Tonight’s twitterchat was about the state records and archives in Australia and New Zealand.
What are some of the best locations to visit for finding Australian and New Zealand government record collections and why? (Ed. check blog sidebar for links to these locations)
I love the National Archives, Qld State Archives and NSW State Archives. I haven’t visited in person though since Covid began but hoping to soon
In Tasmania, definitely @ as they have both archives and records on the one website including many government departments
@ there is also a reading room where you can see some original documents but need to book in a session due to Covid. Also includes a National Archives archivist to answer your questions from there
Many old Tassie convict and other official records have ended up in state library in Sydney. Don’t get me going on that one!
I have only visited a few – namely Queensland State Archives which I would think is pretty close to state of the art. I enjoyed NSW State Records Office the last time I visited at Kingswood and of course the National Archives in Canberra.
@ is the archive I’ve visited most often. Go in winter; avoid the snakes. Why visit? For the divorce & criminal records, not available online, and especially to see the archivists. Delightful, helpful people.
Archives NZ has four offices across the motu: Auckland, Wellington, Christchurch and Dunedin. Each hold records for their region, with Wellington holding national goverment records. Their website has some good research guidance: archives.govt.nz/research-guida…
I like the Archives in Wellington, NZ however with the lack of travel across the ditch with COVID restrictions it could have changed lots since I last visited. I think I like it because it was the first archive I visited regularly.
And I wonder now what will happen for non-NZ visitors, as the reader cards have been ditched, and you need to log on and order with RealMe.
I suppose I will have to figure that out however I am still not over the loss of Archway. I found it so much easier and much quicker to find things so do not go online that much at all currently. Archway was a favourite rabbit hole but not anymore.
My most often used collection is NZ BDM Historical Records. Sometimes I use Archives New Zealand, but not often. Not doing much NZ work at present as I am solving a large Indiana, US group of DNA matches.
I’ve visited Victorian State Archives in Melbourne many times and National Archives in Canberra only once. I’d love to get back there
The staff can make a huge difference to an archive…that’s for sure. I’ve been very grateful for the outreach that QSA staff have been able to do in the past.
I still laugh at the time one of the NSW archivists called out “Brooke! Here’s your divorce!” and I thought, oh no, not again 🙂
Most heavily used are TAHO, State records in Kingswood and Public records in Melbourne because that’s where most of my ancestors were. All excellent in situ or online. A brief foray to Adelaide was shall we say … interesting
With my family tree firmly grown in Qld soil, the Qld State Archives is my favourite, and most used archive.
I have only visited one SA at Cavan a suburb of Adelaide archives.sa.gov.au Think one needs to live in a capital cities to visit any of them.
PROV In Victoria. I found family land records. So cool touching records that my ancestors also had their hands on.
NSW State Archives is also a great source of info for me Re some of my side interests incl German and Irish. I’m especially fond of their deceased estate records.
If you have early Qld ancestors sometimes they will be found in the NSW State Archives from before separation
Another excellent archive is the Australian War Memorial. Very helpful to have archivists to explain all those pesky military abbreviations.
I visited back when the printouts and images were on that heat-type paper. Reading unit reports there vs online now. Now so much is digitised.
@ is my favourite and home archives, mostly for divorce papers and deceased estates. So much to glean from these records.
I also love that QSA is open one Saturday a month for those of us that work. It was a lifesaver when I was working. You can’t always choose your RDO to suit yourself.
I forgot local council archives are great too. So Brisbane City Council archives have great staff and really interesting records
Many a day I have spent at the Brisbane Council Archives Alex researching house histories. I should have frequent flyer points by now.
There you go….perfect example. I think people who had ancestors on staff would find it interesting too. Some local councils make their info available through their library service e.g. cemetery info or rates info.
While focusing on Govt archives, it’s worth remembering there are church archives with amazing info, incl details of marriages or baptisms. Some are v helpful and open, others less so, but worth checking out.
I probably use NZ Historical BDMs the most … Also Archives NZ Collections
What preparatory strategies do you use to make the most of your visit to an archive?
I always research online before I visit an archive and note the numbers of each item I want to order in person. It saves so much time to be organised before you get there.
Agree. All my favourites involve interstate travel so I always have a long prioritised list of what I want to look at and order up material in advance where possible
I investigate their special collections ahead of visit. Pioneering or land records, for example. I then make a research list of what I need to find
If you plan to access more recent records, eg hospital, asylum, gaol records, you’ll need permission from a government dept. I’ve done this with the health dept & it was a little slow but not too painful.
The only problem is you probably need all the details before you request permissions. And they change the access sometimes too. Used not to be able to even see orphanage records, next thing they were digitised and online!
I’ve only experienced this with the Health Dept, getting access to asylum records of my great-grandfather. The main thing they wanted was to show kinship through line of descent. Who better to do that than a family historian? Simples.
