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Births, deaths and marriages

We hold a number of sources that can provide valuable details on baptisms, deaths and marriages.

Important! For copies of birth, death and marriage certificates registered in NSW and NSW historical BDM indexes you need to go to the NSW Registry of Births, Deaths and Marriages website.

Specific details, including microfiche and microfilm references, can be found these guides:

Start your research using Indexes

An English Death Certificate found in a Probate Packet. View larger image

The following three indexes are a good starting point for mapping out your family tree. They can be used as the first point of research for births, marriages and deaths.

1. New South Wales Registry of Births, Deaths and Marriages

The Registry of Births, Deaths and Marriages Online Historical Indexes, provide access to: NSW Births that are over 100 years old, NSW Deaths that are over 30 years old, and NSW Marriages that are over 50 years old. More complete Family History Certificates can be purchased from the Registry.

2. Indexes to Births, Deaths and Marriages

Microfiche copies of Indexes to Births, Deaths and Marriages are available at the State Records reading room as well as some local libraries and historical societies. The Indexes are arranged as follows:

  • Pioneer series of Indexes to Births, Deaths and Marriages, 1788-1888
  • Federation series of Indexes to Births, Deaths and Marriages, 1889-1918
  • NSW Between the war series of Indexes to Deaths and Marriages, 1919-1945 (NOTE: there are no births listed on this index)

Much of this information is now available online as part of the Registry of Births, Deaths and Marriages Online Historical Indexes.

3. The Mutch Index

Another useful source, especially for the early years of the Colony, is the Thomas Davies Mutch Card index to births, deaths and marriages, 1787-1957 (known as the Mutch Index). State Records holds a microfilm copy (Reels 2125-2129) of the original index which is held by the Mitchell Library.

The Index is believed to cover all relevant extant records relating to New South Wales from 1788-1828, 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. A list of the records included is at the beginning of the index, and further information is available from the Mitchell Library.

These three indexes should be consulted along with the more specific references provided below.

Historical background of early records

The practice of recording baptisms, burials and marriages in church registers was established in England during the sixteenth century. This practice was continued in New South Wales when the following Acts, aimed at validating and regularising practices, were passed:

  • 1825 Church of England
  • 1834 Roman Catholic (then Church of Rome)
  • 1834 Presbrterian Church (then Church of Scotland)
  • 1839 Wesleyan Methodist Society
  • 1840 Congregational or Independent and Baptist denominations

Naturalization Certificate for Thaddeus Bernard Bender of Germany. View larger imageNonetheless, records were kept prior to the years and, in fact, the first Church of England records are of baptisms and burials during the assembly and movement of the First Fleet before its arrival in Sydney in 1788. However, some ceremonies that took place prior the years shown above, were not retained by church authorities, or the event was not recorded. If you are researching this early period some searches may end with no surviving records of the event you are looking for.

Prior to 1856 some children born in New South Wales may not have been baptised and some persons who died may not have had a church burial. Even after 1856 some events were not registered due to time limits (since removed) and factors such as distances from townships and failure to appreciate future needs. Divorce was not possible under New South Wales law until 1875 and undoubtedly this meant that some persons who wished to marry were unable to do so.

Births and baptisms

In the earliest years of the colony records of baptisms rather than births were kept. If a child was not baptised there might be no record of its birth.

Short Guide 2 lists a number of records for specific localities within New South Wales from about 1811 onwards, including records for Norfolk Island. Also see:

  • Entitlement certificates of persons on bounty ships, 1832-4, NRS 5314, Reels 1286-1349.

Each certificate records the name of the ship, native place, calling, age, health, religion and name of the immigrant. Each is endorsed with a character reference and a certificate of baptism.

Naturalization records usually contain information relating to a person's age and native place. Search the Naturalization Index, 1834-1903 by name or country.


Application to Marry - Elizabeth Ann Pear and Edward Byers. View larger imageIn the early colony, marriages were of two kinds, either by licence or by publication of banns. As the fees were comparatively high, only the more affluent members of the community married by licence. Most marriages followed publication of banns in a church on three successive Sundays. Convicts who married by banns had to first obtain the Governor's permission.

See Short Guide 2 for more detailed information and specific marriage records relating to the Colonial Secretary, the Governor and the Principal Superintendant of Convicts.

