Looking at Inquests

I nearly kept up with the tweets last night, so this post has been published quicker than previous weeks.

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Have you ever used Inquest records in your research? Have you found mention of an inquest in newspapers or a death record?

I have used inquest records in my research several times. In fact, my first inquest really stimulated my love of archives. I have never been so moved at reading the words of my husband’s ancestors.

Yes, of family members and also of others to develop an understanding of context, e.g. where/why did people commonly drown in the 1860s

have found a few inquests in my family where a death was an accident or where a family member was a witness at an inquest reported in a paper

Inquests are one of my favourite sources when researching my family history. Most of the inquests that were held in my family were reported in newspapers

I seem to have ancestors who died very ordinary deaths although my g g grandfather died in 1910 after being hit by a bicycle as he stepped off a tram in Queen Auckland and he had an inquest. That is the only one I have researched

I got disheartened with inquests when I discovered NSW destroyed inquest records when trying to find out about my grandfathers brother, Richard John Kitto. Since then I have not found any ancestors that appear to have needed an inquest.

In my professional research with my husband into fatal road accidents I read hundreds, maybe a couple of thousand, inquest files. That meant going to the Coroners’ Section to read the paper files, taking notes as we did in a systematic way.

I found an inquest record for my husband’s g g grandmother who took her life in Cornwall days after giving birth. The baby was baptised at the funeral. I would not have known she took her life but for the inquest.

Yes, I’ve discovered inquest reports for drowning deaths, and sadly burns. There is such unfiltered truth in the reports, can be difficult to read

What a real lack of foresight about records from NSW (picture grumpy face). What we have in Victoria is priceless #ANZAncestryTime – around 125K digitised freely available online up to 1920s or 30s (not sure), later can be consulted in person @PRO_Vic VPRS24

I have used a few inquest records which have helped to provide more context for some sad cause of deaths. Thrown from a horse drawn cart was the last one.

For UTAS writing family history I wrote one based on newspaper report of a murder inquest relating to my 3x great grandmother

I’m very grateful sometimes for Trove reporting inquests – easier to read than some of the contemporary handwriting, sometimes verbatim from the records

Two family members were the subject of inquests – a suicide and a drowning. Both were reported in the newspapers, so I could follow up with coroner’s reports. Some amazing details found.

I’m doing a sort of two suburb one time inquest study at the moment Margaret, into an Access database, but my notes field is already out of control, need to think of more fields!

Ooh, do they list the witness names in the archive catalogue or in Trove Sharn? One reason I’m trawling inquests at the moment is to see if I can surface family as witnesses

My great grandfather should have had an inquest as his death was very questionable. Four different accounts in the newspaper not to mention witnesses but it was decided not to conduct one unfortunately

I have found quite a few inquests about accidental deaths and farm and local business fires in newspapers. Rural newspapers often published these in great detail.

In the 70s I went to Massey. They were doing accident research related to drunk driving?? There must be so many records around that have be analysed, conclusions drawn and still in paper documents. Depending on copyright perhaps could be digitised.

I have picked up the current scrapbook and opened at a random page. “Speed blamed for fatal crash”, article on 23 Aug 2003 on the Coroner’s findings in Wellington. This was the Coroner we did research for.

BUT I haven’t looked to see if there are any inquests for any of my New Zealand family. I know of one Scottish one, my gggfather fell down a coal pit in 1881.

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Have you found any anomalies when looking at different sources regarding a death ie inquest, newspapers, death certificate?

I’m not sure about anomalies….but certainly questions. I need to chase up no less than three inquests. One for Walter Richard (Dick) HINDE in Queensland, one for Emily FORFAR in the East Sussex Record Office and one for Ernest Eddie FORFAR in Canada.

no anomalies because I can’t find original inquest reports either destroyed or not available to view Sometimes the death certificate can be the first clue

Researching 1850s Melbourne at the moment & finding inquest records mostly more fulsome than newspaper reports but newspapers also do report verbatim. (If only BDM certs were free here like the Irish ones at this time!)

