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Archives in Brief 116 - Researching your house and property

This Archives in Brief (AIB) provides an overview of the major sources for researching houses and properties. It provides details about records held by State Records and lists other organisations that may hold relevant material. Please note however, that property records can be complex and may be confusing for those without conveyancing training.

Parish maps

NRS 8405, Cancelled parish, county, town, environs, municipality and area maps, 1880-1974

Daceyville Garden Suburb NRS 5225 Foggit's No.3 Type let at 16s shillings per week, Dacey Garden suburb Digital ID: 5225_a018_a018000029

Parish maps can often provide the original owner of the land on which the house was built, the size of the original block, the date that it was granted by or purchased from the Crown.

The Land and Property Management Authority is converting parish, town and pastoral run maps to digital images through its Parish Map Preservation Project. The digitised copies of the maps are available in the reading room on CD ROM. They are also available on the Land and Property Management Authority's website.

For further information see Archives in Brief 80.

Primary Applications

NRS 17513, Primary Application packets 1863+

A Primary Application is made to convert land title from what is known as Old System title to registration under the provisions of the Real Property Acts (commonly referred to as Torrens Title).

Primary Application packets can contain:

  • the survey plan
  • correspondence, including Lands Department working papers and memos
  • reports from the Title Examiner's and the Survey Draftsman
  • the draft Certificate of Title
  • caveats against the Application by adjoining owners or others claiming an interest in the land, and
  • deeds, possibly including mortgages, and other dealings with the land.

Even if a packet contains documents relating to a primary application in respect of land in which you interested, it may not contain all the documents referred to in the application, particularly if the land was the result of one or more subdivisions.

The Primary Application packets are progressively being transferred to State Records and they are being listed on Archives Investigator. For more information see Archives in Brief 108.

Department of Valuer General

NRS 14466, Valuation cards, 1916-27
Item listings: [13/7443-934], Canterbury [13/7563 (pt)-549] Fiche 2355-2475 [13/7550-557] Fiche 2505-2577

These cards provide information on the valuation of properties in Sydney, Newcastle, Wollongong and many other urban areas. Most cards start in the 1920s.

The cards can contain title details, descriptions of land, locality and improvements such as buildings and fences, owners' names and changes of ownership. The back of the card has information on the valuation.

The cards are arranged alphabetically by valuation district (local government area) and then by wards or localities. Details are arranged by street name or valuation number.

NRS 14465, Valuation rolls, c.1928+
Item listings: [3/9603-12472 3/14383-789 3/16371-559 3/17479-623 3/17770-933 19/8587-884 19/9233-490 19/10790-11117 19/12718-928 19/13250-434 19/13450-14973 19/15935-16125]

This series covers most areas in the State. Information contained in these rolls may include owner's name, address and occupation; lessee's name; address of property to be valued; description of improvements such as buildings; lot; area; value and remarks.

The rolls are arranged by valuation district, (local government area) and within that by wards or ridings and then alphabetically by street.

NRS 14467, Field books relating to property valuations (and cancelled Field book entries), c.1920-1978
Item listings: [11/12011-13994 6/12450-55 10/41660-714 10/41312-30 6/11171-429]

The Field books contain entries for property valuations which give the original and subsequent valuations of a particular property.
A detailed listing is available in the reading room. See Archives in Brief 109 for more information on valuation records.

Metropolitan Water Sewerage and Drainage Board

NRS 9941, Detail Sheets 1904-1945

The Detail Sheets are maps which provide information about buildings which existed at the time of survey. A survey was usually done in preparation for a sewer. Details of houses may include street name, house number and name, lot number, the outline of the ground floor and details of construction material.

See Archives in Brief 111 for further information.

Related property and asset records

For most of the related records listed here you will need the name of the owner in order to locate the records.

NRS 13660, Probate packets 1817+

Probate packets can include details of property owned by the deceased. Land or building information may be found within the packets, either in the will itself or from 1880 in the Affidavit for Stamp Duty. See Archives in Brief 84 for further information.

NRS 13340, Deceased Estate files, 1880-1958
These files can contain a detailed examination of a deceased person's estate and possessions. The files can show occupants, relatives, land and buildings owned at death and inheritors of the land. Information relating to house or property may include:

* place of residence, the final balance of the estate, a list of assets and their value at the date of death.
* certificates of Valuation of Property which indicate the exact location of land owned by the deceased and what improvements have been made,
* schedules of furniture and possessions

See Archives in Brief 29 for more information.

Inquest Records 1788-1963
If a death or fire occurred in a house information relating to the property may have been included in an inquest file. The files might list the address, description of the structure, value, amount of damage and circumstances of what happened.
See Archives in Brief 4 for further information.

Insolvency Records 1842-1928
If the owner of the property was made insolvent or bankrupt there may be a file. This usually provides a list of assets including their value.
See Archives in Brief 58 for further information.

