Believe it or not, there are people who have compiled entire books on railway immigration schemes, sportsmen of the 1800s and similarly obscure topics. Many of these you’ll find in libraries, some you might discover in second hand book stores. There is also a wide selection on the Ancestry24 site.
For example, if you suspect one of your ancestors arrived from Britain after the 1820 influx (which has been extensively researched), you could search through Esme Bull’s unique and valuable book Aided Immigration from Britain to South Africa 1857–1867, which is available online to Ancestry24 subscribers. It contains lists of immigrants as well as descriptions of the conditions on the ships and the social historical context of their arrival.
Other free online books in Ancestry24’s extensive collection include: Women of South Africa 1913, South African Jewish Yearbook 1929, Dictionary of South African Biography Vol 1–5, Groot Afrikaanse Familienaamboek, British Families in South Africa and German Personalia at the Cape 1652–1806. Resources for sale on Ancestry24 include Prof Robert Shell’s Changing Hands: A calendar of bondage, an e-book publication which covers censuses at the Cape Slave Lodge, slave purchases and owners and slave bank accounts. Also useful is Prof Shell’s From Diaspora to Diorama – The Slave Lodge, which includes cargo lists of thousands of slave names. All these books are an invaluable resource for people from a wide range of backgrounds. Starting with these carefully researched and searchable online books will save you hours in the archives.
If you’ve got a particularly common (and, sometimes, a particularly uncommon) surname, you may find projects focused on them. For example, many family names have their own websites, with stories of family branches and interesting ancestors, bits of family trees that you can contribute to and even regular organised international “reunions”. And, if you are lucky enough to have the surname De Villiers, you can find two massive volumes of an extensive project on the name for sale on Ancestry24 (or free to subscribers).
Keep in mind that unless you’ve got a clear picture of your immediate ancestors (their full correct names, dates and places of birth etc) searching through these resources can be like the proverbial needle in a haystack – you might not even be a part of the branch they’re researching.
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