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Getting started with your research

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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.

Useful links

Handy links to help you to find more information on our website before you visit in person:

Frequently Asked Questions

Q. What are the State archives?

A. The State's archives are a unique and irreplaceable part of our cultural heritage. They date from the arrival of the First Fleet in 1788 until today. The archives are the 'raw material of history' and are part of our collective memory.

Here are just a few of the kinds of records to be found among the State's archives:

  • records of the convict system, such as the First Fleet convict indents and pardons
  • documents which established our systems of government and justice, such as the Charters of Justice 1787, 1814 and 1823
  • key sources of information about people and life, such as the records of the 1828 and 1901 censuses
  • records of exploration and land settlement, such as Phillip's 1792 map of Sydney and Sturt's report on his 1838 journey to South Australia
  • records of great events in our history, such as the dismissal of the Lang Government in 1932
  • plans of public buildings, from early colonial buildings to the Sydney Opera House and beyond.

Q. How many records are in your archival collection?

A. We have approximately 7 million items stored at the Western Sydney Records Centre which includes hundred of thousands of maps, plans, glass negatives, photographs and modern media such as computer records, videos and films. There is about 527 linear kilometres of paper records which means that if all the shelves were put in a line it would go back and forwards to the city four times!

Q: What is your oldest record?

A: NRS 13691, Indenture book, which is dated 17 Oct 1709 to 24 May 1739. It was brought to NSW from England by the Judge Advocate or another legal official.

Q. Can I view the records?

A. Original records are available to view in the reading room at the Western Sydney Records Centre. Records that have been copied onto microfilm and microfiche can also be viewed in our reading room - some microfilm is held by other cultural organisations.

Q: Can I find my ancestors at the archives?

A: If your ancestors figured in the NSW government’s records. For more information see our family history webpage.

Q: Are your records online?

A: Digital copies of passenger lists are online. Some gaol photos are also available from the online index (this is part of a digitisation-on-demand initiative). We also have several digital galleries showcasing records in our collection.

We hope to expand this in the future.

Q: Do you have photos of my hometown?

A: Check our image database Photo Investigator. Also try Trove (National Library of Australia).

Try the phone App

You may also find your town via the State Records' app Towns Through TimeThis is a mobile phone app by Bathurst-based developers Appiwork who were the winners of an Apps4NSW challenge. Towns Through Time provides images from our photo collection based on users' location.

Q. Who uses the records?

A. Approximately 85% of users of the State archives are family historians. The remaining 15% comprise local historians, university staff and students, professional researchers, departmental officers, solicitors and lawyers researching particular issues, people establishing their rights and entitlements, authors and the media.

Q. How many staff work at State Records?

A. About 130 staff and 55 volunteers

Q: What does it take to become an archivist?

A: A university archives qualification plus a year of relevant work experience, or a university degree with two years relevant work experience.

Q. How can I find out more about the archives?

A. Online: go to "The State Archives" option on the horizontal menu. Here you will find links to information such as guides and finding aids, online indexes, family history worksheets and resources, our digital gallery, and what's new and what's on information.

Offline: We provide an Activities Program of talks, tours and seminars focusing on specific aspects of our collection. Seminars can be arranged for your local family history or historical society.

Q. What is the Government Records Repository?

A. The Government Records Repository is part of the Western Sydney Records Centre and stores semi-active records for Government. Storage facilities are state of the art and include full electronic surveillance, and sprinkler and gas fire prevention systems. The recently built Stage 6 - which won the 2006 Energy Champion Government Award - uses geo-thermo technology which taps into the heat below the earth's surface to create the perfect atmosphere for records storage. It was designed to maximise environmental efficiencies and minimise greenhouse gas impacts using features such as full insulation, concrete walls and internal walls, lighting and air conditioning systems that can be turned off in areas not in use.

The GRR retrieves and returns these records for agencies - about 40,000 operations a month - and also destroys records that have reached the end of their life-span, usually through a pulping process at a nearby paper mill. About 5000 linear metres of inactive records are destroyed annually - that's about 10 tons a week. All the waste paper at the GRR is sold for recycling and comes back as our cardboard boxes.