Ready to start your Australian genealogy research? A Legacy Tree Genealogist walks you through essential Australian history, geography, genealogical record types and online resources to trace your family tree “down under.”
Thank you to Legacy Tree Genealogists for providing this guest post.
Australian genealogy can be straightforward, but you do need to know a time period and a place, as well as the family name you are researching. Australia has only been a single country since 1901; before that there were colonies and territories beginning with the first European settlement in 1788. Even today the individual states and territories have their own governments and record systems with no single combined place to research. Therefore, knowing the time period and place where your ancestors lived is essential.
Australian history and geography
European settlement began with the arrival of the First Fleet in 1788, which included both male and female convicts and military and naval personnel. The colony became known as New South Wales, and occupied the eastern half of the continent of Australia including Tasmania (previously known as Van Diemen’s Land). The western half of the continent was never part of New South Wales and was originally known as the Swan River Colony, and later Western Australia.
With the exception of Western Australia, the other states and colonies were originally part of New South Wales. Victoria was known as the Port Phillip settlement before it became self-governing in 1851, and Queensland was the Moreton Bay settlement until 1859. Early records for both of those colonies will be in New South Wales, so it is important to know when the individual colonies and territories were established.
Australia in 1856 – image courtesy Wikipedia (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Territorial_evolution_of_Australia)
Similarly, a knowledge of geography is essential, as Australia is a huge continent with most of the population along the coastline. Another complicating factor is that there may be places with the same name in one or more colonies/states. For instance, if researching ancestors from Maryborough, it would be necessary to identify whether you should be researching Maryborough in Queensland or Maryborough in Victoria.
To make matters even more confusing, some places changed their name! For instance, until 1911 Innisfail in Queensland was called Geraldton, not to be confused with Geraldton in Western Australia on the other side of the continent. Bendigo was originally known as Sandhurst, and many of the goldfield towns in central Victoria were known under the broader name of the Mount Alexander goldfield. Knowing the history and geography will help you immensely as you embark on your Australian genealogy research.
Getting started with Australian genealogy research
If you have Australian genealogy there are many wonderful free online Australian resources that will give you a head start in researching your ancestors and learning more about their heritage. Wikipedia – Australia is a good starting place for an overview if you are unfamiliar with Australian history and geography. Depending on where your ancestors were, read the appropriate sections of history and geography. For example, convicts were sent to New South Wales and Tasmania until 1842 when the colony was opened up for free settlement, but Western Australia only received convicts from 1850 to 1868. The gold rushes in Victoria in the 1850s attracted thousands of people, as did later rushes in Queensland in the 1860s and Western Australia in the 1890s.
Many immigrants were looking for their own land and a better life for their families. Each of the colonies had their own immigration schemes in a bid to attract as many people as they could. Most colonial passenger lists are now indexed and can be searched online at the various state archives. Some states have even digitized the passenger lists, which may be viewed freely online. State archives are a wonderful free online resource, and include offices such as the Queensland State Archives, Public Record Office Victoria, or the Tasmanian Archive and Heritage Office.
A free useful portal site is CoraWeb – helping you trace your family history in Australia and elsewhere. It is divided up into categories such as archives, cemeteries, convicts, maps, probate and will records, shipping, migration, and other genealogy-related topics.
Australian birth, marriage, and death records
Like everything else, you need to know an approximate date and place before you begin to research birth, marriage, and death records. Prior to civil registration there are some church records which consist of mostly baptisms and marriages, with a few burials. Civil registration started at various times, and different colonies collected different information at different times, with South Australia having the least information on the certificates.
Van Diemen’s Land (later Tasmania) was the first to introduce civil registration in 1838, with Western Australia following in 1842, South Australia in 1842, Victoria in 1851, and New South Wales (including Queensland at that time) in 1856. Most states have online indexes available for searching, but only Queensland and Victoria provide digital copies of certificates for download after purchase. Western Australia still requires researchers to mail their applications with no online ordering.
Tasmania is perhaps the most helpful – with their early church records and births, marriage, and death certificates indexed, and digital copies online for free through the Tasmanian Archive and Heritage Office. The Tasmanian Name Index includes free indexed and digitized copies of various genealogical resources.
