- Searching for individuals
- Starting your family history
- Online resources
- The Archives Resources Kit (*ARK)
- A select list of sources
- Reference books
- Family History websites
- Hit a brick wall in your research? Try these tips and tactics
Remember, it is always easier to work from the present to the past when tracing your family history. A good place to start is with yourself: write down your date of birth and then other important dates such when you were married and when your children were born. Continue recording this basic information working back through the generations, your parents, grandparents, great grandparents...
Particular individuals may be difficult to trace because the records are generally arranged by the public office that created them rather than by the person's name. When searching for individuals, your first step should be to determine what dealings the person may have had with the government of the day. You then need to consider which public office would be likely to have retained this information.
Before doing anything else, try to further your knowledge of the family by 'quizzing' your relatives and studying any available family papers or documents such as family bibles or family photographs.
Relationships with families of the same name
Never assume relationships with families of the same name. Always start from what you know and base your research on a firm line of descent using the available records.
The spelling of surnames may change over time and before starting your research the possible variations should be considered. Always remember to check any discrepancies in spelling against other sources, as clerical errors may have occurred in the original documents. Many hand written letters can be mistaken for other letters in the alphabet, for example, Gabriel de Milhau can often be found in records listed as Gabriel de Milhan. Similiar spelling of names should also be considered, for example, Andersen and Anderson or Brennan and Brannon.
Births, Deaths and Marriages
Almost all research must start with birth, marriage or death records. The information supplied on birth and marriage records tends to be fairly accurate, since details are supplied by parents and prospective couples. Death certificates frequently indicate the length of time spent in New South Wales, and are therefore very useful. It is, however, wise to remember that as this information is supplied by relatives or friends in attendance at the time, it may contain inaccuracies.
Search for BDM records at the NSW Registry of Births, Deaths and Marriages website »
Registers of births deaths and marriages
We hold microfilm copies of the Registers of Births Deaths and Marriages to 1856 (volumes 1–123). The registers are indexed in the NSW Registry of Births Deaths and Marriages indexes. The microfilm copies of the registers are available in the reading room on Reels 5001–5048. The registers are also part of the Archives Resources Kit (*ARK).
Researchers unable to check the indexes or registers may contact the NSW Registry of Births, Deaths and Marriages, where, for a fee, searches are undertaken and copies of certificates supplied. Contact information is found on the Registry's website.
TD Mutch Index to Births Deaths and Marriages
This index is believed to cover all relevant extant records relating to New South Wales from 1787–1828, except for the Newcastle Register and the Methodist Church records, and selected records to 1957. Later entries are from tombstone inscriptions and the most recent from news-cuttings and relate only to comparatively few families. We hold a microfilm copy of the index on Reels 2125–2129 in the reading room. The original is held by the Mitchell Library.
Probate Index, 1800–1984
The Probate Index was published by the Probate Division of the Supreme Court. The index is available in the reading room. This index shows name, residence and date of death. Probate packets for the period 1817–1976 and 1989 may be accessed in the reading room. The Supreme Court NSW holds later probate packets. See the Probate Packets (Wills) Guide for more information.
This is a free index to death notices appearing in Australian newspapers. The date range covered includes notices from the Sydney Gazette of 1803 to recent publications.
These worksheets have been designed for use at home and in the reading room. Try to fill in as many details as possible before visiting the reading room. You will then have a clearer idea of what types of information you need to be researching on your visit.
Fill these in at home and bring them into the reading room
Aims to help in the gathering the basic Birth, Death and Marriage information.
Aims to help in the gathering of basic Birth, Death and Marriage information and details of arrival in Australia.
Designed to be used in conjunction with the online Convict Indexes and other resources available in our reading room. By filling in the references section, such as [4/4235], and the reel numbers you will be able to double check the information again in the future.
Designed to be used in conjunction with the Online Indexes and other resources available in our reading room. By filling in the references section file and box numbers and the reel numbers you will be able to double check the information again in the future. The Copies ordered box allows you to keep track of the files you have requested to be photocopied and ensures you pick them all up before leaving the reading room at the end of your visit.
Collection Search, our online catalogue, is a valuable tool for historical research. Records are listed by series title and item title. It is important to note that only a small proportion of State archives are listed in Collection Search, and that other guides and finding aids should also be consulted.
Our suite of research guides is of particular value to family historians. The guides are arranged alphabetically by research topic.
Many of our online indexes mention the names of individuals and are therefore excellent sources for family history research. You will find a link to the indexes on our homepage.
Records in the Archives Resources Kit
The Kit consists of a wide selection of microform copies of State archives, which are of particular value to genealogists.
Community access points
See contact details for holders of the Kit, the community access points and other libraries.
Colonial Secretary's papers, 1788-1825
These papers constitute the largest and most comprehensive collection of public records relating to the early years of European settlement in Australia. They reflect all aspects of colonial life and provide valuable information for the family historian. The index to the Colonial Secretary's papers 1788-1825 is available to search online.
Arrivals and departures
We hold arrival records prior to 1922. See the Immigration / Shipping Guide for arrivals and departures.
'The Shipping Guide' is available in the reading room.
