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Family History Research in South Australia
(Where you can fish for information)

by Maureen V. Driver

I work at the State Library of South Australia (SLSA), and one of my main duties has been to staff the Family History Desk of the Mortlock Library. Some areas of research I would like to share with you to help you gain more information about your Australian or South Australian families. I intend to cover the basic, leaving the more obscure for the time being. However, I hope what I have to offer will give you some insight, as I do whilst assisting customers with their research into the hidden past of their families.

In my experience, many people who decide to research their families, begin at the most difficult place, and that is often with a question about a person several generations ago. The most frequently asked question I have heard at the Family History Desk at the SLSA, is:

"My great grandparents came from (country), and I want to know about their families, can you help me?"

Usually, there are no facts known about these sturdy people who left their own country, [indeed, some people don't know the names of these relatives] just the fact that they came to this one. The best place to begin family research, anywhere in the world, is with your family's facts.

Have a definite starting point:

To begin any research you need a starting point. Family History research is no different. Our starting point is ourselves. From the facts of your birth, you can then compile the facts of your parent's marriage, and their birth. This identifies their parents, and so the process works backwards, from what you know, further into the unknown. Eventually, you may connect with an ancestor you have heard about before, but that is PART of the research, rather than the whole, or the beginning point.

The Family History Research sheet produced by the SLSA is quite definite about how to proceed:

"Step 1. Build up all the known information you can find from your relatives. Visit parents, grandparents, uncles, aunts and cousins. Find out what they know of the family's background. Write down what they tell you - make a note of WHO tells you. Be on the lookout for: Family Bibles, old documents (marriage certificates, baptismal certificates, military discharge papers), old letters and the contents of scrapbooks, newspaper clippings (births, deaths, marriages, obituaries). Find out where family members are buried. Visit the cemetery, copy inscription details from the gravestone. It is important to differentiate between confirmed and unconfirmed material. Unconfirmed items will need to be authenticated - but they will be of assistance in your quest.

Remember the family itself is the richest source of information and this is free of charge. Once you've collected all you can find, it may be necessary to verify or clarify this information by taking your second step on the journey back in time.

Step 2. Birth, Death and Marriage:
In SA civil registrations of births, deaths and marriages(BDM) began in 1842, just six years after the foundation of the colony. Indexes are held at the South Australian Genealogy and Heraldry Society Library as well as the SLSA. These are only indexes, but they give volume and page numbers which can then be requested from Births Deaths and Marriages Registration Office in Cheshire House, Grenfell St. The actual certificates cost $27 (Australian). You can get copies from relatives much cheaper. (The SLSA now has Birth records in hard copy which gives names of parents as well, 1842-1906).

District Registers are another source of BDM information. District Registers are now on microfiche and are held in the appropriate districts. The Genealogy Library in Unley has them all, but SLSA only has indexes to the country registers. What are the registers? They are the records kept by the district before they were submitted to the BDM registration. They are handwritten and a little difficult to read, and the Adelaide register is not indexed, so one has to be prepared to search a bit, but if you already have a date, gleaned from your vigilant search of the BDM Index, it will be easier.

Cemetery Indexes are also a good source of information, and are held at both the SLSA, and the SA Genealogy and Heraldry Society Library.

Step 3. Your own birth certificate: this should provide:

* your father's full name, age and birthplace (and his occupation at the time of your
* your mother's maiden name, age and birthplace
* the date and place of your parents' marriage.

You can then begin your family tree.

To simplify recording, keep your father's family on the left of the page and your mother's on the right. At this stage don't record the names of all the children of the marriage. Concentrate on your direct line of ancestry. Additions can always be made later, if this sort of detective work appeals to you.

Step 4. Your parents' marriage certificate: this should provide:

* their full names, dates of birth and birthplaces
* names of your two grandfathers (and their occupations at the time of your parents'
* maiden names of your two grandmothers.

Step 5. Your parents' birth certificates: these will help you to establish:

* grandparents' full names (if not established before hand), their ages and birthplaces
(and possibly further information on your grandfathers' occupations)
* details of your grandparents marriages.

