4 FAST Strategies for Searching the 1931 Canadian Census

Show Notes: The 1931 Canadian Census was released by the Library and Archives Canada on June 1 of 2023. These digitized images can (as of now) be browsed by general location. The challenge with this census, like with other census records when they first come online, is that there is no index. Creating the index that makes the census searchable by name and other identifying factors takes a while. So right now, the digitized images are available online to browse. Ancestry.com is partnering with the Library and Archives Canada and using its artificial intelligence technology to generate the index. Until that happens, I have four strategies for you that are going to help you find your ancestors right now. And you’ll be able to find them much faster than if you just browsed the images one by one. Once the index comes out, it’s not necessarily going to be perfect. They never are. So, these strategies can help you if you run into trouble finding someone in the 1931 Canadian census. And they’ll also help you better understand the information that you do see in the images.

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The 1931 Canadian Census was released by the Library and Archives Canada on June 1 of 2023. 

Strategy #1 Check Earlier Census Records

My first strategy for finding your ancestors in the 1931 census of Canada is to check the earlier census records. Our goal is to identify the enumeration sub-district and the municipality where they lived. If we can find it in an earlier census, we can use that information to find them more quickly in the 1931 Canadian Census.

In my case, the person I’m looking for in the 1931 Canadian census is my husband’s great-grandfather, Harry Cooke. He emigrated to Canada in 1912, along with his second wife, Martha. I started my search for them by seeing if I could find them in a census record sometime after 1912, but prior to 1931.

Harry lived in Regina, Saskatchewan. So, I was able to use the Census of Prairie Provinces that was taken in 1926 in Saskatchewan, Alberta, and Manitoba. You can use the Census Search Tool at the Library and Archives Canada website to search those census records.

If your ancestors lived in other provinces, again, that Census Search Tool is going to help you find the most recent census records available for them.

In 1926 Harry Cooke was in sub-district number 8 and the municipality was Sherwood, so I made note of that. Also, while looking at that 1926 census, I found there is an area where it talks about where each household is located. They list the Township, Range and Meridian. So, I also made note of the township number listed, which in this case was 17. If your ancestors happen to live in a city, there may be a street address listed. Though many people came to Canada to work the land, so you may not be fortunate and find that information. But make note of the street address if it’s listed. Sometimes it’s written right across the Township, Range and Meridian columns.

Strategy #2 Check City Directories for Addresses

I really easy way to look for city directories is just to google it. I found the 1931 city directory for Regina by going to Google.com and typing in 1931, Regina city directory. The very first result was the city directory for Regina in 1931 at Internet Archive. I happen to have heard that there was a directory for 1931, so that’s why I searched for it specifically. If you don’t happen to know the year you can run a Google search for a time frame. Do this by entering the name of the town or the closest big city to where your ancestors lived in the search field. Add the phrase city directory, and then enter a number range. Google calls this search operator a numrange. Here’s an example:

Regina city directory 1912..1931

This type of search brings up links to web pages that mention Regina, the words city directory, and also a four-digit number that falls within the specified range, which for us would be the year that the city directory was published!

The Internet Archive has thousands of digitized and searchable city directories. Many genealogy record websites use The Internet Archive as their cloud hosting service for their records. They digitize everything and upload it to Internet Archive where they can host it, and then link to it on their website. So that is a great place to look.

However, it’s a good idea to run a Google search because that way you are going across the internet, and hopefully you’ll find the city directories that you need.

In my case, in 1931 Harry and Martha are still at 520 Osler Street. So that reinforces what I had found in the 1926 census.

Strategy #3 Search at the Library and Archives Canada website

At the time of this writing, without an actual index, we’re going to enter the province name, the city / district if you have it, and the sub-district.

In the case of Harry and Martha Cooke, I found them in 1926 in sub-district #8, so that was the first place I searched. However, in 1931 sub-district #8 was not associated with the municipality of Sherwood. In fact, it didn’t mention township 17 either, so it was very suspicious.