Federation in 1901 and the National Archives
The individual colonies voted to form the Commonwealth of Australia in 1901, and since then there has also been a Commonwealth (later Federal) government. This took over some government functions such as the military, immigration, citizenship, and naturalization, although some states continued to have their own immigration schemes. This means that post-1901, researchers need to use the National Archives of Australia, as well as the various state archives.
In 1911 the final changes to the map of Australia took place, with the separation of the Northern Territory from South Australia, and the establishment of the Australian Capital Territory within southern New South Wales.
With the centenary of World War One, the National Archives of Australia has digitized all army dossiers and made them freely available online. RecordSearch is the main database, and it can be searched in a number of ways including a “Name Search” and “Passenger Arrivals.” While not every record series is indexed by name, it can be useful to search for an individual’s name, especially if they arrived post-1901 or served in the military during either World War.
Australian Newspapers and Photographs
In Australia, digitized newspapers are freely available online through Trove, which is maintained by the National Library of Australia. Along with newspapers, Trove also includes government gazettes, books, articles, maps, manuscripts, photographs, archived websites, and other resources. If you are interested in what a place looked like at the time your ancestors lived there, then try an image search in Trove. Remember that it is continually being added to, so it is essential that you revisit your searches from time to time. (Click here to read another Genealogy Gems article about Trove.)
Christoe Street, Copperfield Queensland in 1876 when my ancestors lived there. Image courtesy State Library of Queensland via Trove.
Individual state libraries also have genealogy sections with online guides to various family history topics. These can be a good place to start, and most participate in the ‘Ask a Librarian’ where you can get advice and information. However, they cannot do individual research – just answer questions.
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New genealogy records online recently include thousands of articles and images in PERSI, the Periodical Source Index. Also: new and updated Australian vital and parish records, German civil registers, an enormous Japanese newspaper archive, and a variety of newspaper and other resources for US states: AZ, AR, IA, KS, MD, NJ, PA, & TX.
PERSI Update: Thousands of new genealogy articles and images
Findmypast.com updated the Periodical Source Index (PERSI) this week, adding 14,865 new articles, and uploaded 13,039 new images to seven different publications. PERSI is one of those vastly under-utilized genealogy gems: a master subject index of every known genealogical and historical magazine, journal or newsletter ever published! Click here to explore PERSI.
The seven publications to which they’ve added images are as follows:
Click here to read an article about using PERSI for genealogy research.
More New Genealogy Records Online Around the World
Parish registers in Sydney. A new Ancestry.com database has been published: Sydney, Australia, Anglican Parish Registers, 1818-2011. “This database contains baptism, burial, confirmation, marriage, and composite registers from the Anglican Church Diocese of Sydney,” says the collection description. Baptismal records may include name, birth date, gender, name and occupation of mother and father, address, and date and parish of baptism. Confirmation records may include name, age, birth date, address, and the date and parish of confirmation. Marriage records may include the names of bride and groom as well as their age at marriage, parents’ names and the date and parish of the event. Burial records may include the name, gender, address, death date, and date and parish of burial.
Victoria BMD indexes. MyHeritage.com now hosts the following vital records indexes for Victoria, Australia: births (1837-1920), marriages (1837-1942), and deaths (1836-1985). These new databases supplement MyHeritage’s other Victoria collections, including annual and police gazettes. (Note: comparable collections of Victoria vital records are also available to search for free at the Victoria state government website.)
Just over 858,000 records appear in Ancestry.com’s new database, Halle (Saale), Germany, Deaths, 1874-1957. “This collection contains death records from Halle (Saale) covering the years 1874 up to and including 1957,” states the collection description. “Halle, also known as “Halle on the Saale,” was already a major city by 1890. These records come from the local registry offices, which began keeping vital records in the former Prussian provinces in October 1874. “The collected records are arranged chronologically and usually in bound yearbook form, which are collectively referred to as ‘civil registers.’ For most of the communities included in the collection, corresponding alphabetical directories of names were also created. While churches continued to keep traditional records, the State also mandated that the personal or marital status of the entire population be recorded. (Note: These records are in German. For best results, you should search using German words and location spellings.)”
