Getting Started with Australian Genealogy: Tips from Legacy Tree Genealogist
Ready to start your Australian genealogy research? A Legacy Tree Genealogist walks you through essential Australian history, geography, genealogical record types and online resources to trace your family tree “down under.”
Thank you to Legacy Tree Genealogists for providing this guest post.
Australian genealogy can be straightforward, but you do need to know a time period and a place, as well as the family name you are researching. Australia has only been a single country since 1901; before that there were colonies and territories beginning with the first European settlement in 1788. Even today the individual states and territories have their own governments and record systems with no single combined place to research. Therefore, knowing the time period and place where your ancestors lived is essential.
Australian history and geography
European settlement began with the arrival of the First Fleet in 1788, which included both male and female convicts and military and naval personnel. The colony became known as New South Wales, and occupied the eastern half of the continent of Australia including Tasmania (previously known as Van Diemen’s Land). The western half of the continent was never part of New South Wales and was originally known as the Swan River Colony, and later Western Australia.
With the exception of Western Australia, the other states and colonies were originally part of New South Wales. Victoria was known as the Port Phillip settlement before it became self-governing in 1851, and Queensland was the Moreton Bay settlement until 1859. Early records for both of those colonies will be in New South Wales, so it is important to know when the individual colonies and territories were established.
Similarly, a knowledge of geography is essential, as Australia is a huge continent with most of the population along the coastline. Another complicating factor is that there may be places with the same name in one or more colonies/states. For instance, if researching ancestors from Maryborough, it would be necessary to identify whether you should be researching Maryborough in Queensland or Maryborough in Victoria.
To make matters even more confusing, some places changed their name! For instance, until 1911 Innisfail in Queensland was called Geraldton, not to be confused with Geraldton in Western Australia on the other side of the continent. Bendigo was originally known as Sandhurst, and many of the goldfield towns in central Victoria were known under the broader name of the Mount Alexander goldfield. Knowing the history and geography will help you immensely as you embark on your Australian genealogy research.
Getting started with Australian genealogy research
If you have Australian genealogy there are many wonderful free online Australian resources that will give you a head start in researching your ancestors and learning more about their heritage. Wikipedia – Australia is a good starting place for an overview if you are unfamiliar with Australian history and geography. Depending on where your ancestors were, read the appropriate sections of history and geography. For example, convicts were sent to New South Wales and Tasmania until 1842 when the colony was opened up for free settlement, but Western Australia only received convicts from 1850 to 1868. The gold rushes in Victoria in the 1850s attracted thousands of people, as did later rushes in Queensland in the 1860s and Western Australia in the 1890s.
Many immigrants were looking for their own land and a better life for their families. Each of the colonies had their own immigration schemes in a bid to attract as many people as they could. Most colonial passenger lists are now indexed and can be searched online at the various state archives. Some states have even digitized the passenger lists, which may be viewed freely online. State archives are a wonderful free online resource, and include offices such as the Queensland State Archives, Public Record Office Victoria, or the Tasmanian Archive and Heritage Office.
A free useful portal site is CoraWeb – helping you trace your family history in Australia and elsewhere. It is divided up into categories such as archives, cemeteries, convicts, maps, probate and will records, shipping, migration, and other genealogy-related topics.
Australian birth, marriage, and death records
Like everything else, you need to know an approximate date and place before you begin to research birth, marriage, and death records. Prior to civil registration there are some church records which consist of mostly baptisms and marriages, with a few burials. Civil registration started at various times, and different colonies collected different information at different times, with South Australia having the least information on the certificates.
Van Diemen’s Land (later Tasmania) was the first to introduce civil registration in 1838, with Western Australia following in 1842, South Australia in 1842, Victoria in 1851, and New South Wales (including Queensland at that time) in 1856. Most states have online indexes available for searching, but only Queensland and Victoria provide digital copies of certificates for download after purchase. Western Australia still requires researchers to mail their applications with no online ordering.
Tasmania is perhaps the most helpful – with their early church records and births, marriage, and death certificates indexed, and digital copies online for free through the Tasmanian Archive and Heritage Office. The Tasmanian Name Index includes free indexed and digitized copies of various genealogical resources.
Federation in 1901 and the National Archives
The individual colonies voted to form the Commonwealth of Australia in 1901, and since then there has also been a Commonwealth (later Federal) government. This took over some government functions such as the military, immigration, citizenship, and naturalization, although some states continued to have their own immigration schemes. This means that post-1901, researchers need to use the National Archives of Australia, as well as the various state archives.