Divorce Packets I bring some heavy cardboard corners to @ to try and flatten those buggers to photograph them.
Clarity about what questions I am seeking to answer/what information I am looking for (to avoid distraction and the likelihood of hiving off all over the place).
Check to see if they’ll be open when you visit and if you need to book first. Check if you need to bring any coins for lockers etc. Check what you can take in with you e.g. cameras/phones/pencils. See how far ahead you can order files in to the reading room.
Such practical tips, Alex. I do keep a $2 coin in my library tote. Can I add memory stick/USB drive to the list. Its good for getting image files from the camera PC in the corner (of NSW Archives).
SNAP. Although now I have a little bag hanging on the door handle of the study with all my QFHS Library/Archives ID stuff together.
I have a dog clip with a pile of library, county record office, archives, etc and my Oyster Card to keep them easy to find. I just need to remember where the safe place is when I need any one.
Mind you there are some that will only let you use USBs you buy from them, as happened to me in Edinburgh in 2019.
I did that – first time back after lockdowns etc and I forgot all my ID (staff were kind and understanding, thankfully)
FACT: I do not prepare extensively for archive visits. Typically I arrive, request something I know they will have and then search the catalogue for other interesting records while waiting for the record to arrive. I seem to remember this visit in 2012 I was only allowed one book at a time. Not sure if I ever covered the time I was checking out before closing. Must hunt out my old notes.
Becoming familiar with the catalogue for the archive you need the most is important, incl how to find previous reference details – I think QSA has had three iterations of record ID in my time.
When I visit an archive I like to check their times, whether they require a photo for ID, prepare a list of records I want to search and if possible, pre-order. Important to know if they’re onsite or need to be retrieved. And no matter how well you plan, you will always discover something at the last possible minute before closing.
Most of my Tassie stuff is done online otherwise I make sure I have ipad ready to take notes or photos whenever I visit an archive, also a USB in case I can copy directly from a spreadsheet etc
I try and keep a running list of things I want to see at a particular archive, so I’m fairly prepared, and then order as many documents up ahead of time as I can. For Archives NZ it is six – I’ll pre-order the largest items, and then order more once there.
Before a visit I always order records that I need to see. I rarely go for just one record. I try to look at multiple records to make the trip to the city worthwhile
I guess its obvious but order as many items as you can before you go. However, some items, like the criminal files, take a few steps through indexes & non-indexed records to get to the ultimate prize (grandfather’s rap sheet).
What records have you found in person at Archives that are not digitised? Are these records available to be copied or ordered?
A3: Seeing this original will of a relative in the Probate packet was pretty special. You could smell the burnt lettering still. Some of the burnt black letters had fallen out. @nswarchives NRS-13660 #ANZAncestryTime pic.twitter.com/j1SJtnhp6S
— Greg Harper (@Greg_Harper) June 21, 2022
Found ships papers which had more information than passenger lists, found gt gt grandfather complained about being charged for a shirt he did not need – predeparture conditions at Plymouth
I found crew lists for whaling ships and could make copies from microfilms
Personnel records, land selection docs and maps, original electoral rolls, prison admissions, petitions from 19th century. On and on. ❤️ Them all!!
I just have to wait for records to be digitised or pay someone else to visit.
My favourite personal find came from an index of Qld’s earliest equity court files. My 2xgreat grandfather was a witness and the docs told me he was a pork butcher on Tooloom goldfields even though his family was in Ipswich.
Divorce records, police & court files, but the most important (& emotional) records found so far are great-grandfather’s asylum records. His records, combined with a coroner’s report, revealed so much. I’m lucky enough to live “close”, didn’t need copyservice.
So much that’s not digitised and require looping back through layers eg Colonial Secretary’s papers.
PROV Vic have digitised many of their records. It’s not necessary to visit archives as much as in the ‘old days
We are becoming spoilt with so much digitised Jennifer but it makes life so much easier.
It does, but lack real atmosphere of a records centre. Great for us though
Short answer: lots. eg letters and docs in the dreaded special bundles in NSW. SR NSW have a handy scanner patrons can use and I believe TAHO do now also. I Always end up taking lots of photos as well as making notes
Collections I’m mostly looking at in Archives NZ Wellington are Intentions to Marry notices and land records. They can be copied by staff, but it’s expensive. There is a ton of stuff not digitised still.
I am waiting waiting waiting until 2030 for a record in Archives NZ to be opened to find out why my grandfather went to jail. # Hope I am still around!
I collected many probate documents at Archives NZ prior to them becoming available online. I understand The Notices of Intention to Marry are not online. Dissolution of Marriage/ Divorce/Petitions, etc for are not online and there are time restrictions
I found personnel records for my grandfather when he worked for the State Electricity Commission at the NSW State Records office which were very illuminating. I was allowed to take photos of them with my camera.
