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

ElasticComputeFarm / Pixabay

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?


Using newspapers in genealogy

Welcome to the fifth ANZAncestryTime twitterchat summary. As you can see by the title, this week we looked at newspapers and how they can help and have helped in researching our family history. We had the normal 4 questions but I am writing the summary up in a slightly different format.

shotput / Pixabay


  1. Which newspaper sites have you found helpful in your family history research and what do you like about these sites?
  2. What tips and tricks do you find useful for newspaper searches?
  3. What information have you found in newspapers that you would not have found in other records?
  4. What online archives, libraries and other e-resources do you use to access newspapers?

As we are mainly an Australian and New Zealand group of genealogists, the answer to the first question was usually Trove and PapersPast.

Trove is run by the National Library of Australia

Trove contains the Australian digitized newspapers and gazettes but also many other resources such as music, diaries, magazines etc mentioned in the following categories.  This video on the main Explore page shows how to use information in Trove to tell a story.  Checking out the Help page gives clues to searching, navigating and the categories. It also includes links to a How To video about Trove as well as a video and notes about searching the newspapers. These are well worth the time watching to get the most out of your use of Trove.

PapersPast is the New Zealand equivalent, also run by their National Library.

Looking at the about page explains how things are divided on the website and includes a list of Maori newspapers and magazines. Looking at their Help page gives lots of tips and hints on how to get the best out of your searching on the website. Many of these hints will work for any newspaper or even Google search. On the lead newspaper page you will also find a list of the most recent papers uploaded to PapersPast website.

Tips and tricks for getting the most out of researching a newspaper

Jill: When searching for a married female do a search with maiden name and Nee. This may find marriage & engagement announcements and births of children.

Fran: I start a search with newspapers in my ancestors location and extend to cover all NZ newspapers as many places reported the same stories. Print might be better on others or additional news

Jennifer: When researching married female ancestors, search for Christian name and also ‘Mrs’

Jill: Read the info on how to search each database. They are not all the same

Maggie: Wild cards are your friends! Plus, search by place name, related surnames, events, not just by an ancestor’s name. Cast your net wide.

Sue: use Boolean logic with + and – signs when searching

Pauleen: It’s useful to search widely by place (unless it’s a big city) and topic (eg petty sessions) rather than name because sometimes the OCR just doesn’t work well.

Alona: use a surname but add in a place, or occupation as it can help narrow it down

Fiona: Remembering that not all newspapers are online and checking the library for other local newspapers

Sharn: When I search for a person with a common name I use the name and identifying information ie place or occupation i.e. John Morrison “Builder” or John Morrison “Strathfield” and then I search with initial J Morrison “Builder” etc

Jill: Throwing the word Pioneer in often helps a name plus place search

Hilary: I always narrow down my search if I can and get familiar with the local papers as others publish the same story but often shorter version

Carmel: have a list of variety of spelling for each name to be searched, substitute letters, sometimes just search the place and timeframe

Alona: don’t expect to find full names (well occasionally you might, but it is rare) – often Mr, or Mr with initials, or Mrs with husbands initials

Sue: If going to use the newspaper in a blog article, know how to use the snipping tool and to move the article under the paper name etc, Also know the direct link for the article

Angela: keep search terms simple. Simply a name or a place name. Put in my mother’s maiden name and got her music exam results for a number of years!

Fiona: Get to know your newspaper by reading a few editions to see the type of articles they were including in the paper and where different “columns” were in the newspaper to make it quicker to check for articles not OCR’d correctly

Alona: look in newspapers beyond your area of searching, as news was often reported interstate & sometimes in different countries

Sue: When searching for convicts include the name of the ship they came over on, as this is how they are referred to in government reports etc

Pauleen: Try splitting up a name or place name because sometimes they become hyphenated to fit the column. eg I use “Prozelten” instead of “Dorfprozelten” Of course guessing the column break is the trick! AND always use the spelling in the right language.

