Ask an Archivist
Before you contact us, please check these frequently asked questions.
We hold archives of the NSW Government and its agencies. This includes records made by public schools, public hospitals and universities.
- Start by checking the Subject A–Z for a list of research topics.
- Search the State Archives Catalogue for keywords, especially those that were commonly used for the topic at the time of your interest.
- Search for records of the agency that may have created records about that subject.
See more information about how to use the collection
When you are researching family history using our collection, think about how the people you are seeking interacted with NSW Government agencies during their lives (eg land, law, employment), or in the event of their death (eg inquest or estate).
- Check our Family History guides.
- Search our online catalogue and Subject A–Z for people and places.
- See Subject A–Z for a list of research topics.
See more information about how to use the collection
Like all records in the State Archives Collection, those relating to First Nations people are a result of government activity. They are working documents created and used by a large number of public servants in the course of their official duties over a long period of time.
During the 19th century the Colonial Secretary, and then the Aborigines Welfare Board had overall responsibility for official relations with First Nations people. Records of both these offices dating from the 19th and the first few years of the 20th century are among those most significant and accessible for those undertaking research into First Nations histories and culture.
20th century school records such as admission registers, punishment books and administrative school files are also easily accessible and can provide useful information.
See our Guides relating to Aboriginal People and Schools.
Many records from the Aborigines Welfare Board (AWB) that do not contain sensitive personal information are accessible to the public after 30 years.
AWB records that contain sensitive personal information such as people’s names and other identifying details are closed for up to 100 years. See our Register of Access Directions for further information.
Cultural heritage information pertaining to Aboriginal relics, sites and places of significance is usually permanently closed to public access. Public offices responsible for this material include Department of Premier and Cabinet, Aboriginal Affairs NSW, Department of Planning and Environment, the National Parks and Wildlife Service and the NSW Aboriginal Land Council.
Contact us for further information.
Use the Ask an Archivist form below to learn more. Visit our Western Sydney Reading Room for records that are open to public access.
Apply to the Aboriginal Affairs NSW (AANSW) Family Records Service for permission to access AWB records that are closed to public access.
Enquiries concerning access to cultural heritage information pertaining to Aboriginal relics, sites and places of significance should be directed to the responsible public office.
We don’t hold these records. For copies of birth, death and marriage certificates registered in NSW and to search the NSW historical birth, death and marriage indexes, visit the NSW Registry of Births Deaths & Marriages website, which includes:
- NSW births that are over 100 years old
- NSW deaths that are over 30 years old
- NSW marriages that are over 50 years old.
We hold records of 80,000 convicts transported to NSW between 1788 and 1842.
- See under ‘convicts’ in our Subject A–Z. This will show convict indexes and the Convicts Guide for more information.
We hold immigration records to Sydney between 1788 and 1922, including records of convicts and crew. Unassisted passenger and crew records, especially prior to 1854, are incomplete. Many passenger records are very limited, eg ‘Mr & Mrs Smith & infant’.
- Search our Subject A–Z
- See our immigration and shipping resources
- View our digital assisted immigrants shipping lists, 1828–1896
- If you are looking for immigration records from 1923 onwards, contact the National Archives of Australia.
Probate packets contain the paperwork collected by the Supreme Court of NSW as part of the process of granting probate. Probate packets include the will of the deceased, where there was one. We hold probate packets 1800–1976 and some from 1989.
- You can order copies of probate packets from our online catalogue.
- See our Probate Packets Guide for further information.
Divorce files contain the paperwork collected by the Supreme Court of NSW for a divorce case. We hold divorce files for most of the years 1873–1976.
- You can order copies of divorce files from our online catalogue
- See our Divorce Records Guide for further information
- Divorce records after 1976 are held by the Federal Circuit Court of Australia.
We hold patient records from state-run mental health facilities. Patient identifying records are open to public access after 110 years.
- Find out more about Mental Health Records
- Find out how to obtain permission to access records less than 110 years old.
Court records are arranged by jurisdiction. You need to know which court heard the matter, the locality of the court and the date. Not all court records have been transferred into the State Archives Collection and may still be held by the relevant court.
- See our Courts resources in Subject A-Z
Some NSW public schools have transferred admission registers and other records such as punishment books and examination registers into the State Archives Collection. Admission registers held in our collection are listed by the name of the school.
- See our index to Schools and related records
- Search the State Archives Catalogue
- See the School Students Records Guide for more information about school pupil records held in our collection. If we don’t hold the register you are seeking, it may still be held by the school.
Contact the NSW Education Standards Authority for copies of school certifications and records of school achievement.
Search the NSW Education school history database for basic details of NSW Government schools, including opening and closing dates and alternative names.
- Check the index to Schools and related records for the name of the school
- Check our online catalogue for the name of the school
- See the School Records Guide for more information.
- Search for the item in our online catalogue. If an original item can be viewed in the Reading Room, the clipboard icon will be visible from the search results and the full details page.
- See more information on how to make a Reading Room request.
- You don’t need to pre-order a record copied onto microfilm or microfiche.
- We recommend you pre-order records before you visit the Reading Room. This gives us time to process your requests and have the records ready when you arrive.
You will need a readers ticket to complete your request for original records in the State Archives Catalogue and to use them in the Reading Room.
- To apply for a readers ticket, fill out the application form here.
- You don’t need a readers ticket if the records you require are copied onto microfilm or microfiche.
You don’t need a login to search our collection, pre-order reading room requests or purchase copies of records. However, an online catalogue account will let you save search queries, view your search history and add tags to search results.
- Sign up and see what you can do with an account.
Our staff will offer expert and professional advice on all aspects of your research, however we don’t offer a research service.
- See our inquiry services for more information and details of organisations that maintain lists of professional researchers.
You can order copies of many files and documents listed in our online catalogue.
- An item with the shopping cart symbol indicates that you can order copies. Follow the prompts to order and pay for your copies
- Our standard turnaround is 15 working days from date of receipt of order to dispatch of copies
- See more about our copy services.
- During your visit you may photograph the records using your camera, smartphone or tablet
- You can use our photocopy service for a fee
- You can also scan images of most original records to your USB stick for free using the mounted cameras, and scan microform material using our digital scanners.
If you intend to use your personal scanner, please contact the Lead Archivist, Access Services at firstname.lastname@example.org before you visit.
- See our Reading Room guide for more information.
An ‘access direction’ is a direction that a series, group or class of records is open to public access after 30 years (an Open Public Access direction or OPA), or closed to public access for a longer period of time to protect sensitive information (a Closed Public Access direction or CPA).
Public offices are required to make access directions for all their records more than 30 years old. They assess the records for which they are responsible, including those held as state archives for continuing sensitivity. They are required to make an access direction that determines whether the records are open or closed public access.
- Information for public offices on the making of access directions and the public access provisions of the State Records Act 1998 can be found at Public access to records
- Information on an individual’s rights of access can be found in the Access to the Records guide.
Still have a question?
- Please note there is a 20-working-day turnaround for responses to your enquiries.
- We don’t undertake research on your behalf and may refer you to organisations who maintain lists of professional researchers.