It is possible that enumeration sub-districts can change over time. This can happen because as a country grows, the population grows. District lines must be redrawn in a way that allows a single census taker (enumerator) to cover the area within a certain given amount of time. In a more populated city, that can mean that the sub-district actually shrinks a little bit, and there are more sub-districts added. However, the previous sub-district does give you a great starting point. It’s very possible that the person you are looking for is in a sub-district close to the original. So, you’ll just have to browse a little further. And that takes us to strategy number four.

Strategy #4 Browse the Records Faster Using Clues

You could go through each digitized page of the 1931 Canadian census one by one looking for your relatives. That took an especially long time when the records were first released on June 1 of 2023. On my computer each image took at least two hours to load…it was crazy! But it’s not surprising, because I’m sure everybody and their brother wanted to look at these records.

Thankfully, now it’s running much faster. But it could still take quite a long time to look page by page. There are a few more things that you can do to make the process much faster.

First, as you pull up each sub-district, keep track of your search with a research log. After checking the sub-districts before and after the one Harry Cooke was in in 1926, I went back to the beginning and started with sub-district #1.  The very first image in each sub-district is going to be a title card that will include the township number, and the municipality covered in that sub-district. So, since you already located that in the earlier census record, you are going to be able to immediately tell if that group of images is worth going through.

If it doesn’t match, go on to the next sub-district. This is why a research log is important. Genealogy Gems Premium Members can download the worksheet in the Resources section at the bottom of these Show Notes. It’s just a really simple way to keep track of everything that you’re finding and make sure that you’re not covering the same base twice.

You might come across a title card that has the right municipality but not the right township number, or vice versa. I found that in one case while looking for the Cookes. Just make note of it on your worksheet, and keep moving, looking for an exact match.

If you find a sub-district that looks really promising, perhaps it includes the township or the municipality you need, take a quick look at image number two. This is the first page that shows people in the neighborhood. There are a couple of things to look for.

If you know that your ancestors were British, like Harry and Martha were, then you might expect them to be in a neighborhood with predominantly British people. That was really common. When our ancestors left their homeland and came to a new country, they oftentimes emigrated with other people from the country that they knew. They may have heard about the opportunity from those people. And once they arrived, they tended to congregate together. They lived together in communities and neighborhoods because they shared a culture and language. They could support each other and help each other.

One of the things that tipped me off that sub-district #8 wasn’t the right place to be searching for the Cookes was that it was comprised primarily of Russians, Austrians, Romanians, and Hungarians. Harry and Martha didn’t speak those languages, so I would not expect them to be there. Also, when I looked at the 1926 census, I made note of who his neighbors were. And indeed, it was a very predominantly British neighborhood. So that was a clue to me that even though I might have had the right township number, it didn’t mention the right municipality, and it certainly had a completely different makeup when it came to the neighborhood.

Also, as you’re reviewing the surnames and going down the list on the image, take a look at the township column. As you’ll recall, we made note of the township number and / or the address that we found in the earlier census. As you scan the surnames on the page, also check if the correct township number or address is showing up.

In my search, I saw a lot of different street names (not Osler St.). I don’t know Regina very well, so in another browser tab, I opened up Google Maps. I did a search for 520 Osler St., and then I selected “Directions” and entered one of the street names that I was seeing on the census. And sure enough, they were miles and miles apart. That’s another clue you’re not in the right area for browsing.

Our goal is to find our relatives as quickly as possible without spending hours reviewing pages that are not likely to include them. So, again, if you don’t find that exact match of Township and Municipality on the sub-district index card, look at these other factors to see if you’re in the right ballpark.

In the end, I am happy to say I found Harry and Marth Cooke pretty quickly. They were in sub-district number 11. The title card showed that it covered township 17 and the municipality of Sherwood. It was an exact match! They were on image number 18 residing in a very predominantly British neighborhood on Osler St., exactly where I would expect them to be.

1931 Canadian Census Search Wrap Up

The 1931 Canadian Census is full of valuable information about your Canadian relatives. While it take a little more time to search without an index, these strategies can help you do so faster. You can also apply (and tweak) these techniques to other types of searches where an index is unavailable, or your relatives aren’t showing up in the search results. And remember, if you find an address, look up the location in Google Maps to see it for yourself. 