In 1911 the final changes to the map of Australia took place, with the separation of the Northern Territory from South Australia, and the establishment of the Australian Capital Territory within southern New South Wales.
With the centenary of World War One, the National Archives of Australia has digitized all army dossiers and made them freely available online. RecordSearch is the main database, and it can be searched in a number of ways including a “Name Search” and “Passenger Arrivals.” While not every record series is indexed by name, it can be useful to search for an individual’s name, especially if they arrived post-1901 or served in the military during either World War.
Australian Newspapers and Photographs
In Australia, digitized newspapers are freely available online through Trove, which is maintained by the National Library of Australia. Along with newspapers, Trove also includes government gazettes, books, articles, maps, manuscripts, photographs, archived websites, and other resources. If you are interested in what a place looked like at the time your ancestors lived there, then try an image search in Trove. Remember that it is continually being added to, so it is essential that you revisit your searches from time to time. (Click here to read another Genealogy Gems article about Trove.)
Individual state libraries also have genealogy sections with online guides to various family history topics. These can be a good place to start, and most participate in the ‘Ask a Librarian’ where you can get advice and information. However, they cannot do individual research – just answer questions.
About Legacy Tree Genealogists
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British Isles Genealogy: New Records Online for England, Scotland, Ireland
Trace your British Isles genealogy! This week we report on new genealogy records online for England, Scotland, and Ireland. Read about WWI weekly casualty lists, free census records at FreeCen, English and Scottish burials, Scottish poorhouse–and a free British Newspaper Archive webinar on learning about migration and travel in old newspapers.
British Isles Genealogy: Free and Fee Records Now Online
NEW! Free UK census records website
The same team of volunteers who bring us FreeBMD and FreeREG have now launched FreeCEN, a free website offering free-to-search 19th-century UK censuses. “Transcribed entirely by volunteers, we have more than 32 million individuals available on our website that anyone can search without having to create an account,” states a press release. “FreeCEN2 also brings with it a host of improvements for existing and future volunteers, such as a members sign-in area and brand new messaging system.” NOTE: This site may not be comprehensive for every kind of record you’re looking for. But it’s free, and definitely worth exploring, whether you want to search its collections or volunteer to help add to them.
England burial records: Staffordshire, Lincolnshire
Findmypast.com subscribers can now access over 127,000 entries in its Staffordshire Monumental Inscriptions, providing information on burials in “168 churchyards, burial grounds, and cemeteries throughout the county. This record sets can help you discover an ancestor’s birth date, death date, and residence, as well as the name of other family members such as parents, spouse, or children.”
About 90,000 new records have been added to Findmypast’s Lincolnshire Burials 1754-1812, which now totals over 1.5 million records covering over 300 locations across the county. For each person, you might find age at death, birth year, burial date, and location.
Scotland, West Lothian
Findmypast.com has published new records relating to West Lothian, located in the south of Scotland. According to the site, the area was “known as Linlithgowshire until 1921. The county was home to the Scottish monarchs of the 15th and 16th centuries.”
- Linlithgowshire Poorhouse records, with details on more than 15,000 people admitted between 1859 and 1912. “The collection contains a variety of different record types including admissions, deaths, discharges, and sick rolls that will reveal your ancestor’s admission date, behavior during their stay, previous residence, and more.”
- Burials, 1860-1975. Over 87,000 transcripts of burial records spanning 115 years. “Each transcript that will reveal the date of your ancestor’s burial, the location of their grave, their occupation, residence, death date, and in some cases the names of additional family members.”
WWI Weekly Casualty List at The British Newspaper Archive
The historically significant Weekly Casualty List (1917-1918, published by the War Office & Air Ministry) lists names of soldiers who were killed, wounded, or declared missing during the First World War. The War Office and Air Ministry updated and published the lists weekly and our current holdings cover the latter years of the conflict. Over 2,400 digitized pages are published in this collection.
More new collections at the British Newspaper Archive
- Derbyshire: This brand new collection for the Ripley and Heanor News and Ilkeston Division Free Press for the town of Ripley already includes over 17,000 digitized pages for 1890-1897 and 1899-1957.
- East Sussex: For Brighton Gazette, additions include 1871-1910, for total coverage for this scenic seaside town now spanning 1825-1910.
- Hertfordshire: New issues have been added for Herts & Cambs Reporter & Royston Crow, covering the town of Royston. Available years now include 1878-1882, 1884-1888, 1890-1898, and 1900-1910.
- Lancashire: The Nelson Leader coverage now spans 1920-1957; it was published in Nelson.
