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There are numerous ways to trace your family history not only in Australia and New Zealand but also overseas in the United Kingdom, Europe and elsewhere.

This guide is divided into ten chapters which could be undertaken on a weekly basis. Or you could choose to do them fortnightly or perhaps even read the guide from cover to cover. The choice is yours.

Once you have the basic information such as names and dates, you will want to move on to establishing when your ancestors arrived in Australia or New Zealand, where they lived, what schools they went to, whether they enlisted in the military, if they were involved with their local communities and other information about their daily lives. It is this additional detail that helps us to know more about who our ancestors were and what they did. Family history is more than just collecting names, dates and places.

There are some standard genealogy and family history practices that you should become familiar with starting out as these practices will make your searches easier and more organised.

Also researching in Australia is not that straight forward as we do not have a centralised system of government. Each state and territory have their own legislation and individual functions and within each state or territory, there are local governments, again with their own legislation and functions. Overarching these two levels of government is the federal government with its legislation and functions.

Therefore, place is critical in Australian family history as we need to know in which colony, state or territory to search for our ancestors. Complicating research further is that the various colonies were established at different times and achieved self-government at different times. These changes are reflected throughout the guide.

As you start your family history journey, think about researching in the individual colonies/states and territories rather than in Australia as a single country. The select timeline will be a useful tool to help you remember the various dates and their significance.

Most websites mentioned in this publication are free to access and if it is a pay-per-view or subscription website that is indicated. Where a web URL is very long, a bitly link has been used to provide a shorter, more manageable URL.


Step 1 – Look for home sources and stay organised

If you are reading this then you have obviously decided to trace your family and where they came from. An important question to ask at this early stage is why? Do you simply want to know, or are you doing it for your children or grandchildren, to leave them a legacy or do you want to discover if the family were involved in an event or if the family were related to others with the same name?

In recent years the very popular television series Who Do You Think You Are? and other similar series have inspired people to research their own family beginnings. However, researching your family history is not something that you can do in one hour and lots of research work goes on behind the scenes long before each episode goes to air. It is this detective work that many family historians find fascinating and often quite addictive.

Researching family history is a great past time as you can spend as much time, or as little time as you want on your research. You can investigate all 16 of your great great grandparents or just your paternal (father) or maternal (mother) lines. Or you may want to do your partner’s family too. The choice is yours and many people do one line at a time and swap over to another line if new resources become available.

How far to go back in time is also your decision. Some only like to research people within living memory while others try to trace every line as far back as they can. Obviously, the further back you go there are less resources to assist you depending on individual circumstances.

So now that you have given some thought as to why you want to research your family and you have some idea of where you want to start and maybe how much you want to do, it is time to do some practical work.

What do you already know?

Find somewhere quiet and just simply sit and think about your family. Start with yourself and write down basic details such as your full name, date and place of birth, then date and place of marriage. Then do the same for your spouse and add your children. This is what is known as a family group – father, mother and children.

Next write down the same details for your parents and any brothers and sisters that you have.

Now think about your grandparents. Again, write down as much information as you can about them and, if they are deceased, also add the date and place of death. If you know where they are buried or cremated include that information too. If you know any of your great grandparents continue the process working backwards.

Remember to include any siblings (brothers and sisters) for your parents, grandparents and great grandparents if you know them. If you can remember any family stories, nicknames or other details capture those too on your sheet of paper or your word document if you are working directly onto a computer or laptop.

While doing this exercise, also think about personal items or documents that you have in your possession. Some home sources that can help with your family history include:

  • family bible
  • diaries
  • letters
  • photographs and albums
  • videos and tapes
  • BDM certificates
  • wills
  • land documents
  • memorial cards
  • newspaper clippings
  • memorabilia
  • military medals
  • sporting trophies

I hope this helps you on your journey.

Would you like help with your family research?

Book a call and we can discuss how I might be able to help you with your family history research.

“Family history is a learning process and you acquire new skills and knowledge as you progress.” ~ Shauna Hicks