Getting Started with NAAIRS

“There are a few entries on NAAIRS – you may already have seen them, though…” This is often my response to other genealogy-obsessed individuals online who, like me, are desperately seeking information on their family members in South Africa. At least four times in the last couple of months, I’ve received a private message from the person shortly thereafter saying they haven’t seen them and asking for assistance on how to see what I’m seeing. It’s as a result of these interactions that I realised a basic intro to NAAIRS could be of value and so here we are 🙂

Firstly, though, a disclaimer: I am self-taught and so the guidelines I provide are based purely on my experiences and research and bits I’ve gathered along the way. I’m quite sure there are better ways to do much of what I try to explain here, so please feel free to provide me with feedback – I’d love to hear from you.

NAAIRS stands for “National Automated Archival Information Retrieval System” and is basically an index to records held in the various archives around the country.  Obviously, not all records are indexed so you may not always find what you’re looking for on NAAIRS, even though the record may be in one of the archives.

Then, as it is only an index, NAAIRS will not provide you with the record itself – only a reference.  However, once you have that reference, you can go to the relevant archive yourself and request the documents, you can ask someone to go on your behalf (which may or may not involve a fee) or you may be able to request a copy from the archives.

So, to the searching: open your web browser and navigate to – this will open up the NAAIRS content page which will list a number of links, many of which you may want to look at, since they’re quite useful and will also help you identify the archive and document type of records you may find. For now, though, click on the “Search” link.

A list of databases will be displayed – I generally choose “RSA”, since that covers all archives but you can always limit your focus, and the number of results returned, by selecting one of the other databases. Just be aware that the family you’re looking for may not always have been where you expect them to have been!

Next, a search form will be displayed.  Only enter one search term per text box. I usually enter the first name in the first search box and the surname in the second. It’s also important to note the following when entering names as search terms:

  • Remember that given names will likely be used in legal documents. For instance, if your ancestor was known as “Archie”, try searching for “Archibald”.
  • Indexing errors do occur, so it’s worth trying variants of the terms you’re searching for, or reducing the number of terms you’re searching for at the same time.
  • You can add middle names as search terms if you know them but be aware that they may not all have been indexed and so the person you’re looking for may be excluded from the search results.

Once you’ve entered your search terms, check the operators – for a basic search on a forename and surname, “And” will usually suffice.  Now click the “Search” button.

The query results will be displayed and you’ll be able to see how many records exist in the archives for your search criteria.  Click on the “Results Summary” link to view the list of records.  Now you need to start sifting through the information. If you click on one of the links on the lines in the list of results, the “Result Details” will be displayed. The DEPOT tells you which archive repository the document is housed in. This is the point at which you may want to refer back to the links on the NAAIRS content page:

Regarding the sources, death notices (and hence, estate files, which should contain a death notice) are generally the most useful in the South African context since they should provide details of the deceased, including their parents and their children and so, with a sprinkle of fairy dust and a prayer for obsessive-compulsive ancestors filling in the death notice, you may be rewarded with three generations on a single document! Bear in mind, though, that not everyone has an estate at the time of their deaths, in which case there may not be an estate file for them.

You usually need the SOURCE, VOLUME, REFERENCE and sometimes the TYPE and SYSTEM to retrieve the document from the archives. Sometimes, however, you’ll also need a part of the DESCRIPTION, e.g. EX PARTE APPLICATION, ILLIQUID CASE, etc. It’s best to record all the Result Details for records which show promise in a research diary or similar document to keep them handy.

And now?
Now you just need to get hold of the records that interest you somehow! If you are unable to make the journey to the archive where the records are held yourself, consider asking the online forums or pages of which you are a member whether anyone is scheduled to visit the archive and could look it up for you. Alternatively, for a small fee, the eGGSA may be able to assist, as long as the record is not in the Cape Town Archives Repository (KAB) – see For records in the Cape Town Archives Repository (KAB), you could e-mail them directly – see their Client Services page.

I hope this has been of some use and has provided some direction. Please leave a comment if you have any other questions in this regard and I’ll do my best to answer them. I would also love any feedback you may have.

Until then, have fun!