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Searching Your Family History Online

The search for the story of your family is exhilarating, frustrating, time consuming and can be expensive; it’s also wonderful! Slowly your heritage is revealed, you meet fellow researchers, you have the joy of sharing what you have found and being given wonderful information that you only dreamt of finding, writes Nan Bosler.

Names and dates, even places, make a very unimpressive story. You need to clothe your tree in leaves of every hue to make it memorable, or even useful. It is better if you place your ancestors within their historical landscape to give meaning to their lives by making them a part of the social history of their times. Your story is also part of the wider social history of the people, places and times in which your ancestors lived and where you and your family members now live.

Jotting down as much as you know, or think you know, about your own family details is the best way to begin searching your family history. There are going to be many surprises as you continue!

Always record details of where you find information. These references are invaluable. They also provide the credibility that your family story requires.

“Always record details of where you find information. These references are invaluable. They also provide the credibility that your family story requires.”

Family trees published online are interesting but not everything that is contained in these trees is correct even though the information they contain has been put there in good faith. Do not make the mistake of just using something you think helps you expand your tree but use the new information as a lead to check for yourself.

There is a great wealth of information available on the Internet. Go online to start your family history search. Births, Deaths and Marriage records are a wonderful source of information. Type Births Deaths and Marriages into your favourite search engine. As other states will be shown when you search this way it will be quicker for you if you add your state, i.e. Births Deaths and Marriages NSW. Then look for a link to ‘Family History’.

I did say you were going to find surprises as you search for your family. Let me tell you about one of mine. I knew I had been named after my father’s sister so decided I should add her birth certificate to my collection. I couldn’t find her. I checked the spelling, even the date of her birth. Still I couldn’t find her. How could this be? I got the bright idea of leaving the box for child’s name blank and checking for children born to my grandparents. There was a daughter born on the date I had been given! But, her name was Hazel and I had been named Nancy. I wrote for her birth certificate (this was in the time when there was no Internet access to BDM records). Mystery solved, her second given name was Nancy and she had been known by that name. Even my father didn’t know that her first name had been Hazel.

“The website includes hints on how and where to begin your family history research, as well as more detailed information to really get you into the collection.”

For privacy reasons you will only be able to access records online for births over 100 years ago, deaths over 30 years ago, and marriages over 50 years ago. If I’m trying to locate a death that occurred within the last 30 years I look up The Ryerson Index The Ryerson Index is a free index to death notices appearing in Australian newspapers. The date range covered extends from the Sydney Gazette of 1803 up to newspapers published within the last week or so. The Index also includes many funeral notices, and some probate notices and obituares.

Births, death and marriage transcriptions can also be obtained through a Transcription Agent. You do not receive a certified copy from the Register of Births, Deaths and Marriages but they contain all the information at a smaller cost – simply type ‘transcription agents’ into your search engine to find some examples.

The National Archives has information on its website specifically for family historians. Yes, that’s what you are a ‘family historian’! The website includes hints on how and where to begin your family history research, as well as more detailed information to really get you into the collection. There are case studies of both famous and everyday Australian families, highlighting some of its most useful records and expert advice on how to look after your own precious family archives.

Ask relatives for information. Enquire if relatives have any photographs and request copies. Be prepared to pay for copies of either documents or photographs! Sadly most of us have some wonderful photographs of people whom we can’t identify. Take copies of these photographs with you when you visit relatives; perhaps they can dentify some of them. The Mechanical Eye in Australia traces the story of early photography in Australia and will provide a valuable research tool for family history.

Nan Bosler, OAM

Nan feels strongly that learning is a lifelong experience. She was over 50 before going to University, has five tertiary qualifications, is a published author and international speaker. She is the foundation president of the Australian Seniors Computer Clubs Association and seeks to empower people to use modern technology. She has been involved with community organisations for more than 60 years and is a great grandmother.

Do you know that you can trace the history of your own home quite easily?
The deed to your house has a number on it; it also has the number of the previous record for that land.  By tracing back through those previous record numbers you can go right back to the original land grant. Available records, their organisations and locations range from state to state.

About the author

Alana Lowes

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