Finding you

2010-09-10 08:51

Oprah once courageously declared that her ancestry was Zulu. South Africans laughed at the talkshow queen’s ­claim and questioned how she discovered that.

The world of genetics, ancestry and anthropolgy is no longer an old picture of your great-grandmother, or dug-up bones of a chief from a tribe.

Thanks to the people at, genealogy has stepped into the 21st century and just like ­searching for a lost friend on Facebook, tracing your roots is a lot easier.

Step 1: It starts with you

First write down what you know.

Draw a simple family tree and put your

name on the left.

Then draw a line that splits the page in two.

Put your

father’s name at the top and your mother’s at the bottom.

Then do the

same for each of them, ­recording your grandparents. This is an

­ancestral chart.

Step 2: Look at those around as your sources

Relatives are key to discovering who is in your genealogy.

They often

have ­interesting information on their heritage and lineage.

You can

interview those in your family about their past and puzzle together the


It is a process, so it might be best to use a dictaphone or

video camera to store the interviews.

Step 3: Decide on a path to follow

You’ll find yourself becoming ­overwhelmed with all the information you

might ­receive.

You may decide to follow your maternal or paternal line

to a direct ­ancestor such as your first ancestor to ­arrive in South


Step 4: Join a forum

Look to the internet and social networking tools and use this to expand

your ­research.

This may be vital in ­tracking down valuable information

and ­discovering new family members.

Step 5: Start following a paper trail

Once you have discovered enough ­family members and long-lost relatives,

it’s time to sort out the paper work.

Get old birth certificates, death

certificates, ­marriage certificates and land records to assist in

refining your family tree. ­

Another source of documentation is the

National Archives on where government documents are


Step 6: Take it a step further

The documents listed in Step 5 are all ­potentially rich resources.

But sometimes you simply want to fill in gaps in your ancestor’s personal ­history.

You may need to look at issues such as race and ­religion.

For example,

there are shipping and ­passenger records that are obtainable from

Step 7: Filling in the gaps

If there are still gaps in your family tree, you may want to look at

libraries as ­other sources of information.

The national libraries in

Cape Town and Pretoria have archives of newspapers dating back ­hundreds

of years.

Museums may be ­another source, for example, The Slave Lodge

next to the Company’s Garden in Cape Town is a museum of particular

­interest to genealogists.

Step 8: What now?

According to genealogist Heather ­MacAlister, you might look at your great-grandmother’s sister’s death notice to see what it says about her children and find evidence in their histories that confirm who your great-great-grandmother was.

The genealogy trail can be a long road to nowhere.

Anthropologist Andrea Roux says: “Go back to the grassroots level. Look for school records, newspaper clippings and which clinics or churches they were likely to attend.” 

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