Starting to research family in Australia?

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The following are the questions from the chat.

  1. What key records and resources do you use regularly when researching Australian ancestors?
  2. Have you found immigration records for all your ancestors who came to Australia? Suggest tips for finding immigration records.
  3. Have you found Family History or other Societies helpful with your Australian research? How did they assist with your research?
  4. It’s Census time! How do you overcome the fact that Australia did not keep census records (other than those very early ones)?

If you like keeping records using spreadsheets, Pauleen has a fantastic one listing hundreds of places to find information on family.

My most recommended website to start your search

CoraWeb began by an Australian genealogist prior to Google being about. A website which has links to hundreds of family history resources for both Australia and overseas.

Large Australian repositories:

National Archives of AustraliaGetting started then use their guides to find out more about their collections

State archives – most archives or record offices have instructions on how to search, what collections they have and how to cite any records when using in blog posts etc

Australian National University – includes Pacific Research Archives and Noel Butlin Archive Centre – business and labour records

National Film and Sound Archive – including interviews, songs etc

National Library of Australia – Getting started, applying for a library card to use with e-resources

Magazine article from WDYTYA about researching Aussie heritage

Researching your Aboriginal or Torres Strait Islander heritage

State Library of Western Australia – has great family history section

Queensland Family History Society has some fantastic links

Overseas repositories with Australian records:

Ancestry – Australian collections online

FindMyPast – blog post listing some Aussie records they have, list of record sets for Australia and New Zealand

Family search – their wiki with Aussie records, list of records they have


Ryerson Index – death notices from papers and recently digital papers – mainly NSW

Trove – newspapers and gazettes – great for helping fill in gaps and telling stories of your ancestors but also check out other categories in Trove

Other useful websites

Find and Connect – orphanages, children’s homes and institutions

Cyndi’s List – based in USA but has a section on Aussie records

Judy Webster has links to many Australian resources

Andrew wrote about resources in New South Wales

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Comments from the chat regarding immigration, census and societies:

For German immigration to Australia in 19th century you must look at Jenny Paterson’s articles in Burwood FHS’s journal Ances-Tree. Combined with Kopittke indexes they’re gold.

My top tip is check passenger lists at departure AND arrival ports. I know that it’s often said that only arrival ports kept records, but this is not universal. I’ve find out outgoing passenger lists on FindMyPast & matching incoming lists for Fremantle at NAA

I agree Brooke. Depending on the years, lists for ports stopped at en route back to Oz. I also use the PROV records for inbound & outbound unassisted pax to compare it’s assisted immigration lists. Board Immigrant Lists have more detail than Agent Immigrant Lists which are what’s online.

Good tip Brooke @BrookeWooldy I found immigration records from point of departure for Scotland and with more info than we would have here

I found them on Scotlands People Brooke. They have some for those escaping the highland clearances

Land records in Victoria include a huge amount of information incl letters and personal info

I think land administration records come in useful here too….land was often granted as part of the migration package.

a lot of cemetery records have been indexed by societies, so check out the source when you’re looking at the Big Genies and see where the records came from.

I think not having census records encourages us to move beyond just one record set and learn more ways of discovering information.

I think we all just accepted that we had no census records Pauleen and when we got back to England or Scotland where they do it was a bonus!

What about the information found in Australian Wills? They can give a huge amount of information.

And sometimes property deeds eg those available on the List in Tas. I was thrilled to find a trust deed which listed all the children in birth order including my ggf for whom there is no birth/baptism record

And I was only trying to find out when he had to sell his land!

Some Wills are amazing Jennifer. But others are just plain boring unfortunately. I love the Will writers who wrote pages and pages and listed everything and everyone!

Electoral rolls are Australia’s answer to the Census. Of course its not as good as the census but beggars can’t be choosers. Post Office Directories can be very helpful too.

as frustrating as it is to have very limited availability of early census data, we have the benefit of electoral rolls which occurred more regularly and with women able to vote earlier. Also post office directories can be a help.

When I visit the reading room in Hobart Library to do research, I always ask have they got a file out the back on the family I want. Files contain replies from archivists to questions from their clients often prior to digitization.

naturalisation records can help with learning where your ancestors came from. An important difference from USA is that they only apply to non-British immigrants, so you won’t find Irish there.

Many societies are help people doing research in Australia especially when you see the records, books, index’s and loads available though I would add that the personal touch of someone that knows the resources, Australian research, etc is a fairy godmother.

societies have helped me with archives that contain other people’s research. It often has to be checked, but it contains clues.

Check for indexes on local societies where ancestors lived, read the newsletters/magazines issued by local societies

I don’t have any First Nations ancestry so all my Australian ancestors had to come from somewhere else, so my no.1 resource is shipping records: free & convict.

