Family History Research (for the beginner)

Family History Research (for the beginner)

Prepared by Lorraine Purcell April 2016 (



ALWAYS work backwards from the known (yourself) to the unknown (forebears)
NEVER believe everything on a Birth, Death or Marriage certificate
NEVER completely trust the spelling of surnames, place names etc.
ALWAYS check surname variants when researching
ALWAYS have at least two separate sources of proof for each event
REMEMBER that everything is only speculation until verified
ALWAYS photocopy certificates and important documents and leave the originals in a safe place
IF a document exists, read it!
JOIN at least one Family History group or Historical society
SHARE your information and documentation (copies only) with other researchers



  • Check out “How to” guides on relevant family history websites
  • Obtain a family tree program (eg Brothers Keeper
  • Become familiar with the program
  • Collect as much information as you can before you start (certificates)
  • Obtain some loose-leaf files and document protectors for your files
  • Begin with yourself and work backwards through the generations – do a rough draft to start with
  • Decide which family line to trace
  • Label your photographs
  • Join a Family History Society



  • Info pictureYour marriage certificate
  • Your birth certificate
  • Your parents birth or marriage certificate
  • Old birthday cards or books.
  • Start your own birthday book for the current generation.
  • Label photographs. Never use pen. Write details on a label on the back, in pencil
  • Old diaries are a great sources of information
  • Legal documents such as land deeds, wills etc.
  • That shoe box of newspaper clippings and old papers.
  • The family bible
  • Write down any family story as it will be a good source of truth or otherwise later on.
  • Ask relatives for any photos of family or houses where they lived.
  • REMEMBER: Absence of evidence is not evidence of absence



  • Keep your research in separate folders for each family.
  • Plastic envelopes protect certificates and other documents.
  • Whilst researching keep notes in an exercise book as all information is then in one spot.
  • Always write down your source of information and location with date of research.
  • Record your family history research on computer program. (Brothers Keeper – free program



ShipCheck out “How to” guides on relevant family history websites

These include:

Aboriginal Australians family history
Births, Deaths and Marriages
Convicts: Bound for Australia
Convicts: Life in the colony
Passenger records
Shipping records

  • Australian History research website

  • National Archives of Australia

  • State Records Authority of NSW


  • State Records Guides and Indexes


  • Findmypast


  • TROVE help



The Ryerson Index is a free index to death notices appearing in Australian newspapers. The date range covered extends from the Sydney Gazette of 1803 up to newspapers published within the last week or so. The Index also includes many funeral notices, and some probate notices and obituaries.


NATIONAL ARCHIVES OF AUSTRALIA – a rich source for family historians.

  • Many of the records are about individuals
  • Identify how family members had contact with the government, and identify what types of records they might have about them.
  • Think about contact between your family and the government
  • Migration to Australia
  • Naturalization records
  • Military records
  • Electoral rolls
  • Working for the government


STATE RECORDS   online indexes at Records include:

  • Bankruptcy and Insolvency records
  • Census records
  • Colonial Secretary
  • Convict records
  • Court records
  • Deceased estates and related records
  • Education and child welfare records
  • Gaol records
  • Health
  • Immigration and shipping records
  • Land records
  • Naturalization records
  • Professions and Occupations




  • Passenger arrivals 1897 – 1963

 State – State Records website includes links to the following:

  • Assisted Immigrants arriving in Sydney, Newcastle, Moreton Bay and Port Phillip
  • Assisted (Bounty) Immigrants, 1828-42
  • Miscellaneous Immigrants 1828-43
  • Unassisted Immigrants 1842-55
  • Unassisted passenger and crew arrivals, 1845-1922

Great War


  • Australian War Memorial

  • National Archives of Australia





BDA is a new research tool for historians and genealogists. Subscription based but you can search the index for free.

  • transcripts and indexes of many original records
  • published biographies of deceased individuals who arrived in or were born in Australia, starting from the earliest times.
  • most convict, muster, census, baptism, marriage & burial records for NSW 1788-1828+, Norfolk Island & Tasmania 1802-1811, First Fleet 1788
  • 160,000 Colonial Secretary records & immigrant and convict records 1829-1848, tickets of leave
  • full text short biographies of 24,000+ residents
  • clergy of most states 1878-1907
  • 7,000 contributed biographies
  • 10,000 Sydney burials & inscriptions 1819-1901



  • Store photographs in proper conditions
  • Ensure that they are all properly labelled and identified
  • Curb damage by preventable elements, such as light, excessive heat or cold, bug infestations, fingerprints, water damage and mildew
  • Invest in albums with archival sleeves as well as acid-free photo storage boxes
  • Before filing and packing away any old photos, toss out paper clips, rubber bands, manila envelopes, staples and anything that has an odour.
  • Wear cotton gloves while handling photographs to avoid long-term fingerprint damage
  • Scan precious photos and share them around



  • Research your ancestors’ local area to see what social and economic conditions they lived under
  • Look at the type of housing they may have had
  • Investigate what sort of clothing they wore
  • Follow up education records
  • Check out what sort of work or profession were they involved with
  • Consider putting it all into a book to share with relatives





  • Coraweb

  • Cyndi’s list

  • Good list of links in one spot is on our Hill End website

  • Society of Australian Genealogists website




Using a family tree template, a good rule is to work backwards from yourself. This way you can be sure you are tracing the right family. Do not assume a connection with some particular family then try to fit yourself into one of its branches. Fill in a birth brief chart place yourself as No.1. Then move on to your parents and grandparents with the information you already have. The missing gaps will be filled in later when you start your research.