For the early period of the colony, see the Index to the Colonial Secretary's Papers, 1788-1825. It is arranged alphabetically by surname and subject. Convicts had to obtain permission to marry from the Colonial Secretary. There are also instances where correspondence relating to the marriage of free people was kept by the Colonial Secretary. Records relating to marriages are listed under the names of the parties.

Also see Short Guide 5: Licences for marriage to free persons, Mar 1813 - 26 Dec 1827

Divorce records

New South Wales was the last Australian colony to implement divorce legislation with the Matrimonial Causes Act, 1873. Initially only men could petition for divorce on the grounds of adultery. For women requesting divorce adultery was an additional clause to causes such as bigamy, cruelty or desertion. See Archives in Brief 77 for more information on divorce records or search the Index to Divorce Case Papers, and Archives Investigator, which are updated regularly.


Short Guide 2 contains a listing of many of the death related record series. Other record series of interest relating to deaths onboard ships include:

  • Reports of vessels arrived (or Shipping reports), 1826-59, NRS 1291, Reels 1263-85 and 2851. Includes date and cause of death during the voyage.
  • Persons on bounty ships (Agent's Immigrants Lists), 1838-96, NRS 5316, Reels 2134-2143. Shows if a person died during the voyage but not necessarily the date of death.

Once you have a date of death it is worthwhile to check out the following related record series.

Probate packets, 1800-1985

1917 Probate Packet for Henry Bartrop. View larger imageA grant of probate is the authority given by the Supreme Court of NSW to the executor(s) to deal with a deceased person's estate. A probate packet can include a copy of the will and death certificate along with supporting affadavits.

The Probate Index, 1800-1985 is available on microfiche in the reading room. Check with reading room staff for the availability of probate packets. Probate packets in the State archives collection (except for Series 4-1 to Series 4-152150, 1890-1928) have been entered into Archives Investigator. Do a simple search using the surname of the person you are searching for and the word death, for example davies death. Choose "All words" from the Simple search options. Searching for the surname ensures that you don't miss people with middle names for example David Price Davies. Searching for David Davies would miss this entry entirely.

See Archives in Brief 84 for more details on how to find probate packets.

Deceased Estate files, 1880-1958

The Stamp Duties office created a deceased estate file for every individual who died leaving property or other assets which were subject to death duties. The files contain papers and correspondence relating to the assessment of the death duty.

See Archives in Brief 29 for more details or search the Index to Deceased Estate files, which is being regularly updated.

Curator of Intestate Estates, 1821-1913

Camperdown Cemetery Reconstruction Project 1954. View larger imageA person who dies without leaving a valid will dies intestate. Without a valid will there is no named executor and the Supreme Court of NSW issues a letter of administration. An index to Intestate Estates is available in the reading room on reels 40-41.

See Archives in Brief 53 for more information.

Inquest Papers, 1788-1963

Coroners must hold an inquest when the deceased person is not identified, when the cause of death is not determined, when the person died as a result of a homicide, or if the person died in or attempting to escape from police custody.
Usually a death certificate will indicate if an inquest was held or 'dispensed with'. You may also find reports about inquests printed in local newspapers. The surviving inquest records can be patchy or non-existent for some years. Check the Inquest Guide available in the reading room.

See Archives in Brief 4 for more details.

Cemetery Transcripts

Camperdown Cemetery Reconstruction Project 1954. View larger imageCemetery and burial registers can contain information such as surname, given name, occupation, date of burial, age and religion of the deceased and sometimes information about the undertaker, monument erected and relatives. For more details of records held by State Records see Archives in Brief 69. Burial registers for operational cemeteries are held with the current administrator, such as the local council. Where cemeteries have closed, burial registers are often held by church archives, the State Library or the Society of Australian Genealogists. Some cemetery records are now available online.

Other Finding Aids

Other Australian States and Territories

The State Library of New South Wales holds microfiche and CD-Rom versions of many state and territory birth, death and marriage records.

ACT - Births, Deaths and Marriages

Northern Territory - Registry of Births, Deaths and Marriages

Queensland - Registry of Births, Deaths and Marriages

South Australia - Births, Deaths and Marriages Registration Office

Victoria - Registry of Births Deaths and Marriages

Western Australia - Department of the Attorney General


England and Wales - General Register Office

Ireland - Registrars of Births, Deaths and Marriages

New Zealand - Births, Deaths and Marriages

Northern Ireland - General Register Office Northern Ireland

Scotland - General Register Office for Scotland