- Norfolk: Another new collection is Eastern Daily Press from Norwich. It’s already got nearly 40,000 pages of coverage for 1870-1876, 1878-1890, 1896, 1899, and 1901-1909.
- Tynemouth, Tyne, and Wear: Now you can read Shields Daily News from 1870-1957, with the recent addition of pages for 1938-1957.
- Warwickshire: New on the site is Alcester Chronicle, with over 17,000 digitized pages covering 1869-1888 and 1890-1910.
- West Yorkshire: The years 1880-1888 have been added for The Knaresborough Post, for total coverage now spanning 1878-1912 (with a few little gaps).
- Ireland, Tyrone: The Limerick Chronicle (1832-1868) gives historical news from the western seaboard of Ireland and their holdings cover both the pre- and post-Famine periods. The Mid-Ulster Mail was published in County Tyrone, with current coverage offering insight into the period before the Great War.
- Scotland, Angus, and Kincardineshire: The Brechin Herald and Angus and Mearns News (1890-1892). This paper covers both of the historic eastern counties of Angus and Kincardineshire.
Free webinar from The British Newspaper Archive: News coverage of immigration and travel
“The topic of emigration is well covered by the newspapers. For instance, you can easily find advertisements that might have enticed your ancestor to leave Britain or Ireland to seek a new life in Australia or America. In the 1840s, The Limerick Chronicle carried advertisements for ‘fast ships’ and information booklets designed to assist immigrants travelling to the United States.” -The British Newspaper Archive
(For the ultimate guide in newspapers research, read How to Find Your Family History in Newspapers by Lisa Louise Cooke. Got Canadian roots? Catch a conversation about Canadian newspapers between Lisa Louise Cooke and Dave Obee in the free Genealogy Gems podcast episode #204.)
Disclosure: This post contains affiliate links and Genealogy Gems will be compensated if you make a purchase after clicking on these links. Thank you for supporting Genealogy Gems!
New Archival Collections: How to Know What’s New at Your Favorite Repository
New archival collections at your favorite repository may be the long-awaited key to solving your family history mysteries! But how can you keep up with what’s new at archives and libraries? Professional archivist Melissa Barker shares her favorite tips.
Not long ago, Lisa Louise Cooke read my article on what’s new at the Utah State Archives. She asked me how I keep up with new archival collections at my favorite repositories.
New Archival Collections May Be Just What We Need
Many of us can say that our ancestors were living in a certain area and their records should be located at certain local archives, libraries, or genealogical or historical societies. Maybe we have even done research there in the past, either by visiting the facility, contacting them by phone or email, or using their records online. Records, photographs, ephemera, and artifacts are constantly being discovered and made available in all of our wonderful archives. Many of these records may not make it to microfilm or online, but they are so rich with family information. (Don’t know where to look? Click here to learn how to find archives and libraries near your ancestor’s locale.)
But trying to keep up with all the new records that are being processed in archives, libraries, and genealogical societies can make your head spin! So how are genealogists supposed to stay current?
3 Ways to Keep Up with New Archival Collections
1. Check the archives website. See if they have announced new records collections that are available for research (many archives do). The archives may even have a blog or newsletter that you can subscribe to, which will give you the latest news right at your fingertips. Not only will the archives announce new records that are available but they will even let their patrons know what has been recently donated to the archives and which records are currently being processed.
2. See if the archive has a social media presence. Archives like to post photos of new discoveries and records collections that are ready for the researcher. I know at the Houston County, TN. Archives I like to scan and post images of great documents or artifacts to Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, and Pinterest. (Like the post pictured here that I shared recently.)
LISA’S TIP: Remember to use Google search terms to find your favorite archive’s website and social media homes! A quick search such as National Archives Pinterest might be faster than trying to find it on the actual social media site. That search brings up tempting boards for National Archives in both the US and the UK:
3. When visiting an archive, ask: “What’s new?” Talk to archivists about records collections that have recently been processed and made available for research. This is a great way to find more information and records about your ancestors. As an archivist who processes records on a daily basis that are not online or even microfilmed, I get excited about sharing what I find with the genealogy community.
Until next time, this is The Archive Lady, remember it’s not all online, so contact or visit an archive today!
Learn More about Using Archival Collections
Listen to me on the free Genealogy Gems Podcast! This year the podcast is celebrating its 10th-year anniversary. Tune in to hear more inspiring stories and tips to help your family history research. Listen on your computer or on your mobile device through the Genealogy Gems app. Click here to learn more.