Jill: Keep a record of the long search strings you build so that you can reuse them in a few months time when more papers come online

Irish News Archives: create offline keyword list associated with person, event or topic of interest. Use Boolean search forms for combination searching. Narrow date range into manageable groups. Test and test again…

Pauleen: Have also used the universal Elephind to find any stray mentions in other papers from around the world

Carmel: Work out where the funeral notices are in relation to the death notices in various newspapers – often these do not appear in a Trove search

Jill: Start broad then filter

Michelle: don’t just search in the country where the event happened, eg: for those with British ancestry check out other British Empire newspapers, I found a list of attendees to an 1840s Royal celebration in Sydney in an Indian newspaper

Sharn: There is a tremendous amount of LOCAL HISTORY about places our ancestors lived in newspapers. Things that happened where they lived paint a detailed picture of their lives

Information found in newspapers other than birth, death, marriages

  • Too many things to list! Newspapers have proved facts that I thought were just myth information handed down through the generations – Jill
  • Information on departures of Bavarian emigrants from Dorfprozelten to Australia in mid19th century. – Pauleen
  • The good stuff! Gossip, memories, stories, obits. Details that flesh out the vital records to really show a life – Melissa
  • Newspapers have provided details of inquests and prosecutions – Hilary
  • The actual words used by my relative in a court case after mining accident, after a robbery – Sue
  • I’ve found my ancestors being quoted, so “hearing” their voices is a gift not found in many other records – Maggie
  • Absolute tons of material. Too much to list. My GF’s lifetime involvement with sport, rugby, athletics, empire games, so many committees, debates, wedding gifts, functions attended, speeches and even some controversies – Fran
  • Wedding reports with names of guests, description of what they are wearing and a list of wedding gifts received – Jennifer
  • I have found amazing stories about ancestors in newspapers. I solved a family dispute about whether my g grandfather was accidentally killed by my grandfather’s punch or by a falling branch. The culprit, witnessed and reported, was the branch much to my relief – Sharn
  • Online newspapers provide so much information for posts to my personal and Family history group blogs. I post the family history group ones to a local Facebook page where they get lots of hits – Jill
  • So many spinetingling moments – being able to read a conversation my 3xGGrandfather had with Caroline Chisholm was one of the best. (I found it the hard way – on microfilm pre @troveaustralia – Jill
  • I discovered my ancestors body was exhumed. I hadn’t previously found any information alluding to that – Jennifer
  • an obit for a friend’s reli, which gave the full details of ship they arrived, when, where, how they travelled by bullock team from one state to another, what they farmed etc, etc. 100% gold!! – Alona
  • found my gt uncle had been born prematurely and not lived long – Hilary
  • Newspapers often announced the arrival of our immigrant ancestors in a place where they settled. I found an item that told me which house in Kaimkillenbun my Irish g grandparents first lived in – Sharn
  • birth info for a lost registration (1886) detailed descriptions of wedding guests and gifts and bride’s wedding gown going away outfit which, identified and dated a photograph (1902) – Michelle
  • Details of family events. They paint such a great picture – Sandra
  • found husband’s unknown grandmother when she claimed estate after gfather died having had no contact with family for more than 30 yrs! – Carmel
  • adverts for my 4x ggrandma’s candy store in the US – that was awesome to find – Alona
  • Details of inquests – who said what! Accident reports. Property disputes – Angela
  • found married names for women from wedding or funeral articles – Hilary
  • My mum told me a story about gold coins being stolen from the family house. Found a newspaper article that mentioned it. Was a lot earlier than I thought it was – Sandra
  • I check the old weather reports when writing up family events. Can add context to stories – Jill
  • Name Changes were often announced in Newspapers and often the only way to find people. I found my g uncle changed his name from Rex Morley Hoyes to Rex Morley – Morley to Viscompt Fessenden Charles Rex de Borenden – Sharn
  • I discovered my GGgmother remarried and had a triple wedding with the groom’s two daughters – Jennifer
Mary’s evidence

What newspapers are online, where to find them and others you might need?

Always check your local library and national library. They often have others digitized but not on Trove. Usually only need your library card to use them for free.

Have an unidentified newspaper clip you have inherited? Try this tip from Jill

I find that you can often identify where undated old clippings come from by entering a sentence into Google or Trove

Post from Pauleen about searching German newspapers

Post from Legacy News about navigating newspaper research – read comments as well for more links

Readers: How have newspapers helped flesh out the stories of your ancestors?