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Internet Archive – 10 Records You’ll Love to Find

 

Early Virginia Genealogy

Show Notes: Learn how to trace your ancestors back to Virginia just prior to the Revolutionary War. Professional genealogist Jeri Satterwhite-Dearing specializes in early Virginia research in her work as a professional genealogist with Legacy Tree Genealogists.  She explains some of the biggest challenges you’ll face when researching early Virginian ancestors, the records you should be looking for, and some of the best resources. 

Early Virginia Genealogy

Early Virginia Genealogy Video and show notes

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Show Notes

Lisa: A while back, we did a video on Finding early American Ancestors in New England and we got tons of comments on it. We also received a lot of requests to dig into early American genealogical research. In this video and article, we are going to do just that for Virginia.

Guest: Jeri Satterwhite-Deering, professional genealogist at Legacy Tree Genealogists.

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Virginia Genealogy Research Challenges

What are some of the unique challenges that face people who are trying to research ancestors in Virginia?

Jeri: I think the main thing is that the further back you go, the different record types that you would expect to find and use. You won’t have census records before 1790, and you won’t necessarily have marriage records, or death certificates, because that didn’t come till much later. But those records are there, and then you just have to really know where to dig and what to look for.

I rely more on land records, tax records, court records, and those types of record. As I said, census records go back to 1790, maybe 1783, when they have county type census. Then at that point you need to rely on tax records more and look for your ancestors in land records. Land records are full of all kinds of genealogical clues about your family as you as you dig in deep.

Lisa: And it can be a bit of a challenge for folks who might be researching Virginia for the first time. We hear about things, like you mentioned the land records and tax records, and that could be very new territory for us. It can be a little intimidating to jump into a record collection you haven’t worked before.

Jeri: Right, especially because then you’re relying on original documents, which means reading the handwriting of the time. That takes practice. It’s like when you first learn to write cursive in school. It’s not that hard, it just takes a little bit of time. It’s kind of fun, because they write different, and their terminology is different. But that’s where your dictionary comes in. Practice makes perfect. The more you do, the easier it gets.

Most of those records are going to be at county level. If you have a burned county, then you may have to rely on state records. The Virginia state library may have more than what is left in a burned county. There are all kinds of records there. It’s just a matter of knowing where to go.

Learn More About the County in Virginia

My first recommendation would be to learn more about the county you’re going to be dealing with. First go to the FamilySearch Wiki for the county. Read what they have to say about which records are available for that particular county and start there. Make a research plan. Make notes and determine exactly what to look for.

I know that you’ve done a couple of past episodes, especially I think it was episode 64, where you talked about how to do research using FamilySearch. I think those are things you need to learn a little bit before you jump right in. I think that would be a really good start if they’re not familiar with FamilySearch. It’s one of the best places to go to look at records when you’re starting out.

Lisa: And it’s free, which is great.

Jeri: That’s right, so it’s definitely a good place to start along with learning about the county. Learning about the formation of the county, that’s almost a genealogical research adventure in itself because you need to know how the counties changed so quickly over time. And you do need to get back to what that parent county was. It’s important to know the genealogy of the counties and know where to look for those records, because they’re not all just going to be in today’s county. You may have to go back to multiple counties to find those records.

Lisa: Typically, when a record was created in a particular county, and then that county maybe splits out or changes we should be looking in the county that it was at the time our ancestors were there, right?

Jeri: Exactly. You might think, “that’s it, I’m done. I can’t find anything else.” When you feel that way, step back, review the various forms the county has taken. Check all of them. You’d be surprised where those records will be in many different places. They might even be in the courthouse basement. I’ve come across that many times as well.

In Virginia, not all deed records are going to be online. For example, here in North Carolina our counties have so many records available online. But in Virginia, they might not be on FamilySearch. You may have to go to a courthouse to actually see those records. However, they are getting better about getting them filmed.

If you’ve exhausted some of that, like I mentioned before, check out tax records. These put your person in their place in time, and that’s what you’re looking for. You always want to remember that a man by one name is not necessarily that man. Always remember that because there are so many same named people throughout history, and you have to be careful which one you’re chasing and get the right one.

Lisa: I love your idea about the genealogy of a county! Getting to know the history county at the same time as you’re getting to know the history of your family.

