For the last one hundred years or so there have been fairly reliable records kept of births, deaths and marriages in most states of Australia (since the commencement of civil registration in 1856) and most developed nations. However, prior to the early 20th Century you may find records can be rather patchy – especially in countries that experienced instability due to wars or natural disasters.
In Australia, you can find details of births, deaths and marriages from Justice Department or the Attorney General’s Department in each state:
You will also find valuable information about your family history in the following places:
Pioneer Indexes and Federation Indexes – These index all of the registered births, deaths and marriages in the various states during various periods of time. Keep in mind that most Australian states and territories did not come into existence until the mid 19th Century, and any Australian records from before that period would be listed in New South Wales indexes.
Church records and registers – Churches tend to record when parishioners were baptised, rather than born, but you can still find records of births, deaths and marriages held in many churches.
Cemetery records – These can be particularly patchy, but sometimes volunteer groups try to copy the inscriptions of the headstones (monuments), which can prove useful. JCU has a copy of monumental inscriptions from the West End and Belgian Gardens Cemeteries taken in 1986.
Shipping Arrivals and Departures and Lists of Ships Passengers – These can help determine exactly what year your ancestors and their families left one country or arrived in another. With some patience and detective work, you may also be able to determine if they travelled with other family members or people of note. The spellings of names can be unreliable.
Electoral Roles – Useful for confirming addresses, but only for those entitled to vote at the time.
War Records – Good for locating details about ancestors who served in the armed forces
Immigration, Emigration and Naturalisation Records – Tend to have some overlap with Shipping Arrivals and Departures and Lists of Ships and Passengers, but are very useful for tracing personal details for immigrants.
Almanacs and Directories – Like Electoral Roles, these are useful for confirming addresses.
While many of the above sources can be used for Indigenous Australians as well as those whose ancestors come from overseas, due to many of the policies put in place by the Australian Government over time the records for Indigenous Australians can be patchy at best.
For researching Indigenous Family History you may find the following sources useful:
Community members – Living memory is one of your most valuable resources, and stories passed on from one generation to the next can contain a lot of relevant details.
Photographs – Many of these are held in libraries, museums and other collections, and often have notes to go with them.
Church and Mission Records – Some missionaries took notes about the languages and cultures of the people living in the missions. Also, church newsletters can be a great source of information.
Station Records – The ledgers for many station records should list workmen and wages, and many details can be gleaned from these records. The names given on these records are notoriously unreliable, as Indigenous workers were often listed by nicknames.
Court and Police Records – Perhaps the only good thing about the over representation of Indigenous Australians in Australian courts: many people who do not have birth or death certificates may have court records. The Daily Occurrence Book in police stations may mention relevant names. Do not neglect the Coroner's Courts and Judge's Notebooks, which may also contain relevant information.
Museums – Much of the anthropological information gathered about the Indigenous people groups was connected to a museum, and many museums still hold research taken by the anthropologists.
You can find some records and registers held in libraries– particularly State Libraries. Those held by the JCU Library can be found by running a Browse Search through the Library’s catalogue, and looking for the following phrases in the Subject Headings field:
The state archives and libraries in each Australian State and Territory are likely to have more comprehensive records, and you should make sure you look at their catalogues and get in contact with them.
The best way to find information for your family history research in other countries is to get in contact with state and national libraries and archives in the area. Many will have departments that specialise in records like the ones mentioned above.
As many countries will have different terminology for the records, and they will not necessarily have access to the records in English, contacting a library can be your best option. A search for these records using a search engine is most likely to take you to sites regarding the United Kingdom, as the majority of family history research in the Western world is focused in that area.
If you are interested in information from the United Kingdom, you may find the following websites of use: