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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Beginning Swedish genealogy can be daunting. But don’t let language barriers or unfamiliar naming traditions deter you! Check out these getting-started tips from an expert at Legacy Tree Genealogists.
This guest post comes from Paul Woodbury, a Senior Genealogist with Legacy Tree Genealogists. He’s an internationally recognized genetic genealogy expert and his varied geographical interests include Scandinavia. Thanks, Paul!
Many people avoid Swedish research because they don’t speak the language and because the names change every generation–like from Ole Olsson to Ole Nilsson to Nils Pehrrson. Despite these barriers, Swedish research can be relatively simple, fun, and successful for several reasons.
1. You can “read” many records without reading Swedish.
Particularly in late 18th and 19th century records, you don’t need in-depth Swedish language skills to make exciting discoveries. Swedish church records of the time were kept in tables and were largely composed of names, dates, and residences. Records include those of:
- Birth and christening (födelse och döpte)
- Marriage and engagement (lysning och vigsel)
- Death and burial (död och begravning)
- Moving-in lists (inflyttade) and moving-out lists (utflyttade)
- Clerical examination (“husförhörslängd”)–more on these below.
Dates were frequently recorded in number formats according to the European system (dd-mm-yyyy). As a result, researchers can learn a great deal from Swedish documents with little knowledge of the Swedish language. For the few additional words you may need to learn, consider reviewing this list of words commonly found in Swedish documents available through FamilySearch.org.
2. Family events are summarized in Swedish clerical examinations.
The clerical examination or “husförhörslängd” can act as an index to important family events. Beginning in 1686, each parish was required to keep a household examination for each household. Many early records don’t survive, but copies of these records exist for many parishes in Sweden after about 1780. As part of the household examination, parish priests of the Swedish Lutheran church were required to visit with the members of their parish at least once yearly and test them on their knowledge of the catechism.
Typically, these registers document a family over the course of 5-10 years. They not only include information about the family’s religious duties, but additional information regarding migration, family structure, residence and important family events. If a child was born, he or she was added to the clerical examination, and the birth date and christening date were noted. If an individual or a family moved within the parish, a note was made in the clerical examination with a reference to the page number of the family’s new residence. If they moved out of the parish, the date they left was often recorded along with the number of their entry in the moving-out books. The dates of deaths, confirmations, marriages, vaccinations and communions were also recorded. If you are lucky, additional notes might comment on crimes, physical characteristics, occupations, punishments, social standing, economic status, or other life events with references to pertinent records.
ArkivDigital, Dals-Ed (P) AI:15 (1866-1875), clerical examination, household of Per Johansson, Image 74 / page 64, https://app.arkivdigital.se, subscription database, accessed July 2017.
The above Household Clerical Examination in Dals-Ed Parish in Älvsborg covers 1866-1875 and shows the household of Per Johansson on the farm of Lilla Wahlberg in Bälnäs. The document provides birth dates and places for each household member. It shows that Per’s son, Andreas, moved to Norway in 1872. Another son, Emanuel, moved within the parish but returned after just a month. Among other notes on the document, we learn that Emanuel only had one eye and that he was a dwarf.
3. Many Swedish records cross-reference each other.
Clerical examinations reference other church records, such as those of a child’s birth or a couple’s marriage. But the reverse is also true: birth, marriage, death and migration records frequently reference household examinations. Birth records might list the page number of the child’s family in the household examination. Marriage records indicate the corresponding pages of the residences of the bride and the groom. Death records identify the residence of the deceased. Moving-in and moving-out records frequently report the corresponding page numbers of the farm where a migrant eventually settled or the parish from whence he came.
The yeoman farmer Ollas Per Persson and his wife Greta at a hut in Dalecarlia. Photograph by: Einar Erici, c1930. Wikimedia Commons image, Permission granted Swedish National Heritage Board @ Flickr Commons.
Most clerical examination buy medication for anxiety volumes include an index of farms and residences within the parish. In the case of some larger parishes and cities, local genealogical societies have sometimes indexed all individuals in the volume by name. When researching in multiple volumes, note the farm or residence of your ancestor in the previous record and then search the index of residences near the front or end of the next clerical examination volume. Usually, this will narrow your search to just a few pages out of the book rather than the entire volume.
4. You can trouble-shoot record gaps.
Even when an ancestor’s record trail turns cold, recent publications and indexes created by active Swedish genealogical societies make it possible to pick up the trails of elusive ancestors in earlier and later records. Even if these records do not list the specific pages of interest, they may still provide the reported residences, which can then be located in the clerical examination records.
Occasionally, an ancestor might have moved in a year for which migration records are not currently available, or they might have moved to a larger city with many parishes. Other times, their migration may not have been noted, or jurisdiction lines may have been redrawn resulting in the formation of a new farm and residence. In these cases it may be difficult to continue tracing an ancestor’s record trail. One strategy to overcome these situations is to search the clerical examinations by reported birth date. The birth dates or ages of Swedish ancestors are recorded in many of their records. If you are browsing through large collections, consider searching by birth date rather than by name. Since birth dates were often recorded in their own unique column and are more immediately recognizable than names, this may expedite your search. Even if these strategies still yield no results, searches in indexes may help to uncover an elusive ancestor’s record trail.