A large Japanese newspaper archive has been made available online, as reported by The Japan News. The report states: “The Yomiuri Shimbun has launched a new online archive called Yomiuri Kiji-Kensaku (Yomiuri article search), enabling people to access more than 13 million articles dating back to the newspaper’s first issue in 1874. The archive also includes articles from The Japan News (previously The Daily Yomiuri) dating back to 1989. This content will be useful for people seeking English-language information on Japan…Using the service requires registration. There is a minimum monthly charge of ¥300 plus tax, with any other charges based on how much content is accessed.” Tip: read the use instructions at the article above, before clicking through in the link given in that article.
New Genealogy Records Online for the United States: By State
Arizona. Newspapers.com has added the Arizona Daily Star, with issues from 1879 to 2017. The Arizona Daily Star is a daily morning paper that began publishing in Tucson on January 12, 1879, more than 30 years before Arizona became a state. The Daily Star’s first editor was L.C. Hughes, who would later go on to become governor of the Arizona Territory.
Arkansas. The University of Arkansas Libraries has digitized over 34,000 pages of content for its latest digital collection, the Arkansas Extension Circulars. A recent news article reports that: “The Arkansas Agricultural Extension Service began publishing the Arkansas Extension Circulars in the 1880s. These popular publications covered myriad agriculture-related topics: sewing, gardening and caring for livestock among them. Now, users worldwide can access these guides online.” These practical use articles give insight into the lives of rural and farming families in Arkansas, and feature local clubs and community efforts.
Iowa. The Cedar Rapids Public Library has partnered with The Gazette to make millions of pages of the newspaper available online. The Gazette dates back to 1883, and the new database is keyword searchable. A recent article reports that 2 million pages are currently available online in this searchable archive, with plans to digitize another 1 million pages over the next 18 months.
Kansas. From a recent article: “Complete issues of Fort Hays State University’s Reveille yearbooks – from the first in 1914 to the last in 2003 – are now online, freely available to the public in clean, crisp, fast-loading and searchable digital versions in Forsyth Library’s FHSU Scholars Repository.” Click here to go directly to the yearbook archive and start exploring.
Maryland. New at Ancestry.com: Maryland, Catholic Families, 1753-1851 (a small collection of 13.5k records, but an important point of origin for many US families). “Judging from the 12,000-name index at the back of the volume, for sheer coverage this must be the starting point for Western Maryland Catholic genealogy,” states the description for this collection of birth, baptismal, marriage, and death records for the parishes of St. Ignatius in Mt. Savage, and St. Mary’s in Cumberland, Maryland. Find a brief history of Catholicism in western Maryland with lists of priests and a summary of congregational growth. Then find lists of marriages, baptisms, deaths, and burials, and even lists of those “who appeared at Easter Confession, confirmation, communion, or who pledged financial support for the parish priest.”
New Jersey. Findmypast.com subscribers may now access small but historically and genealogically important collections of baptismal records (1746-1795) and additional church records (1747-1794) for Hannover, Morris County, New Jersey. States the first collection description, “Despite being small in population, the township is rich in history. It was the first settlement established in northwest New Jersey, dating back to 1685, and is situated by the Whippany River.” The second group of records “pertains to an active time in Hanover, with the resurgence of religious revivals kicking off around 1740. The most populous denominations in the latter half of the 1700s were Presbyterian, Society of Friends (Quaker), Dutch Reformed, Baptist, and Episcopal.”
Pennsylvania. The Carlisle Indian Industrial School, located in Carlisle, PA, was a federally-funded boarding school for Native American children from 1879 through 1918. The Carlisle Indian School Digital Resource Center is a project that is building an online searchable database of resources to preserve the history of the school and the students who attended there.
They recently announced a new resource titled Cemetery Information. According to the site, this collection provides “easy access to a wide range of primary source documents about the cemetery and the Carlisle Indian School students interred there.” Available materials include an individual page for every person interred there with their basic information, downloadable primary source materials about their death, an interactive aerial map of the cemetery, and more.
Texas. The Texas State Library and Archives Commission has digitized a series of collections featuring archival holdings from the First World War through the Texas Digital Archive. These collections are:
- The Frank S. Tillman Collection: “The bulk of the collection focuses on the Thirty-Sixth Division and also features items from the Ninetieth Division, the Adjutant General of Texas, and other Texas soldiers.”
- General John A. Hulen Papers:”Highlights include correspondence, photographs, and scrapbooks, dating 1887-1960.”
