August 17th, 2010
When we want to find out about our ancestors immigration details we usually go to archives and libraries to research. An often overlooked resource are immigration museums or migration centres and we have some excellent examples in Australia.
The Immigration Museum in Melbourne always has both permanent and temporary exhibitions on display and currently there is Station Pier: Gateway to a New Life and Australia’s Muslim Cameleers to mention just two. These exhibitions highlight various aspects of Victoria’s immigration history. The Museum hosts related workshops, talks and other activities especially during school holidays.
The Museum also has a Discovery Centre with a section on Immigration including Family History Research which includes a very useful set of InfoSheets on post World War II migrant ships, Dutch migration to Australia and Researching Your Family History. There is a very useful Immigration to Victoria Timeline which examines each decade and has some very interesting bits and pieces of information including statistics. The Centre’s non lending library collection is also online so that you can plan a research visit.
The Migration Heritage Centre New South Wales (located at the Powerhouse Museum) has lots of interesting information on all aspects of migration from 1788 onwards. It has a timeline of Australian migration history which is very useful and broader than the Victorian timeline. I particularly liked the pages on A Place for the Friendless Female: Sydney’s Immigration Depot 1848-1886 (Hyde Park Barracks).
A wide range of cultures have individual online exhibitions including British child migrants, Italians, Estonians and other post WWII displaced persons, Sudanese, Vietnamese, Chinese and even German prisoners of war at Berrima. You could easily spend hours just reading the various stories. I was particularly interested in My Own Boss: Migrant Miners at Lightning Ridge as my own gg grandmother was there at one point in her life. There are some wonderful photos and background information that help me understand what it would have been like for my ancestor living at Lightning Ridge back then.
The Migration Museum in Adelaide is similar and has exhibitions, education programs and other activities. Its website is also worth browsing but it does not have as much resource material online as the others.
These are just three examples briefly outlining the type of background information that can be found to help you understand your ancestors migration to Australia. If you have not previously looked for immigration/migration museums, then I strongly encourage you to seek them out for where ever your ancestors migrated to. A UNESCO site called Migration Institutions is useful for locating some migration centres around the world but not all are listed here so you may still need to do a Google search. If you do find some great migration sites please post a comment and share your discoveries.