Remember the days when we would write to a person who had researched our family and include a self addressed envelope with a stamp? Seems so long ago now

Consider checking the crew list and not just the passenger records when looking for people.

Great tip Fran I’ve found a few on the crew list including an absconder when they arrived in Australia

I’ve had quite a lot of success with Biographical Database of Australia with my pre 1840’s arrivals – a lot more records added in recent years

Some of the early hospital records have all sorts of fascinating info like the ship they came on, who is their “next of kin” etc. Of course Murphy has his say and the one you want might not have survived.

I found a troubling statement in a Children’s Home Index, and followed up on Trove. Horrific abuse was all retold from a courtcase in the newspaper. I haven’t shared the info with many.

Sometimes it is OK to share hardship and horrible events so that we can better understand our ancestors social context and lives. You could leave out names so it is about the history and not the person. Mind you depends on what exactly happened.

Knowing about the event did help understand the person- but leaving out names wouldn’t be an option in explaining it really. I have got the info on file but am so wary of sharing it.

I can understand your reluctance to #Share. Once something is said it’s not possible to ‘unsaid’ it. Alternatively, knowing information about our #ancestors even when extremely difficult to process can help us understand our own place in the world.

I have found Family History Societies to be invaluable. I visit them whenever I am travelling to an ancestral place. Local History Societies are equally valuable resources along with libraries

Fran has mentioned that Trove also has references to people who moved across the Ditch to NZ or back. Worth the NZers looking at Trove as we should with Papers Past.

most of the State libraries have a list of suitable resources for their state such as this one in SA…

many indexes were developed by volunteers from societies and archives. In my research I’ve always found interesting things to learn about immigration by attending classes. Listening to and learning from others is a big help. Academic books are helpful too.

military, war service;, churches attended and donations made; hospital, asylum and orphanage records; court & jail records; govt and police gazettes; petitions.

Yes don’t forget our wonderful military records. The Australian War Memorial even has battalion diaries online

MichaelGaida / Pixabay

I have also found local history societies great too. I have paid for some research particularly when newspapers haven’t been digitised on Trove. Local libraries often have great local history rooms too and volunteers to help.

@FamilySearch is one of the main sources I use for passenger records. Although a google search for records groups or individuals have indexed can help find some travellers.

Libraries and especially their Local Studies sections are such an important resource Alex! One I use frequently (when they are not in Lockdown)

I am interested in the answer to Q2 because I am yet to pin down immigration records for some of my husband’s Australian immigrants

Have you checked the immigration records at PROV for entry to Australia?

Found loads of information on Trove, NSW State Archives,, Archives NZ and more recently the British Newspaper Archive. Also death certificate transcriptions were helpful as they often give the “years in the colony”.

My great aunt died in an asylum. There was a report in the paper. Even stranger, another woman with the same name also died in the same asylum. Difficult working out which one was which.

most of my ancestry is from England, however some distant relatives did move to Australia, after finding B/M/D records the first place I check is @TroveAustralia Trove is just so valuable esp for Family Notices and other unexpected articles

I’ve found that most of my families inquests have been reported in the newspaper so def check Trove

most of the State libraries have a list of suitable resources for their state such as this one in SA…

Trove,, NSW Registry of Births, Deaths and Marriages, local libraries, state libraries of QLD and NSW, NSW State Archives, British Newspaper Archive, NZ Archives, family history certificate transcribers, pers. comm. with family members

Immigration. Inquest files, Land records, Trove, Victoria birth deaths & Marriages, Linc Tasmania, Wills, PROV (Vic archives), Ancestry, FindaGrave, just to start with a few

Worth nothing that for deaths where there was an inquest, the person’s name may not have been registered in the civil death registers.

That’s interesting. For any particular state or the whole country? I was told by NSW that they did not keep the inquest documents so I was unable to research my great grand fathers brothers death in NSW via the inquest. I have the death date from announcements.

Trying to remember but I think that’s correct Fran. Each state archive can have different types of documents preserved, News stories are generally fairly reliable when it comes to legal cases.

thanks for mentioning libraries and personal communication – both very important.

Link to Libraries Tasmania, use the family history portal and also the archives portal. In each of those there are more portals to check

Link to Tasmanian Names Index from Tassie… Click on right, put in search area name you are looking for

Tasmanian Names Index TNI includes BMD up to 1900, convict records, wills, arrivals, departures, health and welfare, some employment records

most of my immigrants were convicts or free settlers in the 1840s or thereabouts. info found on the TNI online

I was lucky to find my ancestor in an Equity Case in which the defendant referred to him by name, gave his occupation, and said they’d known each other in Bavaria.

ooh immigration records – yes quite a few. Mostly in Queensland through State Archives. My father did very well finding some down in Victoria too. From memory convict records or death certificates might record the ship they came out on. Gravestones too.