Steps 6, 7 & 8. Other Certificates:
Get your grandparents' birth and marriage certificates, and your great-grandparents' birth and marriage certificates. By the time you reach this stage of your search, it's likely that a "No Record" will result from an application for a certificate. This could mean that an event was not recorded or registered (a common occurrence in the 19th century), or it could indicate the arrival of the family in South Australia , or perhaps the event occurred outside South Australia.

Step 9. Check the records of baptisms, marriages and burials for the years 1836-42, along with some church registers (the SLSA holds these, as well as records for the Church of England, Baptist and Methodist churches where official records are not kept), shipping arrivals and passenger lists, and a large collection of recorded history from individuals and organisations. Also check cemetery lists.

Step 10. If you need some specialised help along the way - if you want to find out, for example, how to pursue your search through interstate or overseas sources - call in for advice at the SA Genealogy and Heraldry Society's library in Unley.

Researching your family history can be an enjoyable and fascinating pastime. The State Library has a number of resources available that may be of use to you as you trace your family's story.

Biographical dictionaries can provide information if any of your ancestors were particularly well-known in their day.

Postal directories and electoral rolls may help trace family members as they moved about the country.

Map collection holds South Australian, interstate and overseas maps which can help you pinpoint where your family once lived.

State Records hold the records of the State Government, semi-governmental and municipal authorities, the records of businesses and societies and personal papers of individuals. The also hold immigration records.

State Records hold ship passenger lists from the 1800s, shipping records, church registers, official correspondence, some hospital records, student and teacher registers, prison, social welfare records and inquests. It also contains various indexes, almanacs and directories.

Australian Archives holds military records, naturalization records and anything related to the Federal Government.

Mortlock Library - published material that relates to South Australia may be found in this collection. It includes local histories, family histories, microfilmed copies of early South Australian newspapers, pamphlets, annual reports and newsletters. Newspapers can be a rich resource for family historians but using them can be time-consuming when they aren't indexed. "

South Australian Emigration

As far as knowing what resources are available to search those elusive facts, it helps to know a little about WHY people came to Australia, and in my case, South Australia. Australia is a young European-settled country. Of course Sydney began it's nefarious history as a penal colony, as did most of the capital cities around Australia., so records, as with any penal system, are quite detailed. Western Australia wasn't settled by convicts, but imported them to do a lot of the hard labour. All guests of His/Her Majesty have few secrets from their Host/Hostess.

However, South Australia is the product of free settlement. The South Australia Company was set up in Britain, and aimed to create a settlement of upper middle class people, a replica of England, but with more land. Land was the key. The people who decided to settle in SA for the opportunities of becoming land owners also acknowledged that they would need labour to work the land. So, assisted passage, that is, passage to Australia, assisted by the South Australia Company (given by the landowners and prospective land owners) was regulated. The landowners wanted only particular types of people, and so application had to be made for assisted passage. The applications hold the information used to choose the "right" people ie marriage status, children, age, place of residence. Only people from the UK are found in this list, and very few single women., unless they were sponsored before they left England.

Applications for Assisted Passage

These are kept at the SLSA, many with embarkation numbers to indicate they were accepted for assisted passage, but does not necessarily mean they DID embark. (Pike Index)

Passenger Lists

Passenger lists are often sought, to ascertain when or if relatives came to Australia. Each state of Australia has it's own records, as these were kept by the Governor's Office at the time. Each state does not keep records from other states. For South Australia, the records available are mainly of those who came by Assisted Passage. Those who paid their own way are sometimes included in the passenger lists, but more often found in the Newspaper Index. Steerage passengers are usually not listed, except by the number of them on the ship.

In SA we have a set of Passenger Lists which covers the time period of 1836-45, and another series which covers 1847 - 1886. You may notice that 1846 is not covered. The first series also refers to sources compiled of articles from newspapers, photographs and other cuttings. The second refers to photocopies of passenger lists, which gives name of ship, captain, date of departure, date of arrival, names of passengers, occupation, ages, as well as their status ie married, single and age of children. Sometimes there are notes about the behaviour of different passengers, and if someone died during the journey.

