The states are New South Wales (NSW), Victoria (VIC), Queensland (QLD), South Australia (SA), Tasmania (TAS) and Western Australia (WA).
The territories are the Northern Territory (NT) and the Australian Capital Territory (ACT). Consequently, each state or territory has different regulations concerning its record-keeping, and while most areas may have similar records, there are few national records available to the researcher.
It is therefore very important to have some idea of whereabouts in Australia your family were based so that the appropriate state’s records can be consulted. Each state will have an archive office and a state library that form, between them, the major repositories of family history information.
Birth, marriage and death certificates are some of the major sources for research in Australia.
Each state began its own system of registration at different times. Tasmania was the first to record such events – starting on 1 December 1838.
The majority of the other states began either in the 1840s or the 1850s, but the Northern Territory records start as late as 1870. The details recorded in the early years were fairly lax, but more consistent information is usually found from the 1880s onwards. Indeed, the information provided is often more detailed than that given on the same type of documents for England and Wales.
Certificates of birth, for example, will provide not only the name, date and place of birth of the child, the full names of both parents and at least the father’s occupation, but also their ages and the date and place of their marriage. The number of previous children born to the couple is also recorded.
Marriage certificates will give the full names of the bride and groom, their occupations, ages, birthplaces and the date and place of marriage, along with the full names and occupations of both sets of parents.
Death certificates will give the date, place and cause of death, the age of the deceased and details of the time that person has spent in Australia. Other information given includes the number (and often the names and ages) of the children of the deceased, along with details of his or her parents. The birthplace of the deceased and where they were married are also recorded, along with the name of their spouse and the age at which they married.
Each state has different access rules for their birth, marriage and death records. Some have made all or part of their indexes available on the internet (NSW, VIC, QLD, WA) and Victoria will allow you to download uncertified copies of the documents to your computer.
Other states, such as South Australia, require a searcher to either view the indexes in person or to look at one of the microfiche copies, which are usually available at good reference libraries.
Many researchers see the discovery of a convict ancestor as a highpoint in their research.
The digitisation of many of the convict records from the National Archives in London by Ancestry.com has made the task of finding such ancestors much easier.
Its website, www.ancestry.com.au, contains several indexes to the convict transportation registers from 1787 to 1868, as well as the convict musters 1806-1849, convict pardons 1834-1859 and convict lists 1787-1834.
Many of these documents will provide details of the date and place of the trial of the convict and the sentence they were given. By consulting the trial records, or newspaper accounts of it, the misdemeanours of an ancestor can be established along with details of their origins and family.
For those people who were tried in London at the Old Bailey before 1834, transcriptions of their trials are available on the internet at www.oldbaileyonline.org. The majority of the trials were for petty theft of clothes or food and would have been dealt with less severely by the courts today.