- 36th Division Association Papers: “The papers include correspondence, reports, military records, and scrapbooks, dating 1857-1954. Records relate to Texans’ experience during World War I, railroads in Texas, and the San Jacinto Monument.”
What genealogy websites are you using? Which additional ones should you also be using?
Learn more about the giant genealogy websites mentioned in this post–and how they stack up to the other big sites–in our unique, must-have quick reference guide, Genealogy Giants, Comparing the 4 Major Websites, by Genealogy Gems editor Sunny Morton. You’ll learn how knowing the relative strengths and weaknesses of Ancestry.com, FamilySearch.org, Findmypast.com and MyHeritage.com can help your research. There’s more than one site out there–and you should be using as many of them as possible. The guide does share information about how to access library editions of these websites for free. This inexpensive guide is worth every penny–and may very well help you save money.
Disclosure: This post contains affiliate links and Genealogy Gems will be compensated if you make a purchase after clicking on these links (at no additional cost to you). Thank you for supporting Genealogy Gems!
New and updated genealogy collections from all around the world are just a click away! Sail your way from Norway across the Atlantic to the U.S. state of Michigan, then head across the Pacific to Korea and end your virtual voyage in Australia with the Victoria Passenger lists.
Norway Genealogy Records – Probate
FamilySearch has a new collection this week titled Norway, Probate Index Cards, 1640-1903. Only a small number (194,981) have been indexed. These are not digital images, but like the title says, it is an index.
These index cards were created by the regional archives in Norway. Not all regional archives created an index so, the collection does not cover all of Norway. FamilySearch has indexes for the following counties:
Each index card may include the following:
- Probate district
- Volume (inclusive dates) and page number
- Farm name
- Date of probate
- Name of the deceased & spouse
- Name of children/heirs
- Decision of the court
United States – Michigan – Oral Histories
The Ypsilanti Library has just launched their African American Oral History Archive. It’s been 40 years, but dozens of leaders of the Ypsilanti African American community were interviewed about their personal experiences during the Great Depression, WWII, and the Civil Rights movement. Now, these interviews are being digitized and will be made available online.
Although only one interview is available at this time, over the next 9 months, historians will be putting more of their stories online at the A.P. Marshall African American Oral History Archive website. You can enjoy the first interview with Eugene Beatty, a track athlete who nearly made the U.S. Olympic team in 1932, now.
In addition to interview recordings, the online archive will include a transcript with photographs of the subjects.
Korea – Civil Service Records and Genealogies
Wow! It has been a long time coming, but finally, we have two new database collections for Korea. FamilySearch.org has digitized over 2 million records for these collections. The Korea Collection of Genealogies, 1200-2014 was added this week and boasts family biographies, genealogies, and histories. The records are in Korean and Chinese, but for translation tools, see the section titled For Help Reading These Records.
These genealogies are not yet indexed, so you will need to use the browse feature we shared with you last month. You can read that article here.
The second collection for Korea is titled Korea Civil Service Examinations and Records of Officials and Employees, 1390-1900. This is a rather small collection of just over 4,000 records.
This collection will include records from Jeollabuk-do and Jeonju-si, South Korea. The records are in Korean and Chinese, dated from 1392 to 1910, and include Korean civil service examinations from the Joseon Dynasty.
The civil service examinations under the Joseon dynasty were known as the gwageo. These were very difficult tests and central to education during the Joseon dynasty. The test assessed the applicant’s knowledge of Chinese classics and, occasionally, technical skills. Passing the test qualified the individual to enter into the higher governmental or aristocratic positions.
The civil service examination may contain some valuable information, such as:
- Name of Employee
- Date and Place of Birth
- Names of Parents
- Name of Spouse
Australia – Victoria – Passenger Lists
New from Findmypast, Victoria Coastal Passenger Lists 1852-1924 is the largest release of Australian records to date! These passenger lists cover the great Gold Rush and contains 3.3 million records. Both transcripts and digital images of the lists are found in the collection. Generally speaking, you will find the following information:
- First and last name(s)
- Sex, age, and birth year
- Marital status
- Year of arrival
- Ship name
- Departure port and date
- Arrival port and date
The early 1850s marked great gold discoveries in Australia. People immigrated to the area in masses to stake their claims. The population exploded and by 1871, 1.7 million people had immigrated to Victoria. Perhaps you always wondered what brought your family to Australia. This collection may finally provide the answer!
