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The first Europeans began exploration of the Australian continent in the 17th century. Dutch explorer Willem Janszoom landed in the Gulf of Carpentaria in 1606 and mapped some of the coastline. Later on Abel Tasman in 1642 reached Van Diemen's Land (now Tasmania) and in 1644 with three ships (Limmen, Zeemeeuw & Braek) he mapped the north coast of Australia. No formal territorial claims were made until 1770, when Capt. James Cook took possession in the name of Great Britain.
Australia was first settled by Europeans in January 1788 with the arrival (at Botany Bay on the south-east coast) of eleven English ships with more than 1000 convicts and military personnel, known today as the 'First Fleeters. The site was found to be unsuitable so a few days later the ships moved to Port Jackson at Sydney Cove. The second fleet arrived in 1790 and saved the colony from starvation. The third fleet arrived in 1791 and included the first Irish transportees. The first free settler immigrants arrived in 1793. The expanding colony became known as New South Wales.
Six colonies were created in the late 18th and 19th centuries; they federated and became the Commonwealth of Australia in 1901. The new country took advantage of its natural resources to rapidly develop agricultural and manufacturing industries and to make a major contribution to the British effort in World Wars I and II. In recent decades, Australia has transformed itself into an internationally competitive, advanced market economy.
Getting Started with Australia research
To get started with Australian research, it is helpful to know where one's family or ancestors lived in Australia and to know when they died. Australian states' civil death certificates give a great deal of valuable information which will help you in your research. Click on a state name or on the map below to learn about research in an Australian state or territory.
The Commonwealth of Australia was formed on the 1st January 1901 with the proclamation in Sydney of the Commonwealth of Australia Constitution Act, an act of the Imperial Parliament at Westminster (London, England). This formed a federation of the six former Australian colonies which thereafter became states of the Commonwealth. In addition, the continental island included a territory which became known as the Northern Territory. In 1926 the national capital was established at Canberra and an area around the capital became known as the Australian Capital Territory. These two territories have become the two self-governing internal territories.
Over time, the Commonwealth acquired other external (ie not on the Australian mainland) territories. A number of these have never been the home of permanent populations although some are staffed year round as weather and/or research stations.
For a period, Australia governed first Papua and later New Guinea (a trust territory). From 1949 these territories were administered from Canberra as the Territory of Papua New Guinea until their independence in 1975 when they became Papua New Guinea.
After federation many governmental functions whose records are of interest to family historians remained the responsibility of the States. For example, the registration of Births, Deaths and Marriages is a State function; the Commonwealth was only responsible for these functions in the territories until the territory achieved responsible self-government.
Former Australian Territories
- The New Zealand Islands (1788-1840) (as part of the Colony of New South Wales)
- Territory of Papua (1906–42)
- Territory of New Guinea (1920–42)
- Territory of Papua and New Guinea (1942–71)
- Territory of Papua New Guinea (1971–75)
- Territory of Nauru (1920–68)
- The National Library of Australia: This site can be an Australian resident researcher's delight, for, as well as having access to genealogical indexes, databases, full-text ejournals, subject guides and websites, you can, after registering for a Library Card, access a variety of items online these include; 19th Century British Library Newspapers, London Times Digital Archive 1785-1985, The Illustrated London News Historical Archive 1842-2003, Irish Newspaper Archives, and Indexes of Australian newspapers amongst many others on offer.
- Family History Library Research Outline for Australia
- Listing of all records collections for Australia available on FamilySearch.org
- Looking 4 Kin Genealogy & Family History Network - Australia
Wiki articles describing these collections are found at:
- Australia Birth and Baptisms (FamilySearch Historical Records)
- Australia, Cemetery Inscriptions, Sydney Branch Genealogical Library (FamilySearch Historical Records)
- Australia Deaths and Burials (FamilySearch Historical Records)
- Australia Marriages (FamilySearch Historical Records)
- Australia,New South Wales, Index to Bounty Immigrants (FamilySearch Historical Records)
- Miscellaneous Australian Genealogical Records (FamilySearch Historical Records)
- Australia, Tasmania, Miscellaneous Records (FamilySearch Historical Records)
- Australia New South Wales, Sydney Cemetery Inscriptions (FamilySearch Historical Records)
- Australia, New South Wales, Sydney Index to Bounty Immigrants (FamilySearch Historical Records)
Did you know
- Convicts were transported from Ireland to Australia starting in 1788. The National Archives of Ireland holds a wide range of records about this. The Ireland-Australia Transportation database is compiled from such records as the transportation registers, convict reference files and petitions to government for pardon or commutation of sentence. The database is not complete for every convict.
- The Australians in the Boer War (Oz-Boer) Database Project is a free online search aid to help you identify books, journals, webpages and other ephemera dealing with individual Australian soldiers and nurses involved in the Second Anglo-Boer War (1899-1902).
- The Heraldry & Genealogy Society of Canberra, Australia, is publishing South African Graves, a database of burial and memorial locations of Australians who died during the second South African Anglo-Boer War, 1899 – 1902.
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