Family history guide

Remember, it is always easier to work from the present to the past when tracing your family history.

A good place to start is with yourself: write down your date of birth and then other important dates such when you were married and when your children were born. Continue recording this basic information working back through the generations, your parents, grandparents, great grandparents...

Search the catalogue

You can search all the name & place indexes at once via the State Archives catalogue.

The catalogue is a powerful single search tool that provides access to the 1.9 million items in the State Archives Collection and the 1.7 million online index entries in the one place. Our catalogue is a valuable tool for historical research but it should be noted that other guides and finding aids in Subjects A-Z should also be consulted.

Searching for individuals

Particular individuals may be difficult to trace because the records are generally arranged by the public office that created them rather than by the person's name. When searching for individuals, your first step should be to determine what dealings the person may have had with the government of the day. You then need to consider which public office would be likely to have retained this information.

More about using the State Archives catalogue

Early colonial records

Colonial Secretary's papers, 1788-1825

These papers constitute the largest and most comprehensive collection of public records relating to the early years of European settlement in Australia. They reflect all aspects of colonial life and provide valuable information for the family historian.

Search the index and view the digitised records

Starting your family history

Browse all

Assisted Immigrants index 1839-1896

Passengers arriving in Sydney & Newcastle 1844-59, Moreton Bay 1848-59 & Port Phillip 1839-51

Early convict indent from 1791

Convicts index 1791-1873

140,000+ entries including certificates of freedom, bank accounts, & tickets of leave

Deceased estates 1880-1958

Search 570,000+ entries of people who died leaving property or other assets & possessions ('estates') that were subject to death duties.

Births, Deaths & Marriages

Almost all research must start with birth, marriage or death records. The information supplied on birth and marriage records tends to be fairly accurate, since details are supplied by parents and prospective couples.

Death certificates frequently indicate the length of time spent in New South Wales, and are therefore very useful. It is, however, wise to remember that as this information is supplied by relatives or friends in attendance at the time, it may contain inaccuracies.

To obtain a certificate

For copies of birth, death and marriage certificates registered in NSW and NSW historical BDM indexes you need to visit the NSW Registry of Births, Deaths and Marriages website. It provides access to online historical indexes: NSW Births that are over 100 years old, NSW Deaths that are over 30 years old, and NSW Marriages that are over 50 years old. More complete Family History Certificates can be purchased from the Registry.

BDM records in our collection

Registers of births deaths and marriages

We hold microfilm copies of the Registers of Births Deaths and Marriages to 1856 (volumes 1–123). The registers are indexed in the NSW Registry of Births Deaths and Marriages indexes. The microfilm copies of the registers are available in the reading room on Reels 5001–5048. The registers are also part of the Archives Resources Kit (*ARK).

Births, deaths & marriages registers, 1787-1856

A list of the Registers of Births, Deaths and Marriages, 1787-1856 which can be viewed on microfilm

Handwritten list of baptisms and marriages in Newcastle in 1818

Births, deaths & marriages guide

Historical information and sources for baptisms, deaths and marriages

Researchers unable to check the indexes or registers may contact the NSW Registry of Births, Deaths and Marriages, where, for a fee, searches are undertaken and copies of certificates supplied. Contact information is found on the Registry's website.

TD Mutch Index to BDMs

This index is believed to cover all relevant extant records relating to New South Wales from 1787–1828, except for the Newcastle Register and the Methodist Church records, and selected records to 1957. Later entries are from tombstone inscriptions and the most recent from news-cuttings and relate only to comparatively few families.

We hold a microfilm copy of the index on Reels 2125–2129 in the Reading Room. The original is held by the Mitchell Library.

Probate (wills)

The Probate Index was published by the Probate Division of the Supreme Court. The index, available in the Reading Room, shows name, residence and date of death.

Probate packets for the period 1817–1976 and 1989 may be accessed in the Reading Room. The Supreme Court NSW holds later probate packets.

Page from the Probate file of George Barr

Probate packets & wills guide

These records include the last will & testament. A grant of probate is the authority given by the Supreme Court of NSW to the executor(s) to deal with a deceased person's estate

Directions for making a will, from a 1929 probate file

Probate packets: what the files can tell you

Probate packets hold the last will and testament, codicils, an inventory of assets of the estate, affidavits of death and other papers

Ryerson index

The Ryerson Index is a free index to death notices appearing in Australian newspapers. The date range covered includes notices from the Sydney Gazette of 1803 to recent publications.