We hold company registration records. See our catalogue for records of the Registrar General Companies Branch. Insolvency and bankruptcy records may also include details about businesses. See the Bankruptcy / Insolvency Guide.
Land sales and transfers
Records relating to the purchase of land from the Crown, created by the Colonial Secretary, the Surveyor General and the Lands Department can be found in our catalogue.
Records relating to transfers of land between individuals are available from:NSW Land Registry Services
1 Prince Albert Road
SYDNEY NSW 2000
Digital copies of selected documents including land transfers may be viewed in the reading room on the Historical Land Records Viewer (HLRV).
We have a large collection of original surveys and maps of areas in New South Wales. See the Index to Surveyor General's Crown Plans, 1792-1886. Also consult the Index to Maps and Plans, available in the reading room. Digitised parish, county, pastoral, town and municipal maps are available for viewing on the Historical Lands Records Viewer. See the County / Parish Maps Guide for further information.
Gold field/mining records
References to miners can be located in the records of the Gold Commissioners and in the records of Mining Wardens' Courts in the Department of Mines. See our catalogue under the relevant public office entries and also the Gold Mining Guide.
Hospital, health and death records
We hold records of psychiatric institutions dating from 1838. Records of State government run mental institutions are listed in our catalogue. See also:
- Infirm / Destitute Asylums Guide
- Liverpool State Hospital and Home Guide
- Mental Health Facilities Guide
Coroners' records such registers of coronial enquiries can establish basic details (age and birthplace) of individuals into whose deaths an enquiry was held. Detailed reports have not survived for the years 1828 to 1911. See the Inquests / Coronial Records Guide.
Deceased Estate records relate to the payment of death duties, may also prove useful. See the Deceased Estates Guide.
Intestate Estate files should be consulted in instances where a person died without a will. See the Intestate Estates Guide.
Muster and census records
Muster and census records list individuals by name and may list further personal information such as residence and the numbers or names of other people in the living in the same household.
Naturalization legislation came into force in New South Wales in 1849 (Act 11 Vic. No. 39). Prior to then, the only way that a non-British resident could be naturalised was by a special act of Parliament. Following this legislation any person born outside the British Empire who had resided in New South Wales for a period of five years and who wished to vote or own land needed to become naturalized.
Naturalization records are an important source as they can provide both the date of arrival and the name of the ship. See the Naturalization / Citizenship Guide for a full list of records relating to denization and naturalization, 1834-1903.
The National Archives of Australia holds post 1903 naturalisation records and information on alien registration and internment in New South Wales.
Police, court and prison records
Police Gazettes (NRS 10958) covering 1862-1899 and 1900-1930 contain entries and photographs of people.
Court records, court depositions and related documents provide details of people convicted in New South Wales. The various court jurisdictions can be found in our catalogue.
Professions and occupations
Our Guides and Indexes includes a selection of the more significant State archives relating to particular professions and occupations including police, firefighters and teachers. For Public Service Board records relating to public servants consult our catalogue. See also:
- School Teachers Guide
- Railways Guide
- Prison Officers / Staff Guide
- Publicans' Licenses Guide
- Police Service Guide
- Firefighters Guide
Files, which cover the years 1876-1979, include administrative documents relating to government schools. See the Schools Guide and search the Schools Index for available records. In addition, there are some records, such as admission rolls, from individual schools. These records are included in the Schools Index.
You may find some of these books useful guides for how to begin researching your family history. Some of these titles are available in our reading room but also check out your local library.
Finding Families: The Guide to the National Archives of Australia for Genealogists, compiled by Margaret Chambers; National Archives of Australia, 1998.
Gray, Nancy, Compiling your Family History: a guide to procedure, Society of Australian Genealogists, 21st edition, 2002.
Hall, Nick Vine, Tracing your Family History in Australia: A Guide to Sources, 2nd ed., Albert Park, 1994.
Family History websites
The following websites are also good starting points.
Indigenous Family History sites
Provides information for Indigenous family researchers, including the Link-Up scheme.
The New South Wales Aborigines Welfare Board published Dawn and New Dawn between 1952-1975. The magazine came to be seen as a way for people to keep in touch and can provide valuable information for family historians. Includes photographs. Also available on CD ROM.
Family History Gateways
Includes links to genealogical sites (focusing on Australia) and tutorials for beginners.
A categorized & cross-referenced index to genealogical resources on the Internet.
A resource for Forgotten Australians, Former Child Migrants and anyone interested in the history of child welfare in Australia.
Provides search engines and directories including convicts, bushrangers, passenger lists and cemetery transcriptions.
Provides a variety of sources and mailing lists that can be searched by topic and area.
Contains searchable databases and information for beginner and experienced family historians.
Other useful sites
Discover local libraries around Australia.
An umbrella organisation for family history societies throughout Australia and New Zealand.
Introduction for a variety of Australian government records.
Provides researchers with contact details of the most appropriate member society or societies to assist with their enquiries. Lists the member societies.
Hit a brick wall in your research? Try these tips and tactics
These research tips are from a presentation by Plundering the secrets in the state archives: Tips and tactics for overcoming some of the ‘brick walls’ using the NSW State Archives
ARCHIVES IN BRIEF
Content in the Guide first appeared in Archives in Brief 7 - Tracing Your Family History and How to Start Your Family History
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