Unlike British research, where national census and civil registration records are readily available after the 1830s, these record types are less accessible in Australian genealogy research. But a little digging into other resources can more than compensate.
Invaluable Birth, Death, and Marriage Records for Australian Genealogy Research
Collected by the states, locating birth, death, and marriage (BDM) records requires more effort and expense but often pays excellent dividends. The State Library of Queensland has developed a handy reference guide for accessing online birth, death, and marriage indexes in the Australian states and elsewhere.
Indexes on state websites often provide basic information about birth, death, or marriage, but original records typically provide much more. Some birth records include the names and vital information for all of the couple’s older children. On the record below, for example, Rose May Stenton’s 1882 New South Wales birth certificate provided invaluable clues about her parents, including their names, ages, birthplaces in Doncaster, England, and County Down, Ireland, and their marriage three years earlier in Melbourne.
Some states provide immediate access to digital copies of complete records; others may take a few days or weeks to digitize or mail the requested record(s). Costs vary by state but are usually about $35 or less—a little pricey but generally well worth the expense.
Gems at the Australian National Archives
Consider yourself very fortunate if you have an immigrant, military, or other ancestors with records kept by the National Archives of Australia (NAA). NAA holds records and files for immigration, naturalization, incoming and outgoing passengers, military service, First Australians, and others.
Begin your Australian genealogy research at the NAA in either of two ways:
1) Consult one of their helpful research guides or advice on researching your family, or
2) If your ancestor’s name was less common, go directly to NAA’s RecordSearch tool to locate records that may pertain to your ancestor.
The image below from one soldier’s World War I service record provided details about his arrival in Southampton, England, after the journey from Australia, his deployment to battle in France, illnesses and injuries, promotion to corporal and then lance corporal other details. Combined with the history of this man’s regiment, this compact record could open a previously closed view into the rigors and challenges he faced while serving his country during the “Great War.”
Shorthand and abbreviations can often make these densely packed records intimidating, but the NAA and others also provide lists of abbreviations that can help unpack the information on these records.
While the NAA is probably most frequently used by family historians to locate passenger lists or military records, it can also be a rich resource for complete files on immigrant ancestors. Suppose the ancestor’s file has not yet been opened for public access and digitized. In that case, it may take many months for NAA staff to find time to
1) review whether there is anything in the file that would preclude its being opened for public access and then
2) digitize and share those records (which is done for a relatively small fee to cover costs)
One teenage immigrant arrived from turbulent Eastern Europe a decade after World War II. His file included 26 pages of background about his family and decision to migrate under the Unaccompanied European Minors scheme and a digitized image of the ancestor as a 16-year-old youth.
Among the paperwork were comments from an interviewer in Vienna who recommended him and noted he was “Acceptable in appearance and otherwise seems quite a useful ‘sought’ of the young fellow. Assimilation should present no real difficulty.”
Treasures in Trove: Australia’s Newspaper Archive
A journey through Australian genealogy research resources would not be complete without a stop at The National Library of Australia’s Trove. Trove is probably the best and most comprehensive newspaper archive in the English-speaking world, if not the entire world. Additionally, it is completely free and readily accessible. MyHeritage’s search engine for Trove’s Australian newspaper collection can often be a more time-efficient way to narrow down the many possible articles you’ll locate on Trove. Both for recent ancestors and many from the nineteenth century, articles on Trove can help solve mysteries and bring color and life to the bare frameworks provided by other records. The 1905 “Back Creek” article below offered clues that the Stanley family was eager to employ advanced technologies in their mining operations.
Australian Voting Register Diggings
Because Australian census records are limited, voting registers can be a helpful substitute, particularly in the twentieth century. Ancestry has an extensive collection of twentieth-century electoral rolls but FamilySearch, MyHeritage, and FindMyPast also have records from states that may not be included. FamilySearch’s Wiki on this topic provides a roadmap of these other resources. For example, FamilySearch has several collections of electoral rolls from Victoria throughout the nineteenth century.
The drawbacks of voting registers are that they only include registered voters and do not include children. They can, however, be very useful in tracking specific addresses where individuals lived and when and where they moved. The image below, for example, shows three Flood families who lived in the Darling Harbour district of Sydney in 1913 who may have been closely related to one another.
Australian Research Archive and Library Mines
Lastly, look for archives and libraries specific to your research area. Several state archives and libraries have resources focused explicitly on genealogy research. For example, the State Library of Western Australia website has a landing page for family history research that highlights the library’s physical and online resources that may be useful for family historians. The Queensland State Archives and Library have organized resources specific to family history. State libraries and archives can provide access to probate, land, hospital, cemetery records, passenger lists, and much more.
In addition to records specific to the ancestor you are researching, libraries can also provide background resources to help you understand the stories behind their lives. The State Library of Victoria, for example, has developed a series of family history research guides that help users access the library’s collections in a specific area, such as maps, buildings and houses, occupations, immigration and emigration, and even something as straightforward as gold mining, which drew many thousands to Victoria in times gone by. Imagine the joy of finding a sketch or map of the gold field where your ancestor staked a claim and learning more about what drew people to this region and what they encountered once they arrived.
Both state archives and libraries and local archives and historical societies are often very generous with their time in helping researchers access their resources. It is usually worth a call, email, or letter to see what information and tools they may have to help you find or learn more about the ancestors you are researching. Local archives and libraries can also be identified with an internet search or on the FamilySearch Wiki for your locale.
Family history research is a fascinating adventure! Legacy Tree Genealogists would be delighted to help if you need professional assistance—best wishes on your journey. If you’d like a free quote, fill out this form and we’ll be in touch!
Jan Hardy says
I have a great great grandmother whom l am unable to find d any information about other than her name Margaret Kennedy married Charles James Buck Unstead in SA Australia On her marriage cert had father as John Kennedy l can find no other info as to where she was born etc Can u help? J Hardy
Jessica - Legacy Tree Genealogists President says
Hi J Hardy,
You’re off to a great start with obtaining Margaret’s marriage certificate! Charles’s surname is unusual, so I can see that marriage record online. It appears that Charles probably died about 25 years after they married. Here are a few suggestions you might consider:
* Obtain the original marriage certificate if you don’t yet have it. It may include more information about Margaret’s family than appears on the index. Some Australian records would include both parents’ names and even their marriage info. It will probably include Margaret’s age and possibly her birthplace.
* Try to find Margaret’s death certificate, which may also have good information about her birth and parents.
* It’s possible Margaret remarried after Charles’s death, so look for a marriage if you can’t find her death under Margaret Unstead.
* Search Trove to see if you can find a marriage notice or obituary with information about her family.
* Records for Margaret and Charles’s children may also have clues about Margaret’s age and birthplace.
Good luck! With the name of Margaret Kennedy, there’s a good chance Margaret had Irish ancestry. We’ve also got terrific Irish researchers at Legacy Tree Genealogists and would be delighted to do a research project for you if you run into more challenges.
jennifer searle says
My Uncle Albert Charles Robert Garrett (know as Robert Garrett) emigrated to Australia on 2nd December 1923 on ship P.O Baradine from London, destination Melbourne.he died in a motor accident on 27th April 1952 aged 49.he is buried in Daylesford,Victoria. he was my mothers older brother. I would like to trace any of his family,
Jessica - Legacy Tree Genealogists President says
Hi Jennifer! We’d love to help you trace your family! You can get a free quote when you fill out this form.