Value in Australian Records

Posted by on

My name is Kari Harbath. I am the Social Media Analyst for and

A little about myself- Even though I am married, work full time and am a full time student, I still try to make time for genealogy when I can! I am a beginning genealogist and (lucky for me) most of my genealogy research has been accomplished by my ancestors.

I enjoy learning the latest tips and tricks in genealogy and family history. I also want to help incorporate genealogy information into the Social Media world. Various social media outlets like Twitter and Facebook are perfect venues to spread the word about genealogy.

When it comes to finding out about my ancestors, I particularly enjoy researching newspapers to find out where my ancestors lived and what life was like for them.

My lineage has been traced back to Chief John Ross, of whom I’m a 13th descendant. I embrace the fact that I am related to a major chief of the Cherokee Nation. That finding alone has made my genealogy research and family history experience very exciting!

I will be contributing to this blog by posting informative articles and pieces of information that may help genealogists regardless of their experience. I look forward to creating discussions as an outgrowth of new content we have on our site.

For my first post, I have found this article from the Everton Genealogical Helper- “Did Your Matilda Waltz in Australia?” and currently own all electronic rights to the Everton Genealogical Helper articles. I hope you enjoy reading this classic article that you will not find access to anywhere else!

Did your Matilda Waltz in Australia?

By Judith Eccles Wight, AG

Fourteen hours (fifteen-and-a-half, if I count the flight from Salt Lake City to Los Angeles) is a long time to spend in an airplane. As I reflect back on that long uncomfortable flight, I cannot fathom how a branch of my County Cork, Ireland Damery family survived an approximate twomonth voyage to the same destination -Australia in the mid 1800s.

Beginning in 1788 Australia became home to millions of immigrants from the British Isles. The earliest settlers were convicts and military men who were sent to a penal colony established at Sydney Cove. Approximately 160,000 British Isles convicts were sent to Australia over the next 80 years when, in 1868, the practice of transporting criminals stopped.

Four years after the first penal colony was established, free settler immigrants from the British Isles arrived. This vanguard opened the door to future waves of immigrants who came as free settlers and assisted passengers. The discovery of gold during the 1850s brought over a half-million immigrants to the island. The lure of cheap property, unlimited employment opportunities, and later quick wealth made this country the chosen destination of people from all over the world but primarily from Great Britain and Ireland.

Count yourself lucky if members of your ancestral family made this journey. Australian records are some of the finest and most complete that I have encountered in my many years of research.

Australian record keepers produced a wide variety of records, many of which contain very complete details about its population. Among the best are the records of civil registration, church, and cemetery including tombstone inscriptions, probate, immigration, and institution. Unique and detailed records were also kept of convicts.

It is necessary to understand the background of this country before one can research its records. New South Wales (hereafter referred to as NSW), which at one time consisted of approximately half the continent, was the first colony to be formed. In 1825 Van Diemen’s Land (Tasmania) was separated from NSW. In 1831 the western part of the continent that was not included in NSW became Western Australia. South Australia was created in 1836 followed by Victoria (1851), Queensland (1859), and Northern Territory (1911 this area had been previously annexed to South Australia from NSW in 1863). Thus, many of the records you may need, depending on the time period, may be found in NSW as well as in the state in which your ancestor/ relative resided.

Thanks to the efforts of thousands of volunteers, the Internet has proven to be fertile ground for people researching their Australian ancestors. Special mention must be made of the Dead Persons’ Society that promotes an interest in genealogy via the Internet and produces and distributes genealogical indexes and other research tools. This grassroots organization began in Melbourne in 1992 and has since spread to all other Australian states and New Zealand.

What follows is an overview of some of the key Australian records used in genealogical research and a description of what might be found in these resources.

Civil registration of birth, marriage, and death

As seen in the table below, there is a wide disparity in the time period when civil registration records were kept by the individual states. Information contained in these records also varies by place and time period.