I’ve also looked at inquests held in the areas where my ancestors lived in the hope of finding witness statements given by my family members. I have surprised at how many of my family, though ordinary people, were witnesses

Recently I’ve started looking at inquests of residents of my One Place Study. They give great context to the lives of the people living there at the time.

brilliant idea Jennifer. I don’t think I’ve seen that suggested anywhere else (Alex speaking) – mind you – I have very little experience of One Place Studies.

I found that the death cert for my g g grandfather listed hemorrhage as cause of death while newspapers stated he was hit by a bicycle as he stepped off a tram and his inquest found he was crossing a street and was hit by a bicycle.

All the time. Spelling of names was a problem. Locations, descriptions of what happened. Reports were extremely variable. It has all improved with the passing of the Coroners’ Act 2006 – after my husband died.

NZ newspapers reported that my g g grandfather “sank and died” after being hit by a bicycle. The Inquest report was not so flowery!

Death of a man was reported in newspaper. My gGF was blamed. I read the coroner’s report @nswarchives. Witness statements were contradictory. But gGF was committed to asylum. Asylum records (access approved by NSW Health) revealed charges dropped

A lot of research & multiple trips to the State Archives. When dealing with inquest records you often have to give yourself time to digest what you’ve discovered. Family historians must be kind to themselves

yes that was something I learned I think in my UTAS course that these kinds of stories take their toll. Those that work in the AWM would need to take regular breaks from it all.

sometimes inquests reveal additional info about the family eg children whose births haven’t been registered, deaths that were never registered (not uncommon with early inquests). They can be very helpful.

one of the strangest deaths and inquests was that of one of “my” Dorfprozelten Germans who cut his throat from ear to ear. Seems like a hard thing to do. Coming from small villages they didn’t cope with an isolated life in the bush in 1860s Qld.

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Tell us the story behind an ancestor’s inquest. Have you found something that shocked or surprised you in an inquest record?

oh yes…some very sad stories indeed. Two suicides which is always deeply distressing. The death of littlies is always upsetting. The account of Walter Richard HINDE being pinned by a fallen limb was also pretty gruesome.

I explained background of a few ancestor’s inquests in my article ‘Witnessing the Familial’ but I left out some key things I felt were too private to share, despite their happening 150+ years ago – see Helen’s posts for PROV

my husband’s grandfather died after falling at a quarry he fractured his skull and died in hospital my FIL found the report in the newspaper when we visited the local archive not sure how much he knew already

An ancestor died as a result of burns. The story goes that she was doing the laundry in an old copper and her clothes caught flame. The family always thought she died straight away, my research shows that sadly she lingered several days in hospital.

Ooh, I have one of those too, her apron that caught fire was a hessian sack. Very sad story.

So very sad Carmel, and this ancestor was a single mother, and such was the stigma, her child was not listed on her death certificate

Yep, I’ve winced at some of the nineteenth century treatments of burns, such as oil, or the always fruitless attempts at reviving the drowned

for many ancestors who were pioneers, medical assistance was not always readily available and horses were not as fast as modern ambulances.

my 2xG Grandfather’s inquest covered 2x broadsheet pages and included six (!) sermons from his churches on the following Sunday (he was Vicar of Sheffield). Also my father’s death was a carbon copy of his stroke a century later.

4xgGF Patrick Joyce’s inquest was reported in the newspapers. I was shocked to find out he fell & knocked himself out while trying to catch & hit his 12yo son for not bringing him breakfast The simple coroner’s register death reason didn’t capture this nuance

my g grandmother committed suicide and was found by her son she had refused to go to the hospital as didn’t want children to go to the workhouse consequently Grandmother went to Orphan home and her brother to another orphanage

I recently had to look up an inquest for a man killed by a horse. Witness statements disagreed according to newspapers but the coroner found that he was drunk and had hit the horse causing it to kick him

The damn demon drink 🙁 family history research has actually done quite a bit to turn me off alcohol. Even where intemperance isn’t the cause of deaths in inquests, many I’ve read make a point of stating the deceased was sober

I always think that disasters on or near Christmas are sad as future holidays remind the families of their lost relatives and friends. Tangiwai is definitely one of these.