I have found all but 1. George Kunkel was a swimmer it seems. Immigration records NSW and Qld, PROV immig for comparison, Immig Deposit Journals (IDJs), Board lists show more detail. Disposal lists, Trove and diaries for the journey.

I discovered a great aunt had died on the Ryerson Index. No one had told me!

Ryerson is fabulous for pinning down those who’ve died in more recent years! And then the notices themselves will give descendants and married names for daughters.

I use electoral rolls, immigration records, directories, church archives, convict records, newspapers, telephone books among others. Some I find online and others are at archives and libraries

Readers: What are some of your favourite Australian sites to use for research?


Ancestors in the military

With Remembrance Day being 11th November here in Australia and New Zealand, tonight the chat was totally about military  – records, websites, resources, blog posts

The four questions were:

  1. What records, repositories, books, diaries or military histories have you used to research your military ancestors?
  2. Have you researched ancestors in other wars eg Vietnam, Korea, Boer war, Crimea or even Napoleonic war.
  3. What non-military service did your family members give during war time?
  4. Have you inherited any special memorabilia or discovered an unusual story about your service people?

So today’s post is going to be a lot of links to websites and resources for researching your ancestors in the military. Then we will look at some personal memories and finally blog posts and books to read and videos to watch.

AD_Images / Pixabay

Websites and resources

Australian military

Australian War Memorial records including:

National Archives of Australia records including:

Canadian Military

War grave registers on Ancestry

Military Heritage at Libraries and archives

New Zealand military

Members of the New Zealand Tunnelling Company in their bunks below the ground at La Fosse Farm

Other countries and general resources about war

Commonwealth War Graves including:

Red Cross

British Military Forces

Wounded World War I soldier being cared for at a field hospital

Great websites about WWI in general

Holocaust searching

Personal memories

Hilary: I found the best resource was looking at who got the effects of those who lost their lives

Pauleen: remember to check Facebook groups for POW camps and POWs

Merron: I have found the names of around 500 men & women connected to Hamilton, Vic who enlisted and written bios of around 150. My usual starting point is The AIF Project. Easy to search, can search by town and results give lots of info. I also use Monument Australia for honour boards, @UkNatArchives as some enlisted with the British forces including a number of nurses I have researched.

Hilary: we have a photocopy of a letter sent to my grandmother from her brother before he died, original with orphanage where she was living

Brooke: I was reading a unit diary. I very quickly formed an attachment to the writer. Suddenly it stopped. I was heartbroken.

Pauleen: My father’s cousin was MIA then KIA in Korea. I have researched his service history and the documents around it, and the unit diaries. When I blogged about him I received comments from people who knew of him.

Sewing room at Government House, Melbourne

Sue: I have one ancestor in the militia rolls in Bedfordshire in the 1700s I think. Was found for me by another person in Bedfordshire while I found out about her convict in Tassie

Maggie: I’ve researched the first husband of my gg grandmother who died during the First Anglo/Boer war. I found a book online that detailed how he died

Margaret: I’ve not found anyone in those wars but have in the American Wars. One possibly in the Crimea. I’m looking at the Napoleonic Wars next for some of my family.

Jill: Just remembered I found lots about an Australian soldier in local newspapers at The British Library as his mother lived in a small town in England and they reported on him.

Pauleen: I had forgotten that a Kent relative had served in the Maori wars. Any Kiwis with relatives they’ve traced to these?

Maggie: A ggg grandfather was in the Taranaki Militia that fought at the Battle of Waireka in 1860. Want to research more, even if I won’t like what I find

Brooke: I also have a very Jane Austen scenario. In 1793 the Staffordshire militia marched to Devonshire and was finally quartered at Plymouth. Edward Holmes of the militia married a local girl Charlotte Masters. My 5th great-grandparents.

Fran: My mother and her 2 sisters worked on the land north of where they lived in Wellington, NZ. There was a big USA camp nearby. This lead to my mother marrying a US soldier.

Brooke: An Anzac I’ve written about was a prolific letter writer and appeared to have a buddy at the local paper. So many of his letters were published, providing a first-hand account of his experiences.

Jennifer: There are a few WW1 and WW2 nurses in our family. An aunt was in the land army in WW2

Jill: I find reading fiction set in the war years give a good insight into life during those periods


Merron: For Victorians, check @PRO_Vic for probate files of soldiers who died. I have found amazing letters between a soldier and a woman who gave birth to his baby after his departure in his probate file. They were used to prove her right to be a benefactor.

Hilary: not sure what my grandfather did during WW2 but he worked at the docks and was probably busy helping to load and unload ships

M. Smith: My English grandfather was in St John’s in his home town in WW1 and in the Heavy Rescue Unit in WW2 and went to Coventry when it was bombed.

