Services to the Public (Use of Archives)


How to use the archives

The National Archives and Records Service of South Africa is a public archives service. Hence its archival holdings are available for use by all members of the public. This service to the public has to be managed efficiently, and every effort has to be made to prevent deterioration of, or damage to archival records that are consulted. Therefore regulations regarding the use of the archives have been promulgated in terms of the National Archives and Records Service of South Africa Act (No 43 of 1996). Rules for governing visits to the repositories have been developed from these regulations.


Reading room rules

The following rules are binding in all repositories of the National Archives and Records Service. They also apply to those repositories that have been devolved to their respective provincial legislatures in terms of the policy of provincialisation of archival functions.

Most of the Reading Rooms in the archives repositories have photocopying and computer facilities. The prices for photocopies are set at:

80c per A4 page
80c per A3 page
20c per computer printout
80c per microfilm copy

NB. Prices are not always the same in all the repositories.

Certain documents may not be photocopied. If the physical integrity of a document is in danger of being compromised by photocopying, the Reading Room official is obliged to withhold it from being photocopied. An example would be the estate files of the Archives of the Master of the Supreme Court in the National Archives Repository that pre-date 1958 and which have been withdrawn from photocopying. Likewise 19th century letter books. No bound document may be unbound for the purposes of photocopying.

In terms of the number of records one can request per day, different rules apply to different repositories. For instance, in the National Archives Repository in Pretoria researchers are allowed to request for a maximum of fifty (50) documents per day. However, it is not always a guarantee that one receive would always receive fifty records on the day, this depends on the number of researchers in the Reading Room on that day and the number of staff working on that day among other things. Requisitions forms for the documents that you wish to consult are found in the Reading Room of each repository. Complete the forms by filling in the information of the records that you wish to consult. These are to be handed to the Reading Room official. At the National Archives Repository in Pretoria, only one (1) box or three (3) bound volumes are permitted at a table at a time. Other requested volumes will be placed on the delivery table reserved for this purpose. Your table number is placed on your requested items on the delivery table. Once you have completed consulting documents, you are requested to return them to specially designated “return” tables. You may then fetch the further items that you have ordered.

In terms of the National Archives and Records Service of South Africa Act (No 43 of 1996) archives are not accessible before a period of twenty (20) years. This embargo does not apply to estate files and items documenting court cases. When you make a request for a particular document, the Reading Room official needs to check whether or not the document falls within the prescribed closed period. Should you wish to consult the document nonetheless, you are required to forward a written request to the National Archivist. If the latter is satisfied that consulting a document does not infringe on privacy rights or other criteria defined in the Promotion of Access to Information Act of 2000, approval for consultation may be granted. Your written application has to contain the following information:

However, the Reading Room official will advise you on the procedures involved.

Requested documents may be reserved for the following day. However, different archives repositories have their own way of reserving documents. Researchers need to find out from Reading Room officials if they want to reserve them for the following day.

Please note that you may not use a fountain pen or a ball point pen when working with archival documents. In some repositories pencils may be bought at the desk of the Reading Room. Eating and drinking are not allowed in the Reading Rooms, and you may not bring either food or drinks into the Reading Rooms. Smoking is forbidden inside all public premises. Cell phones are not allowed in the Reading Room. Please do not place boxes or documents on the floors of the Reading Rooms.

The Reading Room officials are there to assist you at every level of your visit to the Reading Rooms. This applies to inquiries in languages other than English. You may request to be assisted in any of our country’s eleven official languages. If the Reading Room official is not competent in the language of your choice, she or he will seek assistance from other members of staff. However, even though this is policy in the National Archives and Records Service, you may not find an official who is competent in the language of your choice particularly in the smaller provincial repositories.

The reading room supervisor will guide you to archival finding aids which you could use to identify material that might be relevant to your needs. These finding aids include manual retrieval systems, such as inventories, guides, lists and indexes. The National Automated Archival Information Retrieval System (NAAIRS) is also an efficient means of archival retrieval and is available in all reading rooms. NAAIRS does not however include references to the total archival holdings, as it is being developed continually, and should therefore be used in conjunction with the manual finding aids.

We trust that these rules governing your visit to our reading rooms will facilitate your optimal use of the resources of the national and provincial archives.


