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Land records are primarily used to learn where and when an individual lived in a specific area. They often reveal other family information, such as the individual’s spouse, heirs, other relatives, or neighbors. You may learn where an individual lived previously, about his or her occupation, and about other clues that may help with further research.
To find land records in Australia, you must know some of the history and development of Australia as it was settled. The following is a brief chronology of land dealings in Australia:
1788: Governor given power to grant land at his discretion.
1790: Privates, noncommissioned marine officers, and free settlers given free land grants.
1804: Rich settlers given grants if they will make major improvements to land.
1824: Sale of crown lands begins; free land grants limited to 2,560 acres.
1831: Free grants halted; public auction of lands begins.
1836: Squatters enter lands outside original 19 counties of New South Wales.
1843: English Crown Lands Act regulates price of land.
1847: Sale of Waste Lands Act creates settled, intermediate, and unsettled classifications for land, opening new possibilities for settlement by the general population.
1858: Torrens system of land conveyance and registration in South Australia provides title registration for first time; other states follow.
Initially all land in Australia belonged to the Crown, which used three basic methods to dispose of the land: free grants, sales, and license and leases. Alienation is the term used to describe the passing of land from the government to an individual on a permanent basis (i.e., free grants or sales). Licenses and leases allowed the government to come back and possess the land at a future date.
Crown Land Grants: 1788–1831. A grant gave, without compensation, an individual or company a parcel of land for private use. Some land grants required that the land be improved within a certain time period. These grants from the Crown are the most valuable records to use when searching for early settlers. All grants, from the first one recorded in 1790 to the time when free grants were halted in 1831, are held in the Lands Title Office in New South Wales. These records generally give the grantee’s name and occupation and identify the land being granted. Other records relating to grants are military volunteer land grants, lists of occupants of Crown lands, land orders, and registers.
Sales. In 1824 a new system was initiated that allowed the sale of Crown land to settlers. When land was passed from the Crown to an individual or from one individual to another, a document known as a deed was written to record the event. It listed both parties involved, their occupations, and places of residence. Early deeds are held in the Lands Title Office in New South Wales. Later deeds are held by individual state land titles offices. Other records available regarding sales of lands are registers, applications, description books, schedules of lands sold, memorials, and deeds for the transfer of land.
In 1831, when land grants were halted, disposing of land by auction was introduced. This system created new records, including records of lands leased by auction, registers, and applications.
As Australian settlement began, no commercial or industrial establishments existed. Availability of vast areas of land gave rise to what became the largest commercial effort in Australia: the grazing of cattle, sheep, and horses. The lands used for this purpose are known as pastoral lands. These lands were seldom alienated (sold or granted) but were licensed and leased, which allowed individuals to use the lands while the Crown retained ownership.
Licenses. Settlers were permitted to occupy Crown lands for grazing purposes if they obtained a license that could be renewed annually. The first of these licenses was the Ticket of Occupation, which was granted in about 1820. These licenses gave owners rights to grazing land within two miles of their residence. Later, depasturing licenses gave owners rights to the vacant Crown lands beyond the limits of the owners’ homes. (Today, depasturing licenses can be used as census substitutes.) The applications for depasturing licenses list:
- Trade or calling
- Land applied for
- Marital status
- Number of children
- Name and condition of the person under whom stock are to be placed
- Real or personal estate possessed by applicant
Licensing impacted not only the grazing industry, but the mining industry as well. Mining licenses began with the gold rush in 1851. Mining is still licensed today.
Leases. As the wool industry progressed, squatters began to illegally overrun Crown lands to pasture their sheep. In 1836 a squatter was allowed the use of his "run" if he paid an annual licensing fee. In 1847 the Crown instituted a lease system which offered a more secure occupancy for the squatter. Leasing allowed the squatter to legally occupy the land for longer than a year and, if desired, to buy it at a fixed price. Records dealing with this period include leases and squatters directories.
Finding Land Records in Australia
Listed below are the dates that land records began in each state:
|Australian Capital Territory||1901|
|New South Wales||1792|
Many land records are held in the states’ Land Title Offices. Land Title Offices also have parish maps that can be used as plat maps to identify your ancestor’s land holdings, as well as to identify the land owned by other individuals in the surrounding areas. Parish maps are divided into areas that provide names of the original grantees and landowners. The following book provides information on Land Title Offices and their addresses:
- Vine Hall, Nick. Tracing your family history in Australia: a guide to sources. Third Edition. Albert Park, Victoria, Australia: N. Vine Hall, 2002. (Family History Library Call Number 994 D23v.)
Land records may also be held in major archives and libraries in Australia. For a listing of archives and their addresses, see the "Archives and Libraries" article in this wiki.
Finding Land Records in the Family History Library
The Family History Library, "www.familysearch.org" has a few land records from Australia; however, all record types are not available for all areas. Search for land records by looking in the Place Search of the Family History Library Catalog under:
AUSTRALIA, [STATE]) - LAND AND PROPERTY
AUSTRALIA, [STATE], [TOWN] - LAND AND PROPERTY
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