There is also an index to passengers for the period 1888-1908, called the Burdett Index which also has a chronological list of the ships for which passenger lists are held. [Passenger Lists are held by State Records, with duplicates being held in the SLSA.] Apparently Passenger lists held in England relating to these voyages were destroyed in 1900.

Departures for overseas and New Zealand which were listed in The Register newspaper are indexed by the Horner Index, 1839-1887.

Of course South Australia was also a refuge for those fleeing persecution in Prussia, and the South Australia Company was proactive in arranging for transportation of these refugees of political persecution to South Australia. Some of these ships took refugees to England and some departed directly for South Australia, so these passengers are logged as having left Hamburg, or England, and so are found either on what is called the Hamburg Index or in the regular Passenger Lists from England. As these people were mostly fleeing religious persecution, they usually settled in what we refer to as the German settlements of Hahndorf and the Barossa Valley, and their records can usually be found in the Lutheran Archives.

Newspaper Index to Passengers Arriving From Overseas

This covers various time periods. They are compiled from newspaper entries about the ships that arrived and give references to the appropriate newspapers in which the names are listed. These newspapers can then be viewed, as they are on microfilm in the SLSA. The index is alphabetically organised by the name of the passengers listed in these articles. Once identified, it gives the name of the ship, the date of the newspaper and the page etc. Some names are found here that are not on any of the passenger lists. Particularly those who are prominent citizens from the Mother Country. Mostly those who were unassisted in their passage.

Arrivals From Interstate

The Hodge Index is a compilation of passengers and their ships, which were reported in newspapers, and the references are given to these newspapers. [Again, these are held on microfilm in the SLSA] Any arrivals over land from interstate are not recorded anywhere, and neither are those coming by private ketch, unless they were prominent.

Census 1841

Of course everyone has an occasional census. However, in SA, the earliest Census was taken in 1841, and compiled by the Colonial Secretary's Office, and is the only original census material to survive. All subsequent census returns were destroyed after statistics had been collated.

Colonial Residents of South Australia 1839-1848

This is a further tool for tracking down those elusive ancestors. This is a consolidated index on microfiche to name entries in the first ten years of the South Australian almanacs and directories and "Papers Relative to South Australia (1840)". Each entry shows all the information given tin the particular almanac in which the name appears.

Almanacs and Directories

Tracing where relatives lived and worked is a tedious task, but necessary if one is to follow the footsteps of those long departed. These almanacs and directories are a guide to where and for how long somebody resided in a particular place. Usually only the head of the household, generally male, was listed. No details apart from name, address and occupation are given. Of course telephone directories complement the directories and almanacs, with the years 1898, 1913/14 - to current date being available for perusal at the SLSA.

Electoral Rolls

1884-1913 South Australian electoral rolls (incomplete) for both the Legislative Council and House of Assembly are available on microfiche in both the SLSA and State Records. For 1905 onwards, the Australian Electoral Commission holds these South Australian electoral rolls.
1938-1989 electoral rolls in hard copy are held in the SLSA.
From 1988 onwards the electoral rolls have been published in microfiche.


Naturalization records are held by the Australian Archives. However, microfilm copies of SA certificates are held by the Australian Archives, South Australian Regional Office for the period 1848 - 1903.

Newspaper Sources

There are indexes to notices of BDMs as well as obituaries published in certain South Australian newspapers for various periods between 1837-c.1936. This is referred to as the Abbott Index, after Frank Abbott who compiled this index.

Index to notices of BDMs as well as obituaries appearing in South Australian Catholic newspapers for various periods between 1867-1945. This is called the Keain Index after Maurice Keain who compiled it.

Then there is a Register Personal Notices which covers all BDM and other personal notices appearing in the Register newspaper from 1836-1870. All entries are reproduced in full, unless noted in the entry concerned.

Adelaide Observer index covers the period 1880-1908. Two useful headings for the family historian are "Biographical" and "Obituary".

Advertiser index covers the period 1932 - 1966. It is worth searching this index under the heading 'Obituary'.