In my early research days nothing was digitised. Had to order ahead and get photocopies mailed to us. It was quite a slow process
I rarely visit in person as most stuff is online but when researching my Captain Smith who is no longer mine, I looked at ship crews on microfilm
Most records I find that are not digitised can be requested to be so online. Large items or very old ones might need to be viewed in person
Share some of the best discoveries you have made in archival records?
My convict ancestor’s diary was quite a find at the Mitchell Library
My other shocking find at QSA was that my 2 x great grandfather had been left in an orphanage when his mother remarried and at age 12 was ‘sentenced to a hulk for 5 years in the Brisbane River for being neglected.” I cried.
If I ever did a PhD Sharn it would be on the orphanage my grandmother and her siblings were in and yes, the boy ended up on HMS Vernon or whatever it was called in Sydney…sigh. The children suffering the sins of the parents and all that.
It is very sad isn’t it Alex. Mine was especially sad because while he was in the Diamantina orphanage his mother had six more children
My most shocking find was a suicide letter left by MURDERER of a child in my family. File had obviously never been opened. On unfolding the letter flakes of dried blood fell out. Murderer was found dead next to the murdered child with the letter. These days The blood would def be evidence. He also had his English Birth certificate in his pocket. One day when I have time I will look for his ancestors and pass info on
One of my best moments was finding a pristine copy of my printer ancestors last pamphlet from 1849. No copy previously recorded. A prospectus for his absurd matrimonial agency for which he was mocked in the newspapers.
Thru Joan Rees index found a letter where he sent a copy in to Col Sec wanting them to buy copies & distribute to female immigrants. They declined of course but did not return the prospectus. Absolute gold https://andrew-bent.life/imprints/last-pamphlets/
Best find was the Donegal Outrage papers relating to my Rebecca Jackson convict at @ when I visited 8 years ago. On my blog sidebar is a section researching Rebecca Jackson with all posts about my time in Ireland
Divorce records can provide insights into the marital situation though perhaps may be biased by the laws of the time eg one party being guilty.
Could be bias or could be that case had to be presented in such a way to get it through, particularly for a woman. I recall being struck by the court’s instructions that if the husband turned up in the next 6 months, Grandma’s 1950s divorce would be cancelled.
I’ve found a few divorces that I didn’t know about listed in the Archives NZ index. And with help from people here I found convict records which may be my family, my 2xgreat grandfather’s missing son.
One of my favourite discoveries was when I was researching a WW1 soldier named on our local war memorial. Ordered up a box of documents not knowing what was in it – found a photograph of him!
I am usually quite stiff upper lip but Archives have reduced me to tears – not of frustration (although it’s been close sometimes) but because of the subject matter and “hearing” their voice as it were or seeing their writing.
Reading the coroner’s inquest into my great grandmother’s suicide was like that, and her sister’s testimony. Incredibly sad and moving.
My grandmothers will leaving the Electrolux Fridge to my father. Love something not expected. Or seeing a catalogue card for my great-grand fathers passenger records.
I’m addicted to Inquest files. They have lots of unexpected info I love that the Vic Inquests are digitised. I Lose hours in middle of the night diving into them
I read inquest files for my research in the 1990s/2000s when you had to visit the Coroner’s clerk’s room and write notes from them on a laptop or on paper. I haven’t read any since then.
Court & police records from NSW archives revealed just how much of a rotter my biological grandfather was. Combine that with his army record from the Australian War Memorial, which revealed multiple courts-martial, the archives painted a sorry picture.
I think my best ever find was in the Kew archives where I discovered that my great uncle had an MI5 file on him …. a large one!
Actually Sharn yes I think finding that your ancestor was the subject of spying would be amazing. Particularly if there was still footage or photos of them going about their daily business.
It really needs to be a book one day Alex. He was way more than just a spy!
Inquests can reveal deaths that were never registered and the horrors behind the event. Coronial enquiries can also offer health insights eg my grandmother’s death from heart attack.
Following my great grandfather’s trial through court trial records, Gaol records and judge’s notebooks and subsequently into Law Journal. Newspaper reports can lead you to some of these cases and popular opinion but archives give the recorded detail.
Criminal records are often the most interesting aren’t they?
It’s probably always your first real record isn’t it? It’s hard to say it was “great” because it was so sad – an inquest I found once about an accident on a farm. I felt like I was in the court room as I read everyone’s testimony.
I discovered in NZ archival records that my maternal grandfather had gone to jail and that he used an alias. The record is closed so I am waiting to find out what happened …
It’s so exciting to see your ancestor’s signature and his/her involvement with issues of the day especially as the colonies were being established.