Subjects A-Z

Our suite of research guides, indexes and webinars is of particular value to family historians and is arranged alphabetically by research topic.

Some of the subjects of interest to genealogists are listed below along with relevant guides and indexes to search.

Image tile called Indexes

Names & places

The indexes are an excellent source for family history research

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Research advice

Guides give a brief historical background & a useful list of record series to check

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Learn from home

The webinars cover many topics of interest for genealogists

Arrivals and departures

We hold records of arrivals to Sydney prior to 1922. See the Immigration & Shipping Guide and the Shipping & Free Passengers Guide for arrivals and departures.

Records from 1923 onwards held by the National Archives of Australia.

Ocean liners Strathnaver and Mariposa in Sydney Harbour, 1932

Immigration & shipping guide

Key records and available indexes, relating to passengers arriving in New South Wales, 1788-1922

The ‘Australia’ at Watsons Bay

Shipping & free passenger records

This guide will assist researchers tracing free persons arriving in and departing from NSW as well as the movement of vessels

Digitised shipping list

Assisted Immigrants index 1839-1896

Passengers arriving in Sydney & Newcastle 1844-59, Moreton Bay 1848-59 & Port Phillip 1839-51

All Immigration & shipping resources

Business records

We hold company registration records. See our catalogue for records of the Registrar General Companies Branch. Insolvency and bankruptcy records may also include details about businesses.

Insolvency records 1842-87 and bankruptcy records 1888-1928 are also indexed.

Business and company records

A brief overview of the main sources in our collection that relate to business and companies

Bankruptcy & insolvency guide

A brief overview of the administration of bankruptcy and a list of the main records series

All Business and company records resources

Census & musters records

Muster and census records list individuals by name and may list further personal information such as residence and the numbers or names of other people in the living in the same household.

Census & musters guide

Population muster and census records, 1788-1901

1841 Census index

Records the population by police districts, counties & towns. The head of the household is recorded in the returns

1828 Census

Browse the digitised alphabetical returns

More Census & musters records

Deaths, inquests & probates

Coroners' & inquest records such registers of coronial enquiries can establish basic details (age and birthplace) of individuals into whose deaths an enquiry was held. Detailed reports have not survived for the years 1828 to 1911.

Deceased Estate records relate to the payment of death duties, may also prove useful.

Intestate Estate files should be consulted in instances where a person died without a will.

Probate packets (see the Births, Deaths & Marriages section above) are available at State Archives for the period 1817-1976 and 1989.

Page from the inquest file Douglas Perryman

Inquests & coronial records guide

Inquests are conducted by coroners and are held to investigate the manner and cause of a death or a fire. Not all deaths resulted in an inquest

List of possessions from a deceased estate file From the deceased estate file of Ralph Greig. State Archives Collection AF00190047  INX-15-155710

Deceased estates guide

Deceased estate files are a financial record of the person's estate when they die and frequently have very detailed information about a person's possessions

More resources relating to Deceased estates, Intestates, Inquests & Probates

Land sales and transfers

Records relating to the purchase of land from the Crown, created by the Colonial Secretary, the Surveyor General and the Lands Department can be found in our catalogue.

Records relating to transfers of land between individuals are available from:

NSW Land Registry Services

Level 30, 175 Liverpool Street

02 8776 3575
1300 396 076 (regional callers)


Digital copies of selected documents including land transfers may be viewed in the Reading Room on the Historical Lands Records Viewer (HLRV).

Land grants guide, 1788-1856

These records relate to the original alienation of land from the Crown. Parish maps are useful for research in this area, as they record original grants

Conditional purchase of crown land guide

This Guide provides an historical background on the conditional purchase scheme in NSW from 1862 to 1951, also known as 'free selection before survey' along with a list of the major record series and step-by-step guidance on how to access them

Land valuation guide

Land value refers to the monetary value of the land only and does not include the value of the home or other structures on the land

More Land resources


We have a large collection of original surveys and maps of areas in New South Wales. A good place to start if the online Index to Surveyor General's Crown Plans, 1792-1886 and the Index to Maps and Plans in the Reading Room.

Digitised parish, county, pastoral, town and municipal maps are available for viewing on the Historical Lands Records Viewer. See the County & parish maps guide for further information.

