Research Guide: Australia

There is no country wide system for registering births, marriages and deaths (BMDs) in Australia. Each state keeps its own records. There are no surviving census records apart from the small New South Wales (NSW) census taken in 1841, as details of individuals were destroyed after the statistical information had been extracted. This situation may change in future, as since the 2001 census, Australians have been given the option to allow their data to be published after 99 years.


Although this sounds depressing to someone used to working with English censuses, it is possible to make very good progress with Australian research using alternative sources such as online BMD indexes, electoral rolls and burial records. The BMD indexes in particular are extremely useful, as both parents’ Christian names are usually listed (depending on the date and the state).

Australian BMD certificates are also much more detailed than the English equivalents. Death certificates in particular are a mine of information, as they should include (depending on the state and date) the deceased’s occupation, birthplace, parents’ names, names of spouse(s), names and ages of living children and number of deceased children, and length of time in the colony (assuming that this information was known to the informant).

This site explains in detail what information you can expect to find in Australian BMD certificates:

What you can expect to see on an historical AUS BDM certificate.

State archives are excellent sources of information; some have online indexes and databases, but many records can only be viewed by visiting their offices in person or hiring a local researcher. Most state libraries have a free online ‘Ask a Librarian’ service which can help with family history research, for example by doing electoral roll look-ups.

How to get started

If you know which state your ancestors emigrated to, you can start searching the records in that state (see below).

If you don’t know where they went, these are some possible starting points.

Records covering the whole of Australia

Births, marriages and deaths

Although the separate  indexes kept by each State are the most complete, Ancestry now has partial birth, marriage and death indexes for New South Wales, Northern Territory, Queensland, South Australia, Tasmania, Victoria and Western Australia in a single searchable database.

Military service records

Boer War

World War One

National Archives of Australia (click on ‘search now as a guest’) and use the ‘General Search’ to search for service records. A search will bring up brief details of the serviceman, usually with his birthplace, date of birth and next of kin. In most cases, the digitised service record is also online. These can be very detailed, containing details of postings, wounds and illnesses, sometimes names of children, and medals awarded. Some files include correspondence to and from relatives.

The Australian War Memorial site is another excellent site for researching ancestors who fought in various wars, especially WW1. The WW1 records on that site include nominal and embarkation rolls, files relating to prisoners of war and men missing in action, and details of medal citations and awards.

World War Two

Summaries of service records for Australians who served in WW2 can be found here: WW2 Nominal Roll
The details listed usually include place and date of birth, next of kin, and whether taken prisoner.

Similar summaries also appear on the National Archives of Australia site, but not many full service records have been uploaded yet. If you find your ancestor’s details here, the complete service record (usually containing a photo) can be obtained on payment by clicking on ‘Request copy’.

Electoral rolls

Electoral rolls will be found on Ancestry: Australian Electoral Rolls, 1901-1936

Those online cover the following states and dates:-

  • Australian Capital Territory: 1928*, 1929-31, 1935*, 1937*, 1943*, 1949*, 1954*
  • New South Wales: 1930*, 1931-32, 1933*, 1934-35, 1936-37*, 1943*, 1949*, 1953-54*
  • Northern Territory: 1922*, 1928, 1929*, 1930-31, 1934*, 1937*, 1943*, 1949*, 1954*
  • Queensland: 1903*, 1905*, 1906, 1908-10, 1912, 1913*, 1914-17, 1919*, 1921*, 1922, 1925*, 1926, 1928-29, 1930*, 1931-32, 1934, 1936-37*, 1943*, 1949*, 1954*
  • Tasmania: 1914*, 1915-17, 1919*, 1921, 1922*, 1925, 1928*, 1929-31, 1934, 1936-37*, 1943-44*, 1949*, 1954*
  • Victoria: 1856*, 1903*, 1905-06, 1908, 1909*, 1910, 1912-13, 1914*, 1915-18, 1919*, 1920-22, 1924*, 1925-28, 1931*, 1932-35, 1936-37*, 1942-43*, 1949*, 1954*
  • Western Australia: 1903*, 1905, 1906*, 1909, 1910-11*, 1912-15, 1916*, 1917-22, 1925*, 1926, 1928-30, 1931*, 1934, 1936-37*, 1943*, 1949*, 1954*

N.B. The asterisked years have been indexed; the others are image-only. South Australia is not included in the database.

The details recorded are name, address and occupation. The index is listed in alphabetical surname order, so it’s possible to find other people of the same surname living at the same address. Address searches are not possible.

The only people included in the electoral roll are obviously those entitled to vote, so children are not included. In the early years, women were not allowed to vote, and even men had to meet property ownership and residency criteria. Women gained the right to vote in the Federal Parliament in 1902, but some states granted them the vote at various dates before that, starting with South Australia in 1894. Aboriginal men and women were not granted the right to vote until 1962.

