Your ancestors in Australia

The first fleet arrived in Sydney in 1788, since then we have had a fascination with ‘The land down under’. Many of us can claim ancestors from Australia, or find ancestors that travelled to Australia.

With the loss of Britain’s American Colonies the Government was unable to transport convicts to North America. Australia was chosen as a new convict colony, being over 10,000 miles from Britain. The first ship left a British Port in 1787 and in the 80 years following this over 170.000 convicts were transported.

Convict transport wasn’t the only trade though and by 1900 1.5 million migrants had travelled from Britain and Europe to Australia; most were British, many were German.

How do you go about tracking your ancestors?

Remember that the Commonwealth of Australia is administered by 6 states and 2 territories which make things a little more complex than the UK. Ideally you should have a sense of where in Australia your ancestors originated or where they emigrated to.

There are few national records as a result of the administration of Australia. Each state issued birth, marriage and death (bmd) records at a different date. Tasmania began in 1838, with the majority of States starting in the 1850s. Each State has restrictions on the issuing of more recent certificates. These restrictions are stricter than for England and Wales and I am currently stymied by the restriction New South Wales has in place. Unless you are the person named on the certificate or their next of kin you are unable to access the birth certificate for 100 years. For marriage certificates (the one I am stuck on) it is 50 years and for death certificates it is 30 years. Other States have different periods although I understand there is a move to bring States into line with each other.

If you can access certificates they are far more detailed than those in England and Wales. As well as the name, when the person was born and where information will be given on:

+ the name, age and birthplace of parents’
+ date and place of parents’ marriage
+ previous children born to the couple

Marriage certificates might include:

+ birthplaces of the bride and groom
+ names of the mothers (plus maiden names)

Death certificates may include:

+ birthplace of deceased
+ parents names
+ deceased marriage to whom, when and where
+ names and ages of children
+ place and date of burial
+ how long resident in Australia

Wow; why don’t we have this for England and Wales!


BMD Sources



Migration records

Another key resource for researchers. There is no national index as again the records for the 19th C are split across the States. The website of each State’s Archives will tell you what information has been kept:


Websites correct as of March 2018

Migrants were either assisted or unassisted and more records survive for assisted (the smaller of the categories). has a good collection of passenger lists. and also has passenger arrivals. Remember not all passenger arrivals to Australia in the 19th C was recorded by name. Uh oh.



Some of your ancestors may not have travelled out to Australia of their own free will. The National Archives at Kew holds a extensive collection of records. holds an Index to the Convict Transportation Registers. Check the websites listed in Migration Records for further information.

So whether your ancestor was born and bred in Australia, gained assisted or unassisted passage or were forced to make the arduous journey there are many records and indexes waiting for you to explore. If you really get stuck try the online forums like Of course don’t forget if all else fails.

Research ancestors in other countries















The Netherlands

New Zealand

Northern Ireland









Further insights

Searching for William

I come from a land down under

The search for William

Robert Parker is a Genealogist and Trainer, based in Kent. He delivers courses, guidance, talks and research services for those interested in tracing their ancestors. See for his 5 steps to discovering your ancestors. Contact Robert to discuss your requirements without obligation.

What stories might your ancestors tell?

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