Police Records
If a murder or crime occurred in a house or property the Police Gazettes 1862-c.1982 NRS 10958 or related records may describe the house or property, as well as circumstances of the murder or crime. The police gazettes are indexed and can be searched by name of offender, house/property owners name, or location.

Government property records
If a house or property was part of a government structure e.g. railway gatehouse, school building or police station, there may be relevant maps and plans, photographs or files. Search Archives Investigator under the name of station or school for associated records.

Records relating to occupants

Census Records
The census collectors' books provide street number (if used), name of head of household, and the number of people in the household divided by age and sex. Individuals' names are available only for the 1841, 1891 and 1901 censuses. They are arranged by town or suburb. For a list of census records held by State Records see Short Guide 12.

NRS 1199, Electoral rolls, 1842-63
Electoral rolls can be useful for establishing where a person lived over a period of time. See Archives in Brief 5 for further information.

Holdings of other organisations

Land and Property Information

Land and Property Information (LPI) (formerly Department of Lands) maintains current and historic title records in a number of public registers.

'The largest register is the Torrens Title register, introduced in 1863. Torrens titles are protected by State Government Guarantee and contain information in relation to current ownership and encumbrances on the land such as mortgages, leases and easements.

The General Register of Deeds was the first land registry in NSW established on 16 November 1825 under the Registration of Deeds Act 1825. It contains common law (old system) deeds for land transactions and incorporates the register of Causes Writs and Orders, Bills of Sale, Register of Resumptions, Powers of Attorney and all other miscellaneous deeds registered in the LPMA.

Since March 2006 access is electronic for all items entered in the General Register of Deeds since November 1992. The [LPI] Online Shop provides access to paid searches and free index searches. Public terminals are available at the Queens Square Sydney office for free index searches.' (Information extracted from the LPI website cited October 2012).

The website has a number of publications which researchers may find helpful relating to:

Land and Property Information
1 Prince Albert Road
Queens Square
GPO Box 15
Sydney NSW 2001
Website: Land & Property Information


LPI Historical Lands Viewer

Public terminals are available in the reading room. digital copies of many key LPI records are available including historical parish maps, Crown plans, Old Form Torrens Title Registers and Plan Lodgement Books. For more informaiton about digitised records available for searching see the LPI website.

Local Council Records

Where to find council records

The majority of council records are held by the relevant council. You will need to contact the council to access the records.

For a list of council records held at State Records see Archives in Brief 106 and also check Archives Investigator. Confirm the location of the records with State Records staff before visiting as some records may also be held at regional repositories.

The publication Local government - local history: a guide to NSW local government minute books and rate records edited by Joy Hughes, which is available in the reading room, may also be of assistance in identifying the location of council records.

Rate Books

Rate books and local valuation records can provide valuable information.

What's in a rate book

Rate books primarily provide information on rates such as amount of rates due, amounts paid, arrears, and when rates were abandoned.

Rate books can also provide a variety of other information including the location of buildings and other townscape features; the names of owners and occupiers of homes and businesses and evidence of former land use practices.

The amount of detail provided can vary considerably from year to year.

How to use rate books

The books are divided into wards and within each ward the streets are listed alphabetically. Be aware that some streets have changed names and some have been renumbered.

Knowing the estate name, lot and section number of a property is useful when using the rate and valuation records.

Development and Building Applications

Development and Building Applications provide the most basic evidence of property development within an area.

They mostly date from the 1920s.

In varying degrees of detail, these documents generally contain written design specifications as well as maps and plans relating to proposed property developments, including demolitions. They can contain applications for buildings, garages, fences, alterations and additions to structures.

Local studies collections

The local studies section of the local public library might also hold photographs, drawings, local history books and oral histories. Local newspapers and magazines might also include stories about the house or former residents.

Further Reading

Baskerville, Bruce, Historical research for heritage, Parramatta, NSW: NSW Heritage Office, 2000

Hughes, Joy N (ed.), Local government - local history: a guide to NSW local government minute books and rate records, Sydney, Royal Australian Historical Society, 1990

Irving, Robert, How old is my house, Royal Australian Historical Society technical information service leaflet no. 17, Sydney, Royal Australian Historical Society, 1988

Knight, Janet, 'Pieces in the puzzle', Vital Signs Magazine issue 4, March 2003, p. 10. Also available online (cited January 2009).

Liston, Carol, Researching old buildings, Royal Australian Historical Society technical information service leaflet no. 4, Royal Australian Historical Society, 1986

Sagazio, Celestina (ed.), The National Trust research manual: trace the history of your house or other places Broadway, NSW, Halstead Press, 2004


Consult the Register of Access Directions on the State Records website, to confirm the public availability of records. State Records' staff can advise you on the availability if they are not listed on the register.

For more information about your rights of access to State records see Archives in Brief 9.