Index to Surveyor General's crown plans 1792-1886

A complete listing of the Surveyor General's Crown Plans from the Select List of Maps and Plans (and Supplement), 1792-1886


County & parish maps guide

An overview of county, parish and town/village maps created by the Department of Lands and its predecessors

How to read a parish map

How to make sense of all of the details on a parish map

More Maps & plans resources

Gold field/mining records

References to miners can be located in the records of the Gold Commissioners and in the records of Mining Wardens' Courts in the Department of Mines. See our catalogue under the relevant public office entries and also the Gold Mining Guide.

Man standing next to the largest reef gold nugget ever discovered in the world. The nugget is 144.8cm

Gold mining guide

Goldmining can be a challenging field of research. The record series listed in this guide may assist

Albury Goulburn country, gold/auriferous area

Gold (auriferous) lease registers 1874-1953

This index includes name of the lease holder, number, date of application, location and more

Hospital & health records

We hold records of psychiatric institutions dating from 1838. Records of State government run mental institutions are listed in our catalogue.

Rookwood Asylum for Infirm and Destitute c1896

Infirm & destitute asylums guide

Information on the available inmate records for the Infirm and Destitute Asylums and where to find them

Liverpool State Hospital & Home guide

Patient records in our collection for Liverpool Asylum for the Infirm and Destitute (1862-1933) and Liverpool State Hospital and Home (1933-1961)

Mental health facilities guide

This guide describes the different types of patient records available and where to access them. It also provides a brief history of mental health care administration

More Health & hospitals, asylums & mental health resources


Naturalization legislation came into force in New South Wales in 1849 (Act 11 Vic. No. 39). Prior to then, the only way that a non-British resident could be naturalised was by a special act of Parliament. Following this legislation any person born outside the British Empire who had resided in New South Wales for a period of five years and who wished to vote or own land needed to become naturalized.

Naturalization records are an important source as they can provide both the date of arrival and the name of the ship. The guide contains a full list of records relating to denization and naturalization, 1834-1903.

The National Archives of Australia holds post 1903 naturalisation records and information on alien registration and internment in New South Wales.

Naturalization & citizenship guide

Naturalization records are a good source of information for tracing details of an immigrant's arrival and native place. This guide lists the key records in our collection relating to naturalization, 1834-1903

Naturalization index 1834-1903

Name search for c.10,000 non-British subjects wishing to own land or vote in NSW

Police, courts & prisons

Police Gazettes (NRS 10958) covering 1862-1899 and 1900-1930 contain entries and photographs of people.

Court records, court depositions and related documents provide details of people convicted in New South Wales. The various court jurisdictions can be found in our catalogue.

Prison records include, from the period of the late 1870s, photographs of prisoners with details of conviction and personal history.

Mugshot of Lottie May Little, 1917

Gaol photographs

We have indexed and digitised this collection of photographs of men, women and children who were incarcerated in the NSW prison system c1870–c1930

No. 659 Matilda ‘Tilly’ Devine. Photographed 27 May 1925, State Reformatory for Women, Long Bay. Gaol photograph, Prisoner photographic index

Gaol inmates & prisoners guide

Find out what types of prison records are available and how to access them

Surpreme Court building

Court of Criminal Jurisdiction guide

The establishment of a NSW Court of Criminal Jurisdiction was authorised by King George III, through the First Charter of Justice (Act 27 Geo.III c.2) 1787

More Police, Lower court, Higher court and gaol resources

Professions & occupations

Our guides and indexes includes a selection of the more significant State archives relating to particular professions and occupations including police, firefighters and teachers. For Public Service Board records relating to public servants consult our catalogue.

More Professions and occupations resources

Schools & education

These files cover the years 1876-1979 and include administrative documents relating to government schools. In addition, there are some records, such as admission rolls, from individual schools which are listed in the index.

There is also a series of school photographs (NRS-15051) and over 5,000 images have been digitised and are available to browse in the catalogue

Plan of Dubbo Public School

School records guide

An overview of education in New South Wales 1788-c1979 and a list of the main record series

Page from Crooybar school file

Schools & related index 1876-1979

30,000+ entries include administrative files & records such as admission registers, punishment books & inspection books

building plan from the Broken Hill Public School file

Schools: what the files can tell you

School files very strongly reflect the growth or decline of towns and are an excellent source for your local history research

More Schools resources


These worksheets have been designed for use at home and in the Reading Room. Try to fill in as many details as possible before you visit us. You will then have a clearer idea of what types of information you need to be researching on your visit.

Archives Resources Kit

The Archives Resources Kit (ARK) consists of a wide selection of microform copies of State archives, which are of particular value to genealogists.