National Executive. Another achievement was ‘The Cemetery Recording Project’ initiated by the late Peter HOLDEN, this project is now a National GSSA Project. That year the Branch participated for the first time at the Hobbies Fair on Oct 5th 1990 with special décor designed by Lena Pereira. In 1996 the Branch changed its name to “The JOHANNESBURG Branch of the GSSA” although this has been unofficially shortened to the Joburg Branch!

2008 Fast forward to the 21st Century. The Branch became dormant for 3 years and the West Gauteng Branch must be thanked for taking up the slack. But in February Natalie da Silva phoned a few friends, each of them keen Genealogists to discuss the idea of getting the Branch on its feet once again. Although GSSA Branches exist to the West and East of Johannesburg there was a gap for the immediate Johannesburg area. Residents from Senderwood to Greenside and Sandton to Rosettenville were keen on meeting in a more local situation and so the branch was re-born! We started off with a skeleton Committee but armed with drive and an abundance of enthusiasm under the Chairmanship of Don MacArthur, Natalie da Silva (Vice Chairman), Diane Brear (Secretary) Margaret Gundry, Frank Bullen (Treasurer) and June Botha (Librarian) the branch held its first Meeting at its new base in the Admin Hall at Randjes Estate.

LIBRARY – The Johannesburg Branch of the Genealogical Society boasts a very well stocked Library including a complete set of Indexes to Estate Files; various Publication on Family Histories, Guides to Genealogical Research; Cemetery Recordings and of course Genealogies of South African names published by the Genealogical Institute of South Africa.

PUBLICATIONS - The Branch Newsletter is sent by e-mail two weeks before the meeting. Articles submitted should be sent for inclusion by the first of the month to This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.

ACHIEVEMENTS – Committee Member Joan Augustyn received an ‘Award for Excellence’ at the Genealogist of the Year Award in 2011 for her publication on the Franszen Family History. A fitting award for a person very new to Genealogy. At the same glittering function Margaret GUNDRY received ‘The Extra Mile Award’ a wonderful token for someone who has done a tremendous amount for the Branch.

RADIO TODAY – After an interview on Radio in October 2010, Chairman Natalie da Silva was invited to host a regular programme to be aired weekly. Natalie, along with Margaret Gundry, hosted this programme weekly for nearly three years. (Repeats can be heard on 1485 MW/AM in Greater Johannesburg and country wide on DSTV Audio Channel 869 and streaming globally on http://www.1485.org.za.)