5. There are some excellent Swedish indexes and databases online.
In recent years, online indexes and databases have made Swedish genealogical research simpler than ever:
- FamilySearch.org, MyHeritage.com and Ancestry.com all have large collections of indexed birth, marriage and death records from Sweden.
- Sveriges Släktforskarföbund has compiled an index of Swedish death records from 1900 to 2013. It includes the birth dates, birth places, names, maiden names, death dates, residences at time of death, age at time of death, and if the individual was married or widowed, the index will also include the date of marriage or the date of death of their spouse. If they were not married, it will indicate their civil status. Click here to purchase the database (the price is in Swedish krona; do a Google search such as currency converter sek to usd to see the price in your country’s currency). (A related Ancestry.com database is entitled “Births from the Swedish Death Index” and only includes names, maiden name, birth dates and birth places of the individuals in the index.)
- MyHeritage has partnered with ArkivDigital to provide an index to Swedish clerical examinations between 1880 and 1920. (Indexing is underway for household examinations from 1850 to 1880.)
- Other indexed collections at ArkivDigital include the 1950 and 1960 Swedish censuses.
- Ancestry.com has indexes of Gotenburg passenger lists, which can help identify relatives who migrated from Sweden to others parts of the world.
As you can see, Swedish genealogical records from the late 1700s and 1800s can be fairly easy to read, detailed and full of cross-references. It’s often possible to trace a Swedish ancestor in every year of their life from birth to death! So don’t let language or patronymics (naming traditions) frighten you away from exploring your Swedish family tree.
Help is available when you need it
Have you hit a brick wall that could use professional help? Or maybe you simply don’t have the time for research right now? Our friends at Legacy Tree Genealogists provide full-service professional research customized to your family history, and deliver comprehensive results that will preserve your family’s legacy.
Right now we have exclusive offers for Genealogy Gems readers:
Irish genealogy help is on the way! Starting your own Irish genealogy research can be intimidating. Lack of records and distance are just two obstacles to overcome. Lisa interviews Kate Eakman, Professional Genealogist specializing in Irish genealogy at Legacy Tree Genealogists. Kate provides the best practices for being an effective do-it-yourselfer, and explains how to hire a pro when you need one.
If you haven’t had the chance to listen to Genealogy Gems Podcast episode 196, I’d like to share a few highlights regarding getting started with Irish genealogy. We all know it can be difficult, and there are lots of rumors suggesting records no longer exist. Here are a few key points Kate Eakman shared with me in our interview.
Irish Genealogy Help: A Pro Interview with Kate Eakman
Q: Where would you recommend the hobbyist start their Irish search?
A: A huge number of Americans identify as part Irish. One difficulty in Irish research is there are not a lot of Irish records available online for free. There are some, however, and these are important places to start. Top sites for free Irish records include:
– FamilySearch.org (click here for their Ireland landing page),
– National Archives of Ireland,
– and Findmypast.com (click here for their Ireland page.)
I particularly like Irishgenealogy.ie. They have some civil and church records available for various counties. Findmypast also has a great selection of Irish records and some are even free!
Q: What does a researcher need to know before ‘crossing the pond’?
A: Before ‘crossing the pond’ (and digging into Irish records), an important piece of information to obtain would be: where was the person born in Ireland? In particular, the county. Next, find out if they were Protestant or Catholic. Click here for an interactive map of Irish counties, including those of Northern Ireland to help you.
By learning the county of birth, you will save yourself time and difficulty. Many of the records you need will be kept on this county level.
Q: Where do you recommend they look for finding which county their ancestor was born in?
A: I would begin with death records, marriage records, church records, passenger lists, and naturalization papers. Keep an eye out for known extended family members who may have come from the same place. You can also school yourself in traditional Irish naming conventions and patterns, as this is always helpful.
Q: At what point in the Irish research process do hobbyists usually get stuck?
A: Common names regularly recycled can often cause researchers to get stuck. It can be tough to sort out who is who. Also, a huge fire at the Public Records Office in Dublin in 1922 destroyed the bulk of government records. Click here for a description of what was lost and what surviving fragments are coming soon to Findmypast.com. Remember, there are always ways in which we can overcome these research barriers and get you the Irish genealogy help you need.
Q: Sometimes we need help. You are a professional genealogist at Legacy Tree Genealogists. How does one begin work with a professional genealogist?
A: Our process is easy. Go to our website and begin with a free consultation. A manager calls or emails you, the client, to discuss your needs and parameters. We identify the goals and determine what the client already knows. A goal, the time required, and the research packet needed is settled on (research packet prices). Then, a researcher is assigned to the client. A written report of the research conducted is provided to the client.
And, we have a great starter package. The Legacy Tree Discovery package provides for 3.5 hours of preliminary analysis and research recommendations. It’s a great choice if you’ve hit a brick wall in your research and could use some expert guidance.
Irish Genealogy Help: DIY
Professional genealogists like Kate and others at Legacy Tree Genealogists can launch your research or help bust you through a brick wall. However, if you’re a do-it-yourselfer, the place to start your research is at home. This will help you determine a place in Ireland, as well as details to help differentiate your person from someone of the same name.
Our Irish Research Guide #1 walks you through the process of identifying the right records in the US that provide you with what you need to know to move on to Irish records.
Irish Research Guide #2 will show you how to use the new online Civil Registration records for Ireland, and how to identify the surviving church records for your ancestors.
You can get them as a bundle in either print or digital download from our Genealogy Gems store.