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Archives In Brief 6 - Local history research

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Provides a brief overview of the major resources held by State Records relating to local history research.

Searching for records relating to a locality

For a step-by-step approach to local history research using State archives including tips and tactics for your local history project see the Online Gallery - Local History Study: Dalgety

State Records houses the New South Wales government's archives collection. When searching for localities, the first step should be to determine what dealings the government of the day may have had with an area. You then need to consider which public office would be likely to have carried out the relevant government function.

Preliminary research

Preliminary use of the sources below can help you better identify possible public offices and record series that may assist you in your research.

  • Printed sources such as books, newspapers and journal articles can help to establish when, how, and why a particular area was settled
  • Interviewing long time residents can help, especially if little research has previously been undertaken
  • Material may also be held in public libraries, local government archives, historical societies and the Mitchell Library
  • Printed government sources, including Government Gazettes, Parliamentary Papers and the Blue Books (Returns of the Colony) can also provide background information.

Online resources

Archives Investigator

Archives Investigator provides contextual information that can help to identify which public office administered which government function at a particular time. AI is a valuable tool for local history research. Records are listed by series title and item title, often showing the locality name.

Currently only a small proportion of State archives are listed in AI, and other guides, in particular the Concise Guide, and finding aids should also be consulted. See Archives in Brief 52 for further information.


Many of State Records' online indexes mention various localities and are therefore excellent sources for local history research.

Colonial Secretary's records

The Colonial Secretary had widespread administrative responsibilities. The Colonial Secretary's Department acted as the channel of communications between the Governor, other Government offices and private settlers. Consequently the Colonial Secretary's records are an important source for correspondence relating to alienated and leased Crown lands.

The Index to the Colonial Secretary's Papers, 1788-1825 is arranged alphabetically and by subject/locality. Researchers should also check the online Index to the NRS 907 Colonial Secretary's letters received relating to land, 1826-1856.

Land records

State Records holds information on the original alienation and occupation of Crown land.

Surveyor General's records

The Surveyor General was responsible for exploring and surveying New South Wales and the alienation of Crown Land. Click here for the listing of Surveyor General's Records in the Archives Investigator.


State Records has a large collection of original surveys and maps of areas in New South Wales. See the Index to Surveyor General's Select List of Maps and Plans 1792-1886. Also consult the Index to Maps and Plans, available in the reading room.

Field books

The records of the Surveyor General include Surveyors field books are searchable in the Index to Surveyors' field books, 1794-1860.

Registers of land grants and leases

For land grants and purchases, consult the registers of land grants and leases, listed in Archives Investigator and Short Guide 8: Land Grants, 1788-1856.

Land and Property Management Authority (LPMA) records

The Land and Property Management Authority maintains records on the transfer of land ownership in NSW. These records are held by the LPMA.


The Land and Property Management Authority has scanned available parish, county, pastoral, town and municipal maps. Scanned maps cans be viewed on the Authority's website at

For further information on records relating to the transfer of land landownership you can contact the LPMA at the URL above or at:

Land and Property Management Authority
1 Prince Albert Road
Queens Square
Sydney NSW 2001
Telephone: (02) 9228 6666

Lands Department records

The Lands Department was responsible for the alienation and occupation of Crown Lands from 1859. Common forms of occupation included conditional purchase, conditional lease, pastoral holdings, and occupation licences. See Archives Investigator for records of the Lands Department and Western Lands Commission and the interim Guide to Occupation of Crown lands, available in the reading room.

School records

For records prior to 1848, check Archives Investigator for records of the Colonial Secretary and the Clergy and School Lands Corporation. The administrative correspondence of the various education authorities (from 1848) provides valuable insight into the development of a locality. See the interim guides The Administration of Education Under Two Boards, 1848-66; and The Council of Education, 1866-1880, which are available in the reading room.

For the period c.1880-c.1979, consult the online Schools Index, 1876-1979. See also Short Guide 6: Department of Education - subject files, 1875-1948, and Archives in Brief 26. The series NRS 15051 Department of Education photographic collection, may also be of interest.

