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We have gathered together some useful resources and handy worksheets to help you with your family history and local history. New to archives or an expert researcher? These topics include: How to start your family history; Asylum records; BDMs; Convicts; Immigration; Railway employee records; and Women in the records.

Does your research involve use of the NSW State archives? We will be adding research tips and advice to this page over time. There will be links relating to family and local history and other valuable information that may help with your research in our reading room.

Family historians

Research tips


These tips may also be of interest to the more experienced family history researcher.

Questions How to start your family history (includes handy downloadable worksheets and tips for extra sources to check when you hit the 'brick wall' in your research)

Deciphering handwriting

We have gathered together a list of tips for reading old handwriting at our blog, Archives Outside.


We will give you as much assistance in the reading room as possible, but please remember that we cannot carry out your research on the spot for you. When you visit make sure to bring as much information as you can about your enquiry. This could save you a lot of time and effort.

Family History Video on YouTube

The video features tips and tactics for using the NSW State archives to assist in tracing your family history It is narrated by Christine Yeats the Manager Public Access.

What records can I find here?

Once you have located some basic information about your ancestor, such as birth, death and marriage information, it's time to look for other ways in which the government may have recorded information about that person.

You can find records relating to:

  • Convicts
  • Shipping - arrivals and departures upto 1922
  • Gaols
  • Courts
  • Occupations and Professions
  • Public buildings
  • Land records, such as Conditional Purchases
  • Building of Infrastructure like roads and water works
  • Health - including mental health records
  • Government Schools

This is just a small snapshot of the types of records we hold. Try a KeyName Search of our records to locate more inforrmation.

How can I find these records?

Our records are arranged by the government agency which created them. There is no one index arranged by last name that we can search. You will need to determine which government agency your family member may have come into contact with throughout their life. In many instances this is straightforward and you will find this information in the Archives in Brief leaflets. These leaflets contain background to government legislation and departments and popular record series such as Supreme Court cases and probate packets.

Sometimes more research is necessary. Government agencies change their name and functions over time. For example, the Department of Public Instruction, which was later Department of Education, once had control of the State Children's Relief Board, a forerunner of the Department of Community Services.

Archives Investigator provides information on each New South Wales government agency and which responsibilities or functions it had. It also lists the preceeding and succeeding agencies. Other suggestions for finding agencies' responsibilities include:

  • Government Gazettes
  • Blue Books
  • Parliamentary Papers
  • Acts and Statutes

Local historians

Research tips

A good place to start your local history research is Archives in Brief 6 - Local history research. This provides a brief overview of the major resources held by State Records relating to local history research.

You need to consider the history of the area and the role that the government of the day may have played in its development. Examples of this could include the establishment of schools, police stations and public buildings such as court houses and hotels.

The following sources may be of assistance in finding out this important background information. It may also assist in identifying possible government departments 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.

You can also ask the reading room staff for assistance.

Indexes Online

Our Indexes Online are the most efficient and simple way to start your family and local history research. The indexes are numerous and they cover diverse topics such as: convicts; deceased estates; courts; gaol photographs; assisted and unassisted immigration; orphans; police service registers; insolvency; and naturalization. Many indexes can also be searched by placename/locality.

KeyName Search

We have developed a 'KeyName Search' facility to help you find your ancestor among the records more easily. The 'KeyName' option lets you search many online indexes and Archives Investigator at once.

Archives in Brief

Archives in Brief (AIB) are our information leaflets and provide an excellent starting point for your research. They are designed to give you concise historical information on a particular topic, along with a list of the most relevant records in our collection. Some of the topics covered in the AIBs include: tracing your family history; probate packets; teachers; publicans; cemetery records; and the Aborigines Welfare Board.

Tips for publishing your research

Once you have completed your research and start writing it up it is important that you cite your sources accurately. This will help you to locate them again. It will also assist others to locate the same records in the future.

Citing records

Information To make it even easier to locate a series number we have compiled a list of some of the most frequently used numbers. If the series you have used is not listed you can ask us to provide the number for you.

Archives in Brief 10 - Citing State archives provides useful advice on how to correctly refer to the material you have used in your research. It also provides examples of how to do this either using an abbreviated or expanded citation.

Finding the series number in Archives Investigator

In addition to the item number the other important part of an archives citation is the series number. All the series making up the NSW State archives have a unique number.

This is the number that has been assigned to the records created and maintained by a government department for a common purpose, for example the series Files relating to licences for theatres and public halls, 1895-1992 has the series number NRS 15318.

Series numbers are listed in Archives Investigator. They have the prefix 'NRS'. This stands for NSW Record Series.

You can find the series number in Archives Investigator by doing an Advanced Search -> Records Series. For the example above we used the word theatres in the Title field of the search form. This number helps us to identify the records in Archives Investigator. With this number you can also find out more about the history of the records, such as why the records were created.