Virginia Burned Counties

You mentioned burned counties. Seasoned genealogists have heard that many times. But there are those who are new to genealogy, or they’ve been researching other parts of the country, and now they’re finding that their family line takes them into the South where burned counties are more common. Tell us a little bit about what you mean by a “burned county” and what does that mean to the records?

Jeri: Generally burned counties have a lot to do with war. That’s especially true during the Civil War. For the South, many courthouses burned down. But it happens even in today’s time. We see floods, we see fires. Again, look at your county history on the FamilySearch Wiki. It will tell you which counties were burned. Then you can determine where else to look for records.

I had a project recently that was in Washington County, Arkansas. The county was totally burned, and there was nothing really left. But at the state level, I was able to find the tax records. So, for the client’s ancestor, we were able to place him in that county in the time that we needed to place him there even though there was no information about him anywhere in the county. Those records were burned at two different times. Once in the 1800s, and then again later on.

When your ancestor got a deed, they would take it into the courthouse to get it recorded. This means that when you’re looking at a deed book, you’re not looking at the original record because they didn’t keep the original deed. They just recorded it, and then they handed it back. Folks then took it home to keep it in a safe place. I was very fortunate in one of my research projects that when we had burned counties, they had all the people bring their deeds back in and they recorded them again. And so that’s how we ended up with still having deeds that were probably burned the first go around in the clerk’s books.

I inherited deeds from my great grandmother that were in a trunk. That is probably what started this whole journey for me 30 years ago. One of the deeds was from 1812. It was just amazing! They had kept those deeds. The courthouse over in Orange County did not have that deed, so I took it over there, and they got to copy it into the deed book. And then they had it. There’s a lot of ways to get around the burned counties, and there’s reason for hope.

Lisa: That’s very encouraging that they brought records back in and entered them again.

State Level Records for Virginia

How do records end up at the state level? You mentioned a couple of times to check with the State Archives. Was there a process where every so often the counties were supposed to send copies of books to the state? Or did that happen much later?

Jeri: Well, I think it did, like, are in North Carolina, particularly. So many of our marriage records have gone to the state. So, they’re at our archives now. And so, they came out of the county’s hands, I don’t know, maybe because they just kept getting burned to the ground. They, and so they ended up, you know, at the at the state level at the State Archives for most of them. And so, your state archives is a good place for your research. State libraries are good, like the Library of Virginia (state library), as the just you couldn’t ask for better. And online and offline. It’s a great, it’s a great resource for learning and looking for records as well.

Important Types of Records for Early Virginia Genealogy

Lisa: You’ve mentioned a couple of different types of records. We talked about tax records. Would we find tax records for somebody who doesn’t own property?

Personal Property and Planned Tax Records

That would be your personal property tax records, and then you had planned tax records. So, there are two different ones and you want to look for each. There may only be just one white pole, which means that one person is over the right age to be taxable. It might be a horse, it might be a silver watch, things like that.

Land Tax Records

Then there’s the land tax where they’re going to tax you on how much property that you own.

Included in the property tax would be enslaved persons. So, if you’re doing African American research, especially for Virginia, these are helpful. If the person you are researching was an enslaver, they would have these people listed by their names, typically their first names because that’s generally all they had. Some of them were sorted out by age. Not necessarily every county would be the same. But you would have perhaps age under 15 or 16, and then over 16. And while that’s a broad range, you’re looking for every little thing you can when you’re doing that type of research. Those are the kinds of things that you would see in the tax records.

Chancery Records

Another great resource is chancery records, which I love. They’re court records which you can find at the Virginia Library. You can search by plaintiff or defendant or just a surname. I usually just do the surname when I search. You go to each county so choose your county, and then choose your name. It’ll bring up folders of court records. Everybody sued everybody just like they do now. Everybody was in court all the time. Sometimes it’ll just be maybe a lawsuit over land, or it could be a lawsuit over a horse or an enslaved person as well. But a lot of times you would find records that would involve state records, probate records, and every now and then you will really get lucky and you could find a whole family’s history in some of these files that explain the parents and the grandparents, the grandchildren. I’ve had them go many generations in one file and even include the neighbors. It puts your person in their place and time and helps you not confuse them with someone else

Virginia Chancery Records

Virginia Chancery Record, courtesy of Jeri Satterwhite-Dearing

I would say that if you don’t look at those you’re missing out, totally! They are refilming a lot of the records right now. So, when you search your file might not come up. You would be able to see the file folder, but you might not be able to see the contents of it. But then you could take that information and go to your county level court records. Again, I would go through FamilySearch and do your search in the catalog by the county, not just a record search. By doing that, you can actually find those folders are still going to be within the county. You’ll have to dig a little deeper. But it’s always rewarding to do that.