Oh I know. I think about gggUncle Richard often. Inquest records are good for FAN research

A little girl is buried in our local cemetery. She was playing with her brothers around a campfire, and even though the mother came running and jumped into the creek with her daughter to put out the flames, she sadly died the next day.

So many sad stories like this from the past Annie. Open fires and old fashioned heaters were so dangerous

It’s good to have access to the inquests and newspaper reports, in order to have a better idea of the story than only what’s listed on the death record

Do you ever wonder if the coronial enquiries overlooked the possibility of murder or manslaughter? In our hot climate the pressure could be on to complete the process quickly.

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Share where you have found inquest records both offline and online.

Tassie’s inquests naturally are digitized and found on the Tasmanian Names Index at Libraries Tasmania Family history portal

Very grateful for the work of volunteers in indexing records for our state repositories, and for what @TroveAustralia enables too

Inquests and reports to the coroner South Australia archives.sa.gov.au/finding-inform…

Forgot to mention many of the SA ones have been digitised by Family Search but one needs to visit an affiliate library as they are otherwise locked records. Check if your local library has affiliate status with Family Search.

NSW inquest records are not all gone but it is pretty patchy. Here’s a reference for you https://www.records.nsw.gov.au/archives/collections-and-research/guides-and-indexes/inquests

I just found my fathers half uncle has a Coroners inquest report on Archway. Wondering, do I wait until I go to NZ and Archives has opened up or spend $25 getting a copy? Or should I cite the mass of other notes I have first?

Coroner’s Court of Victoria does provide support now coronerscourt.vic.gov.au/families

if you haven’t already I highly recommend listening to The Last Outlaws podcast. The 3rd episode What Remains of Joe Governor talks about his inquest & reveals why inquests were often held in pubs thelastoutlaws.com.au

I often find references to inquests in newspapers and then follow up at the archives. Sad, sobering stories.

I haven’t looked much. I come across reports in Papers Past for those covered in newspapers. I think I have had had only a handful of people I know personally in my research. One was someone I went to school with

Inquests can be found via Archway National Archives (New Zealand) – archway.archives.govt.nz

Most of the inquests in my family were in Victoria so I have obtained inquest files from @PRO_Vic They are now avail digitally online. Many were transcribed, often in full, in newspapers

My uncle obtained information from the Orphan Home about his mother which provided more background but most information I obtained from the newspaper reports inquests not available

I have been able to go into Qld State Archives to view inquest records which is really touching history. I will have to order my overseas inquest files and no doubt they will arrive as PDFs…not quite as exciting.

Inquests were also held for those who died in institutions even when death was natural causes. We have a couple of those

Blog posts about inquests

Helen writing for PROV: Inquest depositions, untimely ends,

Alex: Ernest Grieve, Walter Hinde, Eddie Forfar,

Sue: Murder at lodging house,

Jennifer: Inquests in family,

Pauleen: Well sinking, Lizzie Brophy,

Carmel: Was the horse guilty?,

Readers: Have you found out something interesting when reading an inquest?

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

Newspapers 

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 slsa.sa.gov.au/collections/fa…

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

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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? prov.vic.gov.au

Found loads of information on Trove, NSW State Archives, Ancestry.com.au, 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 slsa.sa.gov.au/collections/fa…

Trove, Ancestry.com.au, 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 libraries.tas.gov.au/Pages/Home.aspx

Link to Tasmanian Names Index from Tassie libraries.tas.gov.au/family-history… 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?