Family History Research in Australia

Here are some key things you need to know to undertake family history research in Australia.

Getting started

Work from the present to the past. Begin by collecting information from readily available sources.

Before you search public records, interview family members about their memories and about any documents or photographs in their possession. You will need names, dates and other personal details if you want to request information from public records offices. You may also wish to search the White Pages for individuals who share your family name.

You can save a lot of time by accessing online indexes produced by libraries and by the state and national archives. You will find everything—from information on convicts; deceased estates; courts; gaol photographs, immigration; orphans; police service registers; insolvency; school records and naturalization. Libraries and archives also provide downloadable fact sheets for family historians and other researchers. Under the Privacy Act, you will only have access to online to records over thirty years old. There will be charges for accessing or obtaining copies of some records.

Searching indexes

When you conduct a search, try to anticipate likely spelling variations for the first and family name of your relative. For example Giuseppe Franchini, who arrived in Australia in 1857, is entered in records variously as “Frankini”, “Frankeen”, “Frankoni” and “Frankins”. Some electronic databases help researchers to get around spelling anomalies by the insertion of a wildcard (*). For example, typing “Fran*” tells the database to search for any names beginning with the letters “Fran”.

The spelling of names is subject to regional variation and not all migrants were literate. Australian officials often wrote names phonetically, so that “Iozzi”, for example, may be recorded as “Yozzi”. Furthermore, copperplate handwriting of the 1800s can be hard to read, with the result that researchers and indexers sometimes incorrectly transcribe names, particularly those commencing with the capital letters F, I, L, J, S and T or H, M and W.

Where to look

Public Records Office of Victoria

Some Victorian public records are now accessible online though the Public Records Office of Victoria. The PROV site includes a great deal of useful information about searching for family and other historical records.

Public records that have not been made available online must be searched via microfiche or other archival systems. The PROV Archive Centre at 99 Shiel Street North Melbourne has a public reading room where researchers can view archive material. Check the PROV website for opening hours.


Births, Deaths and Marriages records

You should begin your search with Births, Deaths and Marriages records. These are among the most reliable documents and will give you names, dates, locations and next of kin.

If the records you need are not available online, indexes are also available on CD-ROM and microfiche at state and selected local libraries, some state archives, and genealogical societies. You can buy copies of records from the Registrar of Births, Deaths and Marriages in each state.

Census, muster and electoral records

State records offices hold census and muster records. These documents list individuals by name and in some cases provide details of others living in the same household. 

Electoral rolls can also provide names and addresses of individuals. Researchers need to bear in mind that women were not allowed to vote until 1905 and compulsory voting came into effect in 1915.

Immigration records

a. Shipping records Shipping records pertaining to a particular person are held by the state where he or she first arrived. Most state archives provide online indexes of their shipping records going up to 1922. The majority refer to passengers who arrived under government assistance.

You can search the National Archives of Australia (NAA) online RecordSearch database for shipping and immigration records. Newspapers of the period may also be of use for lists of unassisted migrants.

b. Naturalisation and internment records

Naturalisation records prior to 1903 are held by the state record offices. Naturalisation and internment records post 1903 are with the NAA. The NAA is in the process of digitising these items for downloading from its RecordSearch database.
The Italian Historical Society have our own online database of civil internment records from World War II. 

Other records of interest

Business records

Company registration and bankruptcy records are held by state archives and the NAA. The latter also has patent registrations going back to the 1800s.

Gold field/mining records

References to miners can be located in the records of the Gold Commissioners and in the records of Mining Wardens' Courts in the Department of Mines. These are usually housed with the state archive. 

Land sales and transfers

You will find records relating to the purchase and transfer of land from the Crown in the NAA and state archives.

Military records

You can search online for military records held by the Australian War Memorial, the National Archives of Australia and some state records offices.