Comparatively few pupil records have survived. Check with reading room staff for details of surviving records.

See the online Schools Index and Archives in Brief 76 for further information.

Railway records

The bulk of State Rail's archives collection was transferred to State Records in 2000. Records include photographs, survey field books, maps and plans and historical notes. Part of this collection is described and listed in Archives Investigator. See also Archives in Brief 54.

Hotel records

Many of the records held for hotels relate to the licensing of publicans and the government's control of the establishment's finances. Consult Archives Investigator under the headings Licensing Courts and Licenses Reduction Board, Archives in Brief 61 and the interim guide to Publicans' licences, available in the reading room, for a list of useful sources.

Public building records

For information concerning the planning and erection of public buildings check the interim guide to the records of the Government (Colonial) Architect, Archives Investigator for records of the Colonial Secretary, Government Architect and Public Works, Public Works special bundle listings and Archives in Brief 71. For safety inspections of theatres, public halls, shops, factories and public buildings, see Archives Investigator for records of the Board of Fire Commissioners. State Records holds photographs, maps and plans that may also help to document the history of buildings. See Archives Investigator , the card index to maps and plans and Archives in Brief 70 for further information. Parliamentary Papers may also be of interest.

For information on post offices and lighthouses contact the National Archives of Australia.

Mining records

State Records holds a few general registers concerning mining activities. These are generally arranged by locality. For these and other mining records, check Archives Investigator its successors and other relevant public offices.

Maritime records

For records relating to maritime issues consult Archives Investigator for records of the Public Works Department; Maritime Services Board; Marine Board; Navigation; Sydney Harbour Trust and/or Harbours, Pilots and Lighthouses.

Public health records

Records covering health issues are listed in the Archives Investigator under Health. Of note are the NRS 4858 Sanitary Inspection files, 1897-1964, which are arranged by locality.

Roads water supply and sewerage records

For records relating to these amenities consult Archives Investigator for those created by the Colonial Secretary, the Lands Department and the Department of Public Works.

Records of inhabitants

Many of the records held by State Records provide information about the inhabitants of an area. Useful finding aids are Short Guide 1: Electoral rolls and Short Guide 12: Muster and Census Records.

Colonial Secretary's records

Individuals are well documented in the Colonial Secretary's correspondence. Consult the interim guide to the Colonial Secretary's correspondence, the Index to the Colonial Secretary's Correspondence, 1788-1825, and Archives Investigator. Archives in Brief 64, Archives in Brief 65 and Archives in Brief 104 (PDF) provide a brief overview of the correspondence.

Law enforcement records

Police Gazettes, 1862-1929, contain entries and photographs of people.

Court records

Court records, depositions and related documents provide a wealth of information about inhabitants of an area. The various court jurisdictions can be found in Archives Investigator.

See also the Index to Bench of Magistrates records, 1788-1820, and the Index to the Clerk of the Peace: Quarter Sessions, 1824-37

Prison records

Prison records include, from the 1870's, photographs of prisoners with details of conviction and personal history.

Other records

Other information on individuals can be obtained from records of:

Assisted and unassisted immigrants arriving in New South Wales, 1788-1922, and crew records
Archives in Brief 1
Archives in Brief 21

Archives in Brief 24
Archives in Brief 101 (PDF), and
Archives in Brief 102 (PDF) for further information.

Administration and operation of the convict system
Guide to Convict Records (Convict Guide)
Archives in Brief 2
Archives in Brief 34,
Archives in Brief 102 (PDF) for further information

Professions and occupations
Short Guide No. 10: Professions and occupations

Deceased estate files, 1880-1958
Archives in Brief 29

Probate packets, from 1817
Archives in Brief 84

Further information

Other records can be identified in Archives Investigator, the Guide to using the Archives Resources Kit, Short Guides and the Departmental Special Bundle listings available in the reading room.


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

© State of New South Wales through the State Records Authority, 2003.
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