Tasmania 1838
South Australia 1842
Western Australia 1842
Victoria 1854
Queensland 1856
New South Wales 1856
Northern Territory 1870
Aust. Capital Territory 1911

The first “civil registration” records were kept by the clergy. These civil transcripts of church records include baptism, marriage, and burial records. Eventually the responsibility of recording civil registration was assigned to government officials who kept records of birth, marriage, and death. Details you might find in civil registration records include:

Birth records Full name of the child date and place of birth


Full name, age, birthplace, and occupation of the father

Full name, age, and birthplace of the mother

Marriage records Full names, occupations, places of residence, ages, places of birth, and sometimes names of parents of the bride and groom

Marital status at the time of marriage date and place of

date and place of marriage of the parents

By whom married and denomination (if a clergyman) of the celebrant

Names of witnesses

The Australian Vital Records Index (AVRI) CD is an index to the 1788-1905 (the date varies by state) vital records of NSW, Tasmania, Victoria, and Western Australia. This index can be consulted at the Family History Library, is available in many of its Family History Centers, or can be purchased by individuals through the website.

Many Australian states have produced their own CD indexes to vital records that are more detailed and sometimes far later than the AVRI. In fact, it is possible to put families together just by using some state’s indexes. The Family History Library has these state indexes. They are restricted for use at this Library. NSW and Victoria have searchable databases to their civil registration indexes on the Internet.

For more information about Australian civil registration records including links to several databases, see

Church records

As with civil registration records, the dates when church records were kept also varies from state to state.

New South Wales 1788
South Australia 1803
Tasmania 1803
Queensland 1829
Western Australia 1829
Victoria 1837
Northern Territory 1911
Aust. Capital Territory 1911

Information found in church records varies by denomination. Records are not always centralized; some are still in local custody but most are deposited in repositories.

Cemetery records and tombstone inscriptions

Cemetery records and tombstone inscriptions often include information about places of birth, names of parents, and other details of the descedants. Transcriptions of many cemetery records and extractions of tombstone inscriptions may be published or listed on the Internet.

Probate records

Probate files often include death certificates of the testators. In the case of people who died without issue, property is usually left to other relatives, many of whom still resided in the country of origin including Great Britain and Ireland. It is not uncommon for solicitors in these countries to take depositions from surviving heirs. Details from these depositions are usually included in probate files. The 1911 probate record of Michael Bradshaw, a bachelor farmer of Finch Hatton near Mackay in Queensland, named as heirs brothers in Western Australia, Queensland, and Victoria; a brother in Glengar Doon, Co. Tipperary; a married sister in Coolhawn Doon, Co. Tipperary; and a minor niece and two nephews (including their ages) of his deceased sister in Victoria.

Immigration records

Depending on the circumstances that brought an immigrant to Australia, shipping records may contain a great deal of information about the passenger. Ones dealing with convicts, bounty passengers (people recruited from the British Isles by Australian colonists), and assisted immigrants usually contain more information. Lists of paying passengers who carne through their own means are usually less detailed.

Not all passenger lists survive. Many of the extant records have either been published or indexed. For example, the National Archives of Ireland has a searchable database of Irish convicts who were sent to Australia between 1788 and 1868. See

Records of institutions

Hospitals, orphanages, banks, schools, and other Australian institutions often kept extremely detailed records of their inmates, students, and/or customers. For example, a Geelong (Victoria) hospital admission book lists the name, sex, age, marital condition, occupation, place of origin, and last place of residence of each patient; date of the admission and discharge; date of death (if they died in the hospital); reason for admission; result of treatment; how long the patient had been in the colony; the name of the ship of arrival if an immigrant, and the port of entry. Another example is the ledger book of the E.s. & A. Bank ledger held by the Shoalhaven Historical Society Inc. in NSW. The entry for James Ingram reports that he was a 45-year-old farmer who was born in 1819 in County Donegal, north of Ireland, he was a resident of the Kangaroo Valley when he opened the account about December of 1894, he arrived in Australia about 1884, and that he was 5′5″ tall, his top lip was shaven, and he had a beard under his chin and around the side of his face.