Cemetery records

The following index covers the whole of Australia, and contains many online records: Australian Cemeteries

This is another useful site – the coverage is more limited, but the index includes transcriptions and photos of headstones: Australian Cemeteries Index
There are many more cemetery indexes online; try searching Google for ‘town_name +cemetery’ (replacing town_name with the name of the town you’re interested in).


Old Australian newspapers can be consulted online at Historic Australian Newspapers, 1803 to 1954, which is part of the Trove site.

Convict ancestors

Prisoners sentenced to transportation were sent from the UK to Australia from 1788 to 1867. A good starting point for researching convict ancestors is Convicts to Australia.

The main resources for researching convicts are transportation registers, convict musters, tickets of leave, certificates of freedom and pardons. After serving part of their sentence, transported convicts could apply for a ticket of leave, which allowed them to seek employment, and even marry, although they were not allowed to leave the district where they lived without permission. After a further period of good behaviour, they could apply for a pardon or a certificate of freedom.

Transportation Registers (Ancestry)

Convict musters, tickets of leave, certificates of freedom and pardons

Online convict databases

Tasmania (Van Dieman’s Land): Index to Tasmanian Convicts. Includes many digitised convict records.
Fremantle Prison (Western Australia): Convict Database

Passenger lists

There are numerous passenger list sites online. The following are some of the main ones:-

New South Wales

Immigration indexes

Individual States

New South Wales

Capital: Sydney

Births, marriages and deaths

NSW has a very good free BMD index: NSW Registry of Births, Deaths and Marriages
The index contains:-

  • births from 1788 to 1910
  • marriages from 1788 to 1960
  • deaths from 1788 to 1980

Details listed include the parents’ Christian names. Certificates can be obtained direct from that site, however transcriptions can also be obtained for a much lower price from an authorised transcription agent.

Sands Directories

Another very useful index, includes not only businesses, but also some listings of private residents, mainly in the Sydney area, between 1858 and 1933: Sands Directories: Sydney and New South Wales, Australia, 1858-1933 (Ancestry) NSW State Archives

Online indexes include passenger lists to NSW, divorce index, deceased estates, and many others: The State Archives NSW.

The Ryerson Index is an index of obituaries published in Australian newspapers. The vast majority of obituaries listed on the site are from NSW. It may be possible to obtain a copy of the obituary; click on ‘Requesting a look-up‘.

Rate assessment books (1845-1950)
Assessment Books 1845 – 1950 (City of Sydney)

Cemetery indexes


Births, marriages and deaths

Capital: Melbourne

Births, marriages and deaths

births from 1853 to 1908

marriages from 1853 to 1942

deaths from 1853 to 1985

church baptisms, marriages and burials in Victoria from 1836 to 1853.

The site is free to search, but payment is required to view the records found.

Victoria State Archives
Online indexes include divorce, mental health and insolvency records: Public Record Office Victoria Online Catalogue

Cemetery records
Welcome to Necropolis

Index to Wills, Probate and Administration Records 1841-1925


Capital: Brisbane

Births, marriages and deaths

Historical indexes: Births, Marriages and Deaths

The index contains:-

  • births from 1829 to 1914
  • marriages from 1829 to 1934
  • deaths from 1829 to 1964

Cemetery records
Grave location search – Brisbane City Council

Queensland State Archives
Online indexes include divorces, wills and inquests. Queensland State Archives.

Western Australia
Capital: Perth

Births, marriages and deaths

Western Australia Online Indexes

The index contains:-

  • births from 1841 to 1932
  • marriages from 1841 to 1936
  • deaths from 1841 to 1966

More marriages: “Reverse”  Marriage Lookup

State Records Office: State Records Office of Western Australia
Western Australian Post Office Directories (1893-1949)

Cemetery records: The Metropolitan Cemeteries Board

South Australia
Capital: Adelaide

Births, marriages and deaths

A partial index of births, marriages and deaths will now be found on Ancestry.

There is no official online BMD index, although applications for certificates can be made to the Births, Deaths and Marriages Registration Office: OCBA – Births deaths and marriages

Several free searchable indexes will be found here, including marriages 1836-1852: Family History South Australia

South Australia State Archives: State Records of South Australia

Northern Territory
Capital: Darwin

Births, marriages and deaths

A partial index of births, marriages and deaths will now be found on Ancestry.

There is no online BMD index, although applications for certificates can be made to the Registry of Births, Deaths and Marriages.

Australian Capital Territory
Capital: Canberra

Births, marriages and deaths

Death index 1930-1973 (in Excel format): ACT Historical Death Index 1930-1973

There is no online birth or marriage index. Applications for certificates can be made to the Registry of Births, Deaths and Births, Deaths and Marriage.

Cemetery records: Canberra’s Public Cemeteries



Capital: Hobart

A partial index of births, marriages and deaths will now be found on Ancestry.

There is no complete BMD index online, but the searchable

Colonial Tasmanian Family Links database provides a starting point.

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