How to contact the National Archives and Records Service

The Pretoria offices of the National Archives and Records Service of South Africa comprise the Head Office, National Archives Repository, the Bureau of Heraldry and the National Film, Video and Sound Archives. The Cape Town Archives Repository, the Free State Archives Repository, the Pietermaritzburg Archives Repository, the Durban Archives Repository and the Port Elizabeth Archives Repository have devolved their archival and record management functions to the relevant provincial departments.

Up until 1994 the Republic of South Africa was divided into four provinces: the Cape Province, Natal, the Transvaal and the Orange Free State. The National Archives Repository has in its custody the records of central government as well as the public records of the former Transvaal Province and its predecessor states. The Free State Archives Repository in Bloemfontein houses the public records of the former Orange Free State and the Orange River Colony. The Cape Town Archives Repository holds public records of the former Cape Province and earlier colonial administrations, while the Pietermaritzburg Archives Repository and the Durban Archives Repository have custody of the records of the former Natal Province and its predecessor states. In addition to the repositories each of the former provinces had what was then known as intermediate depots, or records centres, as they are called today.

Visiting an archives repository may not always be convenient for you. It is possible, however, for you to contact a repository by means of written and telephonic enquiries, by fax or e-mail. See the contact information for further information.

General enquiries can usually be answered immediately. In the case of specific enquiries, the researcher is usually requested to call back later for the information or is referred to private researchers. Most repositories have only one telephone line to the Reading Rooms. Telephonic enquiries therefore have to be brief to accommodate as many researchers as necessary.

Written enquiries are handled as quickly as possible. However, because of staff shortages in most repositories, archival research cannot be done on behalf of researchers. If your enquiry requires extensive research, you may be advised to visit a repository yourself, or to engage a private researcher. Reading Room officials will provide you with contact details of private researchers. They will also assist you with tracing possible sources for your research undertaking.

Only publications that are housed in the individual archives repository can be made available to researchers. Neither the National Archives and Records Service nor the provincial repositories offer an inter-library loan service.

Professional Freelance Researchers

The National Archives and Records Service (as well as provincial archives services) are not in a position to undertake archival research on behalf of the public. If your enquiry requires in-depth research and you are not able to visit an archives repository personally, you could consider engaging the services of a professional freelance researcher.

Inclusion in the List of Professional Freelance Researchers in Public Archives Repositories does not constitute an endorsement of the services of the researchers by the National Archives and Records Service and provincial archives services, neither does it express any opinion regarding the quality of the services rendered by them. The National Archives and Records Service and provincial archives services do not have information regarding the fees which individual researchers charge, and cannot undertake any liaison with them on behalf of the public.

Genealogical research

Genealogical research forms a substantial part of the research conducted in archives. Each of the repositories which houses archival groups that contain genealogical information has prepared guides to genealogical research which enable the researcher or user to find the information she or he requires. The guides are fundamental to any genealogical research because they contain information that is specific to the sources for genealogical research for that particular repository and geo-political region. Some genealogical sources date back to the 17th century. You may request the guides from the National Archives Repository, the Pietermaritzburg Archives Repository, the Cape Town Archives Repository as well as the Free State Archives Repository by contacting these repositories at the addresses provided under contact information.

Genealogical research is a work-intensive undertaking as it involves research into a variety of genres of archival records such as wills, death notices, death registers, baptismal documents, marriage documents and other sources. For this reason, and because our repositories are all under-staffed, genealogical research is left to private, freelance researchers.

Each repository will also supply you with a list of publications that is of interest to genealogical researchers. Names and addresses of genealogical institutes and church archives, where available, are provided upon request.

A publication entitled Handbook for Genealogical Research in South Africa by RTJ Lombard is of particular value to genealogical researchers because it lists specific sources housed at the numerous archives repositories and research agencies. This publication is obtainable from the Genealogical Institute of South Africa.

Please keep in mind that all birth, marriage and death certificates as well as immigration, naturalization and name change records are kept at the Department of Home Affairs. For further information please consult the website of the Department of Home Affairs at

Other research

If you have any queries regarding military history you may contact the Department of Defence Archives at  as all military records are kept by them. Their physical address is the Schweikert Building, 20 Visagie Street, Pretoria and the telephone number is (012) 339-4600; Fax (012) 339 4631

The National Archives Repository does not keep any newspapers or publications. If you are interested in doing research using these records you can contact the National Library of South Africa at as their staff might be able to provide assistance. The website address of the National Library of South Africa is

Title Deeds to properties (including farms) are kept by the Registrar of Deeds who can be contacted at (012) 338 7000

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