Convict records

Needless to say, it was very important to keep detailed records about the convicts who were sent to Australia including the names, birth and marriage information, and physical descriptions. As sentences imposed by courts were served, convicts, through good behavior, could earn tickets of leave, certificates of freedom, and pardons. Convict indents are another record source; these were created when convicts arrived in Australia on transport ships.

Other resources

The key genealogical sources previously discussed are just some of the many records that are useful in tracing immigrants from the British Isles and Ireland who settled in Australia. Other readily available records that should be utilized in your research include:


Annual statewide post office directories are especially useful for locating people in rural areas. Some occupations published directories of people engaged in these occupations.


Newspapers contain notices of birth, marriage and death, obituaries, business notices, probate notices, and other information. Many Australian newspapers have been indexed. One of the more unique newspapers is the Police Gazette, which reported details about escaped convicts as well as crimes that were committed and personal details (e.g. births, marriages and deaths, promotions, and removals) about people involved with policing the country.

Compiled sources

Most Australian states have major collections of records containing family information. Some of these collections have been published such as The Pioneer Register. This series includes details about people who carne to Australia before 1820. Other collections consist of name indexes to various records. Three examples are the Thomas Davies Mutch Card Indexes (NSW records from 1787 to 1828), the Rogers Queensland Index (includes records from 1859 to 1984), and the Australasian Genealogical Computer Index (indexes records for all states that are deposited with the Society of Australian Genealogists and other archives).

Internet resources

There are extensive Internet sites that contain searchable databases and other genealogical information for Australia. Some of the records that are found on the Internet include tombstone inscriptions, indexes to shipping lists, civil registration indexes, obituaries of people who died in the Melbourne Hospital, lists of people found in directories, names of voters, and indexes to people who witnessed marriages.

I am impressed with the work done by Cora Num (see Websites for Genealogists at Num has compiled an extensive list of Australian resources including links to records found on the Internet. To find a Dead Persons’ Society in the area where your family settled, do a key word search for this organization and look at the various places that are listed for the Society.

Other Australian Internet resources can be found on and http://

Fact Sheets summarizing information about various genealogical sources found in the National Archives of Australia can be accessed on the Internet at Click on “Publications” then on “Fact Sheets,” and finally on “Genealogy.”


Frost, Lenore. Searching for Mary Ann: Researching Women Ancestors in Australia. Privately published by the author, 1994. Available through Lenore’s Virtual Bookshop at lenorefrost/bookshop.html.

Lea-Scarlett, Errol. Roots and Branches: Ancestry for Australians. Sydney: William Collins Publishers Pty Ltd, 1979.

Research Outline: Australia. Salt Lake City: Family History Department, Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, 1999.

Vine Hall, Nick. Tracing Your Family History in Australia: A Guide to Sources. 3d ed. 2002. (ISBN 1 86404 384 9). For more information about this book see www.vinehall Many states have published a genealogy how-to book for their region. Several of these are listed in Research Outline: Australia.

The title of this article is a play on the song title Waltzing Matilda. Interesting historical information about this song including background information about the poet, where in Australia it was written, and a definition of the words (Matilda is not a person) can be found at people/Roger.Clarke/WM/#Ver.

Judy Eccles Wight was born in Los Angeles and graduated from Brigham Young University (history major, English minor). She is an accredited genealogist specializing in Irish, Scottish, and Australian research; British Reference Consultant at the Family History Library from 1990-2001; director of the Sandy, East Stake Family History Center from 1997-2000. Judy has lectured at numerous historical and genealogical conferences throughout the United States and in Canada and England. When not working or writing, she enjoys spending time with her family, remodeling their home and a mountain cabin retreat, traveling, reading, and listening to music. She is founder, past president, and forever board member of Ulster ProjectUtah, an ecumenical peacemaking organization that brings Catholic and Protestant teens from Northern Ireland to various established centers in the United States.

ASSOCIATED Australian Databases on and

Over 1,000,000 Names in our Australian Newspaper Index Collection-

Over 700,000 Names in our Queensland, Australia, Electoral Roll 1949-

Leave a comment