Beginners Guide to Researching Your Family History in Australia


  • Begin with YOU and search backwards [can add your children and grandchildren later]
  • Do not start with some famous person with the same name and try to find a link.
  • Family stories, talk to close and distant relatives
  • Collect family mementos eg Bible, photographs, medals, letters, diaries, books, furniture
  • Visit cemeteries to view gravestones as most give a birth and death date
  • Find birth certificates, will give mother’s maiden name
  • Find marriage certificates, will give both father’s names
  • Death certificates are less reliable as someone else is giving the information, nevertheless they can indicate number of children
  • NSW index is at < >
  1. Can look for Births 1788 -1912
  2. Deaths 1788-1982
  3. Marriages 1788 – 1962
  • This will give the reference number so you can order the certificate [$31 each at present]
  • Naming patterns may help eg first son after father’s father, first daughter after mother’s mother, second son after mother’s father, second daughter after father’s mother. Or mother or grandmother’s  maiden names can be used eg Matthew Taylorson Barry Ford
  • The National Library’s online newspapers website is a brilliant resource for births which may not be at the BDM site                         <>
  • The National Archives is another wonderful repository of information < >
  • Your own State Archives or State Records office
  • Ryerson Index can be useful for deaths and places of burial <>
  • May need to check electoral rolls, P.O. directories, cemetery inscriptions, probate indexes, local newspaper obituaries. Many resources may be located with a local Family History Group, for example Armidale NSW has rich resources at the local FHG and the local Archives behind  the old Teachers College building and UNE library has  Government Gazettes which are excellent for land grants, medial appointments, mining leases.
  • You may be looking at microfiche or microfilm because multiple copies can be made and originals become too fragile.
  • Use census records
  • Maps may show land subdivisions with owners. The NSW Land and Property Information web site is a most useful tool for family historians. Their home page is at <; and it is well set out and easy to navigate.
  • Education Records, Police records, Post Office records. Inquests, Gaol returns, Divorce records, Occupations eg lists of Clergy or Doctors
  • If your ancestor was a soldier the AWM has a brilliant set of records available online
  • Read books about the area where your ancestor lived as he or she may get a mention.
  • First arrival in Australia. When? Death cert of this person will give clues for date
  • Where did they come from? May be on death cert.
  • Convict records, Immigration and Shipping records are available. Some online.
  • International Genealogical Index , the IGI, compiled from millions of records worldwide but especially UK and USA. Your nearest branch of the LDS church can then order the specific film for confirmation and detail.
  • Then you go through the list again for all your lines. Pre 1837 in UK need to go to Parish records
  • Remember you have 2 parents, 4 grandparents, 8 great grandparents, 16 great-great grandparents, 32, 64, 126, 256 so it doubles for each generation you manage to get back…. It’s a never ending task!
  • ORAL HISTORY …. Good place to start is YOU

By Caroline Gaden ©


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