Probate Registry

This is always a good place to go if you are interested in the person and their land at their time of death. I have discovered Wills to be a good source of information with the names of land parcels etc, which can then be chased up at the Lands Titles Office.

Funeral Directors

It has just been brought to my attention that when you are researching cemetery information, it is wise it enquire about the Funeral Directors who buried your ancestor. The information you are then able to glean from the records of the Funeral Directors is often quite useful, particularly if they did the eulogy etc.

New Technologies Come To The Rescue

With the advent of CD ROM technology becoming more accessible, there are some new ways of searching for information. One, of course, is by CD ROM, where before we had to tediously plough through multitudes of microfiche, now we have better and more up-to-date information access. The most obvious is the IGI.

International Genealogy Index

One of the major sources used in the SLSA, which is held in many of the SA public libraries and most Genealogy Libraries, is the International Genealogy Index (IGI) produced by the Latter Day Saints, and Family Search, which accompanies it. These are marvellous tools, but remember, when using the catalogue, you will need to order through the church microfiche about the particular country(s) you are researching. The church will send away for the film, so there will be a time delay. Don't expect your answers overnight.

Genealogy Research Directory

List of names that are currently being searched by family historians.

Pioneer Indexes

Australia has also been busy, with Pioneer Indexes being available on CD ROM. There is a series of them.
New South Wales (1788-1918),
Tasmania (1803-1899),
Victoria (1837-1888),
Western Australia (1841-1905),
Although South Australia has been rather behind the times in this regard, the South Australian CD ROM is due to be available this year.

Pictorial Collection

For those who are interested in the Pictorial Histories, the SLSA holds a Pictorial Collection on videodisc, so it is well worth searching for pictures by name or town etc....you never know what you may find!! Not to mention the Edwardes Collection, which is a collection of photographs of ships that ploughed the waters of SA.


And now with the advent of the Internet there are multitudes of interesting and very accessible researching sites. The SLSA is currently compiling a comprehensive list of sites that will be helpful to Family History researchers, and as this and other info becomes available, I will let you know.

How To Get Access To Information

Most sources are accessible if you write to the appropriate organisation and ask if they can provide you with information. Of course remote researchers will certainly be accommodated to the best of the ability of the organisation in question, but all are very approachable and quite helpful. Don't be afraid to ask. The worst that can happen is that they will tell you it might cost a little for copies of the searches. The best, that you can find that important info you have been seeking.


Of course, how you search and in what order you search these sources is related to the information you have collected as fact. Be very careful of the source of the information. It has been my experience that if people see information in print they assume it is fact. A case in point is the South Australian Biographical Index, which was published as a special event for the Jubilee 150 celebrations of South Australia, and then for the Bicentennial of Australia. The source of the information in this book, is by contributors. None of the entries were screened, and so the accuracy of the facts compiled in this book, whilst being very helpful for pointing someone in the right direction, can not be taken as proven fact. They are only as good as the person who researched them.


I always advise family researchers to certainly take leaps of faith, follow that hunch, go with what you think is probable, but then make sure you get the facts to substantiate that information before building upon it. Use family stories as a tool, rather than a fact to build upon. Never assume, but be creative in casting your eyes toward the myriad of ways available for searching. Don't give up if you don't find what you are seeking in the place you expect to find it. Look for alternatives. Cast your net wider; you will be amazed at the information that falls into your clutches. Above all, be patient and persevere. After all, you are from stock that left all they knew to leap into the unknown of a new country, away from friends and family. They had the courage and forbearance to keep going, and I encourage you to maintain the momentum of detectives searching for facts amongst the flotsam of paper jungles.

Maureen Driver
South Australian Family History Addict.

