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The History of the Northern Transvaal Branch

Linda Lombard  August 2012

The Genealogical Society of South Africa was founded on the historical farm Joostenberg on 18 June 1964 on the initiative of mr. Philip Myburgh.  It had the FAMILIA as its official mouthpiece.   In 1965 the Rev FCM (Frans) du Toit, archivist of the Dutch Reformed Archives, was requested to be the GSSA representative in Pretoria and mr. JW du Preez  in Johannesburg. The Pretoria Branch was founded on 20 May 1966 with the Rev Du Toit as the first chairperson; he occupied this position until 1974.
Friction between North and South was not restricted to the rugby field; it even existed in the GSSA!  In 1976, though only 20% of GSSA members resided in the Cape, the whole GSSA Board consisted of only Cape members.  The admistration was done in the Cape and the Pretoria Branch received only a membership list and struggled to obtain money for their administrative duties from the Board.  Pretoria members did not receive notices of Board meetings timeously.  The Pretoria Branch under leadership of Johan Krige revised the GSSA Constitution.  Johann attended the Board meeting on 4 October 1976 on his own expense (his air ticket cost him R124) in an effort to resolve the problems.  He was appointed as a Board member but the differences were not resolved; it was even proposed that the Pretoria Branch should secede.
In 1976 Johan Krige established the GSSA Newsletter and he covered the first year’s expenses out of his own pocket. When he moved to Cape Town in 1979, dr. Fanie van Wyk (still a member of our Branch today) took over responsibility for the newsletters.  Robert Laing from Johannesburg proposed in 1977 that the name of the Branch should be changed to the GSSA Transvaal Branch, and it was accepted at the Annual General Meeting (AGM) of 15 February 1978. The membership of the GSSA is now 400 members and 43% resides in the old Transvaal Province.   During the seventies to the nineties 2 to 3 meetings per annum took place and usually on week day evenings.  Dr CL Grobler attended meetings travelling all the way from Potchefstroom and Robert Laing coming from Johannesburg.  The same subjects were covered and the same locations were visited as we do today.  Books were sold for about R5 for paperbacks and R10 for hard covers; it consisted of between 150 to 320 pages.
It was decided to establish a new branch in the North in 1988; it was named the GSSA South Transvaal Branch. Members could decide for themselves to which Branch they wanted to belong to. The name of the Transvaal Branch was thus subsequently changed to the GSSA Northern Transvaal Branch. The Branch lost some of its most active members; this lost led to a temporary decline.
Linda Zöllner remembers: Only 7 persons turned up for the AGM in 1990. My husband, Martin, helped me to take refreshments to the meeting. After the meeting and to his own astonishment, he was the new president of the Northern Transvaal Branch: Colonel Martin Zöllner as chairperson, Captain Jan van der Waag as vice-chairman and in 1992, Gen Maj DS Hamman joined them on the committee.  This situation, with a colonel as the chairman and a general also on the committee, once leads to the colonel calling the general on his name in public – a complete no-no in the military environment.  Captain van der Waag was struck with horror but the general just let it pass gently without putting the colonel in front of a firing-
squad.”  By 1995 the meetings per annum grew to 10 branch meetings, 11 management committee meetings and the AGM meeting.
A New Constitution was accepted in 1995 and in the same year, Branch member Thys du Preez received the Genealogist of the Year Award. By 1996 three Northern Transvaal members took the seat as GSSA National President: Martin Zöllner ws the first, followed by Johann Janse van Rensburg (although he moved to Cape Town) and then Hendrik Louw.
Northern Transvaal boasts a well-stocked library.  Genealogists donated their work like the Peter Holden Collection and the latest being the donation of the huge collection of various books and cds from Gert Claassen when he moved in 2010.
There is an agreement that is annually reviewed with the Heritage Foundation to accommodate the Northern Transvaal library in their library on a lease-lend basis:  in this way more people have access to research material.
The Branch is and was involved in a number of projects; in this way the Kilian book and the Van Wyk cd came into being.  The project that would probably never come to an end is the Cemetery Recording Project.  The research by members of the Branch resulted in a steady flow of publications by members.
 A competition that we have been running for the past three years will probably encourage more members to complete their research work. One does not always have to complete an entire family register. The history of your own family tree is also very important.
Three very useful information sources came from members of the Northern Transvaal Branch: the Handboek for genealogical research in South Africa by the late dr. RTJ Lombard: the South African genealogical reference guide that was compiled by Daan Hamman and our Branch’s own reference guide the Interest List with research areas and contact details of members.  The list was initiated in 2005 by the late Margaret Lodder and is annually updated by the committee.
The Northern Transvaal Branch made and is still making a huge impact in genealogical ranks.  It is the largest land-based Branch and the attendance figures are quite impressive.  Members are mostly from the old Transvaal but we even have a member from Ireland!  The member that probably travels the furthest to attend meetings is Dopper Kruger from Louis Trichardt.  
And that is what contributes to our success - our people.

Information for this publication was obtained from Thys du Preez, Linda Zöllner, Isabel Groesbeek, Frans Fouché and from News Letters, from Ludwig Döhne as well as the minutes of Branch meetings.