Margaret: What counts as non-military service? My parents sent food parcels to the UK. When I was born, I was sent a soft toy as a gift. They used the wood boiler for hot water, saving electricity.

Sue: I had a few who were given exemptions during WWI as they had to look after elderly parents or was only son to work the farm.

Pauleen: My dad, and both grandfathers worked for the railway and so were essential services. Dad told me how he supervised some Italian POWs doing labour for the railway in WWII

ANZ: I think all contributions and sacrifices counted. Some families got heavily involved with fund raising or making walking sticks while their sons (usually) were away.

Brooke: So glad you asked this question. In WW2 my grandfather, a carpenter/joiner for Australasian United Steam Navigation Company (AUSNC) in Sydney, was required to adapt ships to be troop carriers.

Pauleen: My mother was a volunteer with the Women’s Air Training Corps and the Volunteer Air Training Corps doing plane spotting at Brisbane during WWII. My grandfather enlisted in WWI when they called for experienced railwaymen to work on the lines to the Western Front.

Jennifer: I just had a memory of the letters I wrote to a soldier in Vietnam War when I was 13. I was given his name by a minister because he had no family to send him mail

Gunner Ernie Widders writes a letter from Vietnam

Jill: My Mother was a social butterfly who worked in the GPO and from her photo albums I can see that she and her 4 sisters spent a lot of time entertaining the troops through the ANZAC House younger set

Sue: My mum remembers her father digging a bomb shelter for them in Sandy Bay and helping to dig the trenches at Albuera Street School. Also have some ration cards from WWII belonging to my grandmother.

Margaret: My father was away some of the time as he was at Featherston POW camp. He features in the book that was written about the incident!

Brooke: I want to do more research on reserved occupations. The lists changed as the war went on depending on need. There was badge issued to show they weren’t cowards. Does anyone have a reserved occupation badge from their ancestor?

Paul: one branch of my family served as Auxiliary Fireman and including my Great Aunt who sadly lost her life in the largest ever loss of life in one incident for the London Fire Brigade


Pauleen: I have inherited WWI medals from my grandfather Denis Joseph Kunkel. They will be passed on to my grandchildren

Carmel: we have my husband’s father’s pilot log book WW2

Jill: I have Dad’s kit bag, a pair of his khaki shorts, his medals and some photos. I have quite a collection of photos from Dad’s time in the army. The pictures from Tarakan are particularly interesting. In contrast I have a collection of a distant ancestor’s memorabilia including honours medals and the invitation to his investiture at Buckingham Palace.

Brooke: When I received my grandfather’s WW2 records I discovered he was AWOL… a lot! His excuse was priceless…he had to sing on the radio to earn money to pay off a debt. (I don’t know how to determine the truth of this. Old recordings from radio station?)

Jennifer: My father never applied for his medals. He arrived in Japan at the end and was there for peacekeeping and felt he didn’t deserve them. I was able to get them for him but he was still not interested. Said he felt like a fraud accepting them

Jill: I just wish my father would have talked about his war experiences. Like many returned men he just didn’t open up

M. Smith: One of my most favourite books is Helene Hanff’s book “84 Charing Cross Road” set in WW2. It gives a great insight into life in England from a US point of view. Great humour too.

Jennifer: The Lost Girls of Paris by Pam Jenoff is the last one I read. Another recent release war novel set in Paris The Paris Seamstress by Natasha Lester

WAAAFs in action

Blog posts and books to read and videos to watch and photos to see

Carmel’s book recommendations for WWII background

Jill’s book recommendations with war as a tag

Monash 100 Stories video collection – Sue’s blog posts relating to the Future Learn Course WWI – 100 stories videos

Digital New Zealand – search for camps eg Trentham

Different Flickr accounts for images: The Commons, National Archives Australia, Great War Archive,

Readers: You might like to answer one of the questions we were asked in last night’s twitter chat.

Where to now?

I have just completed the five week course from Future Learn called World War 1: 100 stories put together by Bruce, Rebecca and Laura from Monash University. It has been a brilliant course with so much information about WWI.

  • The silent, black and white videos showing the stories of men and women engaged in something related to WWI
  • The discussions with leading historians about certain aspects of WWI
  • The visits to the Melbourne Museum and the Love and Sorrow Exhibition
  • The visits to the different monuments and battlefields

The knowledge of online records that we can now use to flesh out our relatives time during WWI

Australian War Memorial records including:

National Archives of Australia records including:

Commonwealth War Graves including:

Readers: Which post on my blog, about the WWI 100 stories course, did you enjoy most? For those who took part in the course, what did you enjoy the most?

To find them all click on the category on the sidebar labelled WWI: 100 stories