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Some Useful South Australian Addresses

Australian Archives: PO Box 119, Walkerville, SA 5081

Births, Deaths and Marriages Principal Registry Office: GPO 1351, Adelaide, SA, 5001

Lands Titles Office: GPO Box 1354, Adelaide SA 5001

Lutheran Church of Australia Archives and Research Centre: 101 Archer St, North Adelaide, SA 5006

Pioneers Association of SA: 1st floor, Aston House, 13 Leigh St, Adelaide, SA 5000

Probate Registry: 301 King William street, Adelaide 5000

South Australian Genealogy and Heraldry Society Inc.: GPO Box 592, Adelaide SA 5001

State Library of South Australia: GPO Box 419, Adelaide, 5001, South Australia. URL: http://www.slsa.sa.gov.au/sslhp.htm

State Records (formerly Public Record Office of SA and South Australian Archives): PO Box 1056 Blair Athol West, SA 5084


New South Wales
Archives Office of New South Wales: Research Services, 2 Globe St, The Rocks, Sydney, 2000

Registry of Births, Deaths and Marriages Box 30 GPO Sydney NSW 2001

Northern Territory

Northern Territory Archives Service: GPO Box 3021 Darwin, NT 0801


State Library of Queensland: GPO Box 3488, South Brisbane QLD 4101

Registrar-General of Births, Deaths and Marriages, PO Box 188 Albert Street, Brisbane QLD 4001


Archives Office of Tasmania: 91 Murray Street, Hobart TAS 7000

Registry of Births, Deaths and Marriages: PO Box 198, Hobart TAS 7001


Public Record Office of Victoria: City Search Room, 4th Floor, 318 Little Bourke Street, Melbourne, 3000

Registry of Births, Deaths and Marriages: GPO Box 4332, Melbourne, VIC 3000

Western Australia

Library and Information Service of WA. Alexander Library Building, Perth Cultural Centre, James Street Perth WA 6000

Registrar General's Office, GPO Box 7720, Cloisters Square, Perth WA 6850

Some Useful Sources

A select list of items useful for those beginning their family history research. All are available for reference in the SLSA.

Relations in records : A Guide to Family History Sources in the Australian Archives

Sources of South Australia : A guide to State Records

Kith and Kin : State Library of South Australia : Guide to Sources in State Library of South Australia

ALDERSON, Marijke. A step-by-step guide to tracing your family history. Ringwood : Vicking O'Neil, 1988

GRAY, Nancy. Compiling your family history : A guide to procedure. 16th Ed. Sydney : Society of Australian Genealogists, 1985

HALL, Nick Vine. Tracing Your Family History in Australia : A Guide to Sources with historical background

KITH AND KIN : Sources for family history. Adelaide : Libraries Board of South Australia, 1989

KYLE, Noeline. Tracing family history in Australia. North Ryde : Methuen Australian, 1985

KYLE, Noeline. We should've listened to Grandma : Tracing women ancestors. Sydney : Allen & Unwin, 1988

LEA-SCARLETT, Errol. Roots & branches : Ancestry for Australians. Sydney : Fontana/Collins, 1979

PEAKE, Andrew. Sources for South Australian Family History. Adelaide : Lutheran Publishing House, 1977

PEAKE, Andrew. Sources for South Australian Biography. 2nd Ed. [Dulwich, S. Aust.] : the Author, 1983

PEAKE, Andrew. Sources for South Australian history. Dulwich, S. Aust : Tudor Australia Press, 1987

PEAKE, Andrew. A Free Passage to Paradise. Adelaide : South Australian Genealogy and Heraldry Society c1992

PEAKE, Andrew. National register of Shipping Arrivals Australia and New Zealand. Blackburn, Vic : Australasian Federation of Family History Organisations 1988

PUTTOCK, A.G. Tracing your family tree : for Australians and New Zealanders. Rev. Ed. Melbourne : Lothian Publishing Co., 1981

REAKES, Janet. How to trace your family tree (and not get stuck on a branch). Sydney : Hale & Iremonger, c.1987

REAKES, Janet. Guide : How to trace your convict ancestors: Their lives, time and records. Sydney : Hale & Iremonger, c.1987

REAKES, Janet . How to trace your missing ancestors whether living, dead or adopted. Sydney : Hale & Iremonger, c.1986

SAMUELS, Brian. Research your family history! A guide for beginners. Adelaide : History Trust of South Australia, 1988

VINE HALL, Nick. Tracing your family history in Australia : a guide to sources. Adelaide : Rigby, 1985