More Gems on New and Updated Genealogical Records
WorldCat Gets a Major Addition: New Genealogy Records Online this Week
England Emigrants and More: New Genealogy Records Online
Every week we blog about new genealogy records online. Which ones might help you find your family history? New this week: more Italian civil registrations, Ohio and Pennsylvania marriage records, thousands of New York genealogical resources, Illinois state censuses and school records for England, Wales, Ireland and Australia.
SCHOOL RECORDS. Nearly 2.9 million School Admission Register records from England and Wales, Ireland and NSW, Australia are now searchable on Findmypast. Record content varies, but according to Findmypast, “These fascinating new records can allow you a glimpse into your ancestors’ early life, pinpoint the area they grew up in, reveal if they had a perfect attendance or occasionally played truant and can even determine whether they worked in a school as an adult.”
ILLINOIS STATE CENSUSES. Ancestry has updated its collection of Illinois state censuses, which now include 1825, 1835, 1845, 1855 and 1865, along with 1865 agricultural schedules for several counties and nonpopulation schedules of the federal censuses for 1850-1880. (Learn more about U.S. state censuses here.)
ITALY CIVIL REGISTRATIONS. FamilySearch continues to upload Italy’s civil registration records. This week, they added browse-only records (not yet indexed) for Potenza, Rieti and Trapani.
NEW YORK GENEALOGY MATERIAL. Thousands of pages of materials from the New York Genealogical and Biographical Society are now searchable on Findmypast. Among these are all back issues of the NYG&B Record, the second-oldest genealogical journal in the U.S. (in print since 1870). Findmypast’s Joshua Taylor calls it “the single most important scholarly resource that exists for people researching New York families.” Other collections include unique census fragments, vital records abstracts, baptismal registers and old diaries. Click here to see and search the full list.
OHIO MARRIAGES. More than a quarter million indexed records and thousands of images have been added to FamilySearch’s collection of Ohio marriage records for 1789-2013.
PENNSYLVANIA MARRIAGES. Over a million digitized images of Pennsylvania civil marriage records (1677-1950) are now free to browse at FamilySearch. The collection description says it’s an “index and images of various city and county marriage records, many from Philadelphia.”
Did you find anything worth sharing here? Please do! We love getting the word out about new genealogy records online.
Every Friday, we blog about new genealogy records online. Do any collections below relate to your family history? Please share with genealogy buddies or societies that might be interested!
AUSTRALIAN CONVICTS. A variety of convict records for New South Wales and Queensland, Australia, are now searchable on Findmypast. The NSW records include certificates of freedom and death records beginning in the 1820s. Queensland data includes convict indexes from 1824-1936.
CALIFORNIA DEATHS. Over 2 million deaths in California from 1905-1939 are now searchable for free on FamilySearch. “The index is arranged alphabetically by the name of the deceased, initials of spouse, age, and date of death. Place of death or county of death is coded.”
IRISH COURT RECORDS. Nearly 22 million records appear in the new FamilySearch database, Ireland Petty Sessions Court Registers 1828-1912. According to FamilySearch, “Most records contains name, address, the date in court, and whether the person was a witness, complainant or defendant. It might also contain other information to the specific case. These records were originally filmed at the National Archives of Ireland and the index was created by FindMyPast.com.”
IRISH MILITARY. Ireland’s National Army Census of 1922 is now searchable at Findmypast. Taken in the midst of the Irish Civil War, it “includes details pertaining to where soldiers were stationed, their ages and their next of kin,” according to the collection description.
KENTUCKY VITAL RECORDS. Nearly 10 million names appear in the new FamilySearch index, Kentucky Vital Record Indexes 1911-1999. The database includes “indexes of births, marriages, and deaths from January 1911 to July 1999. These indexes were created by the Kentucky Department for Libraries and Archives from data files obtained from the Office of Vital Statistics.”
Here’s a tip: if you live far from your ancestors’ hometown, why not make a virtual visit? Google Earth is a powerful, free, interactive 3D map of the world. Use it to “fly” over a hometown or even drop down into a Street View that lets you see what’s there now. Maybe you’ll find an old home, neighborhood, school, courthouse, church, cemetery or other landmark relating to your family. Learn more in our free Google Earth for Genealogy video. Click here to watch it!