Colonial Tithables

Lisa: You’ve mentioned several really important types of records, chancery court records, deeds, wills and estate records. What other types are there? You have on your list colonial tithables. What are those?

Jeri: Those were really early. They’re like taxing, and it has to do with who the person by the age, and if they’re old enough to be taxed. It’s another form of the tax record. Those are the really early lists that you would be back quite far. You might not need those for a while, but if you get lucky, and you’re really getting back pretty far, then those are good.

Understand Virginia Law

Lisa: I imagined to be able to really use these records, we have to really understand things like geography and the law. What are your recommendations to a genealogist on really getting to understand the law? What’s a good way to go about that?

Jeri: Reading, taking classes, I mean, there are so many classes available online nowadays, just from the comfort of your home to be able to learn a lot. That would be the best thing to get familiar with the law. Learning the law is a little bit more complex but it is important. For example, it helps you determine if someone would have been the right age to get married. It’s a good way to separate the person out that might be the same name. It would help you know if your ancestor was able to buy and sell land, whether they could be a witness, all those ages change frequently. Then you know whether to go look for those records.

Understand Virginia Geography

Lisa: Are there any other resources that you think should really be on the forefront of the minds of people who are going to be digging into their Virginia roots?

Jeri: Land and maps are really my favorite! The David Rumsey collection is free and it’s excellent. I think you did a video episode on finding and using David Rumsey maps, too. Oh, my gosh, it was great!

And I definitely look for maps with Google. (Resource: The Genealogist’s Google Toolbox by Lisa Louise Cooke.) You can Google historical maps for Roanoke County, Virginia, for example. Some of those older maps have the landowners on them. I’ve got a huge map collection. You can find them from the formation of the county. They will have the landowner’s names written where their land was. Maybe your person did not own land, maybe they were just tenant farmers, but you found the name of the landowner, or you find them in another record. Look to see who they were living around. You can then find where they were, when they were in that particular county. That also gives you a way to look for more records that might involve your ancestor, as well.

Lisa: Well, that makes great sense. Maps are such an important part of it’s all location and timeframe, right?

Jeri: Yeah, because everything was about land. It still is, but it always has been about the land, and you don’t want to bypass that. You don’t want to just look at census, marriage, and death records, and that’s it.  You really need to understand the context of their life and everything that was going on around them in the area that they lived. You then know more about who they are. Say their name, know who they were, and make them come back. They can be alive.

Getting Help from a Professional Genealogist Specializing in Virginia

Lisa: That’s a great way to look at it. Jeri, if people get really stuck, and they just feel like I need help with a professional genealogist, how could they get in touch with you? And what do you guys do at Legacy tree genealogist?

Jeri: They can contact us, and we can steer them to the right professional genealogist for their project. We have a wonderful team, and they do really good work! If you get stuck or if you don’t feel like you  have the years to go and take the time to take classes and do everything, come join us and we’ll be happy to get you on the right track and help you find your ancestors.

Exclusive Discounts: Learn more at https://www.legacytree.com/GenealogyGems This is our affiliate link and includes special discount coupon codes just for you.

Lisa: It’s a good feeling to be able to take a big leap forward and professionals can help you do it. Jeri,  this has been terrific. Thank you for giving us a jumpstart into our Virginia genealogy.

(This interview was edited minimally for clarity.)

