Sunday, June 02, 2013

Family history research in Namibia

On a recent trip to Namibia we did some family history research, which you can read about here and here. We spent two days in the state archives, which have moved to a spacious new building since our last visit 20 years ago, but did not find much that we didn't already know.

We had arranged to visit the Lutheran Church archives, but the archivist was away, and a retired archivist came over to help but was not able to find anything useful. Where we did find useful material that was new to us was in the library of the Scientific Society of Namibia, which had photocopies of the early Lutheran Church registers, and transcriptions of several more. We were interested mainly in the period 1840-1900, and we did not have time to look at everything properly, and so ended up madly photographing pages of the church registers to look at when we got home.

Once we have sorted out the material we have from this trip, we may possibly try to plan another, and allow more time for looking at the things we were not able to see properly this time.

Two people who were very helpful to us were Werner Hillebrecht of the State Archives, and Gunter von Schumann of the Scientific Society of Namibia (which is open to the public only in the afternoon).

The State Archives has deceased estate files, similar to the South African ones, and are probably the thing that most researchers should begin with. We had dealt with most of these in previous visits, which is why we did not find so much this time. There is a computer index, but, unlike NAAIRS in South Africa, it can't be consulted on line. With an online index you can go to the archives with a list of the records you want to consult, which saves some time. But the Windhoek archives index can only be consulted using terminals in the reading room, which meant that we had to spend 2-3 hours making lists of the things we wanted to look at before getting a chance to look at them. The archives staff were very helpful in showing us how to use the index, and how to order material (requisition forms have to be filled in in duplicate).Not all the material in the archives has been indexed yet, but what has been indexed was useful. Again, you can see some examples of what we found here.

Namibian National Library and Archives, Windhoek
The State Archives only has the older deceased estate files, which means that those for people born after about 1890 can only be found in the office of the Master of the Supreme  Court, and we didn't have enough time to go there.

The Scientific Society is also working on the publication of early written material. Some recent publications have been the papers of Swedish explorers and traders, which had previously been published in Swedish, but are now being translated into English.and republished to make them more accessible.

There is more information about the Scientific Society of Namibia here and here.

There is more information about the State Archives (part of the National Library of Namibia) here.


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