Friday, June 25, 2010

What's Really Wrong With Education (International Edition)

Sometimes it feels like the United States is severely behind the rest of the world in its education standards. At least, that's what the newspapers tell us, so it must be true, right?


I've been completely engrossed in researching the history of my paternal grandparents, who emigrated to South Africa from Latvia in the early 1930s. It occurred to me that there are probably some immigration records for them in some South African archive ... somewhere. I haven't dealt with the South Africans yet, but having had such good luck with the Latvian State Archive, I thought, why not? I mean, I even speak their language.

The South African National archives website states that immigration and other records are available at the Department of Home Affairs, whose website doesn't seem to have a place to request a records search, but does have a helpful webform you can use to request information.

My request went out last night:

I am trying to locate immigration records for my grandparents and members of their families from the 1930s. Can you please direct me to the appropriate department? I live in Seattle, WA, USA.

Since I believe in trying to focus on the positive, I would like to note that the following reply came back within hours - lightning speed for any government agency, anywhere:

Kindly be advised that you need to visit your nearest department of home affairs regional office where an immigration officer will be able to assist you. Please have as much supporting documents as you can get in order to be assisted further.

Not to belabor the obvious, but traveling to my nearest Department of Home Affairs regional office involves two airplane flights lasting, at a minimum, 24 hours. Not that I mind, what with the free WiFi airlines now provide to compensate passengers for the leg cramps and lack of edible food.

But, I digress.

Ever the optimist, I replied:

I cannot "visit" my local office - I live in Seattle. I am trying to locate historical documents. Please advise - is there an archive where these documents are located? thank you.

Again, to their credit, the reply came back speedily:

Please accept our sincerest apologies for the miscommunication. Please be advised that you will need to visit the South African embassy and request to speak to an immigrations officer.

Washington DC is, in fact, a shorter plane flight from here, and one that probably will have free WiFi, too. But before I hop on that plane, I'm thinking I might explore a few alternatives.


  1. (Bangs head on desk) How? oh my!

  2. Oh Boy. Even speaking the same language there's a cultural communication block!

    Maybe the writer didn't understand that Seattle was in the US? I'd try one more time. Something like:

    "How do I, an American, get copies of historical South African documents about my grandparents who had emigrated to South Africa, without me flying to a South African embassy?

    What South African office offers copies of my grandparents' immigration papers for a small fee?

  3. I'm a day late, but I'm your newest follower from Blog Hop Friday. Would love if you'd vist me at Mom of all Trades! Have a great weekend.

  4. Following from Friday's bloghop, would love for you to follow us back : )

  5. Hmmm... seems they need a geography lesson!

    Visiting from VGNO- a bit late, but here!

  6. Oh my. Is there a consulate nearby you maybe? Oy. Good luck anyway :-)


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