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New and Updated Genealogical Records Reveal Ancestors in Paradise

This week, we set sail to the islands with new and updated genealogical records for Hawaiian and Irish genealogy. Passenger lists and denization records shine a light on ancestors who walked the shores of beautiful Hawaii and previously classified records are revealed in the Easter Rising collections for Ireland. Also this week, the Canadian Census for 1901, and records for Maine, Kentucky, and the country of Benin.

dig these new record collections

United States – Hawaii – Passenger Lists

  • Name
  • Age
  • Occupation
  • Place of origin
  • Arrival date
  • Record date
  • Current residence

United States – Hawaii – Certificates of Identification

This collection of certificates of identification for Chinese arrivals may include:

  • Name
  • Date of arrival
  • Ship
  • Permit number
  • Photograph locator

Note: Photographs are not available in this collection. Photographs of arrivals were taken and kept in a Deposit Book. You can obtain copies of these photographs from the Hawaii State Archives using the locator information that is provided on each certificate.

Ireland – Easter Rising Collection

Findmypast has added over 48,000 additional records to their Easter Rising & Ireland Under Martial Law 1916-1921 collection. If you are not familiar with the Easter Rising, it took place on Easter Monday, April 24, 1916. A group of Irish nationalists announced the establishment of the Irish Republic and staged a rebellion against the British government in Ireland.

28_oct_2

These were once classified records, but have now been digitized and can be browsed. These unique records document the struggles of life under martial law in Ireland and also contain details of both soldiers and civilians who participated or were affected by the Easter Rising of April 1916.

The collection contains the names of the hundreds of people who were detained and interned in prisons across Ireland, England, and Wales. Further, the internment files contain reports on individual detainees which record their charges, trial, and sentence as well as personal letters from prisoners or their relatives testifying to their innocence. Locating an ancestor in this collection would be a very special find.

Canada – Census

Findmypast has just added the Canada Census for 1901. It contains over 5.1 million records. The 1901 census was the first Canadian census to ask questions about religion, birthplace, citizenship, and immigration.

Each record includes a transcript and link to the digital image of the original census form. These census records will also list the name, date of birth, place of birth, marital status, relationship to head of household, race or tribe, immigration year, and naturalization year of each household member.

United States – Maine – Military

FamilySearch has added two new collections this week and one of them is Maine, World War I Draft Registration Index, 1917-1919. I don’t know if we have mentioned lately, but FamilySearch.org is free for everyone. This new collection for Maine is just one of hundreds available for genealogy records.

Records found in this collection generally conta28-oct_1in the following information:

  • Name
  • Place and date of birth
  • Marital Status
  • Residence
  • Nationality and race
  • Occupation
  • Relatives’ names

United States – Kentucky – Marriages

This past summer, the Special Collections Research Center at University of Kentucky Libraries and the Fayette County Clerk’s Office developed a pilot project that will ultimately provide online access to Colored Marriage Indexes between the years of 1866-1882 and 1958-1968. The purpose of the project is to provide researchers with greater online access to these documents pertaining to African Americans in Kentucky.

The four volumes of the Colored Marriage Indexes are used to locate early marriage bonds of African Americans in Lexington, Kentucky. These indexes contain the name of each bride and groom and the page number of the marriage bond held at the Fayette County Clerk’s Office.

The digitized versions of the indexes are now freely available to the public on ExploreUK, UK’s digital library. The typed indexes have been run through optical character recognition (OCR) and are searchable.

Africa – Benin – Deaths

Benin, Civil Registration of Deaths, 1891-2014 is the second new collection added to FamilySearch this week. You can browse through this collection, or it is searchable by name. These records are in French.
Death records may contain the following information:
  • Province and district
  • The signer
  • Name
  • Gender
  • Date and place of birth
  • Name of mother and father
  • Spouse’s name
  • Profession
  • Home
  • Name and address of the declarant
  • Date and place of death
  • Date of declaration

More on Irish Genealogy

For even more tips and techniques for finding ancestors in Ireland, read from the following suggestions:

Beginning Irish Genealogy: Tips and Free Records

Comprehensive Way to Learn Irish Genealogy

irish genealogy mega collection

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.

Australia in 1856 – image courtesy Wikipedia (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Territorial_evolution_of_Australia)

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.)

Christoe Street, Copperfield Queensland in 1876 when my ancestors lived there. Image courtesy State Library of Queensland via 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.

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