Gazetteers are dictionaries of place names that describe towns and villages, parishes, districts, rivers and mountains, population size, and other geographical features. Additional information may include major manufacturing works, canals, docks, railroad stations, and postal stations. Gazetteers usually include only the names of places that existed at the time of publication. The place names are generally listed in alphabetical order, similar to a dictionary.
This Government sponsored website for Australian Gazetteers is:
Search for a place name in GeoScience Australia Place Name Search.
You can use gazetteers to identify the places where your family lived and to determine the civil and church jurisdictions of those places. For example, one gazetteer gives the following description of Nelson: "One of the original districts of the county of Cumberland, N.S.W." Another describes it as "a parish in the hundred of Windsor, and county of Cumberland, N.S.W."
There may be many places in Australia with the same or similar names. You may need to use more than one gazetteer to identify the specific town where your ancestor lived, the state and district the town was in, and the jurisdictions that kept records.
Place-name guides can also help identify places. In the Family History Library Catalog they are listed in the Place Search under:
AUSTRALIA, [STATE] - NAMES, GEOGRAPHICAL
Finding Place Names in the Family History Library Catalog
To find an Australian state under which a town is filed in the Family History Library Catalog use the Place Search.
Modern Place Names
For some research purposes, such as correspondence with an archive, it is useful to learn modern jurisdictions for the area where your ancestors lived. Learning this will also help you locate the ancestral town on modern maps. The following modern gazetteers can be found at many large libraries and archives:
- Appleton, Richard and Barbara. The Cambridge Dictionary of Australian places. Cambridge, England: Press Syndicate of the University of Cambridge, 1992. (Family History Library Call Number 994 E7ar.) This is a modern gazetteer of current place names with descriptive information.
- Division of National Mapping, Department of Minerals and Energy. Australia 1:250,000 map series Gazetteer. Canberra, A.C.T., Australia: Australian Government Publishing Service, 1975. (Family History Library Call Number 994 E5am.) This is a topographical place-name reference that identifies about 60,000 places or features without descriptive information. It also gives coordinates to ordnance survey maps.
Other modern place-name aids can be found in the Place Search of the Family History Library Catalog under:
Historical Place Names
Because names and boundaries of some places have changed or no longer exist, you may need to use sources that describe places as they were known earlier.
The following is one national gazetteer that identifies historical places in Australia:
- Wells, William Henry. A Geographic Dictionary or Gazetteer of the Australian Colonies, 1848. Facsimile edition. Sydney, Australia: Council of the Library of New South Wales, 1970. (Family History Library Call Number 994 E5w, Microfilm Number 1439040item 9 to 1439041 item 1, Microfiche 6343447.)
An extensive, card index to place names is online on the Tasmania Archives site.
Sources for historical place names are listed in the Place Search of the Family History Library Catalog under:
Gazetteers and similar place-name guides for most Australian states are listed in the Place Search of the Family History Library Catalog under:
AUSTRALIA, [STATE] - GAZETTEERS
The following is an example of a gazetteer specific to a state:
- Manning, Geoffrey H. The Romance of Place Names of South Australia. Adelaide, Australia: G. H. Manning, 1986. (Family History Library Call Number 994.23 E5m.)
The following book lists a bibliography of gazetteers:
- Vine Hall, Nick. Tracing Your Family History in Australia: a guide to sources. Second Edition. Albert Park, Victoria, Australia: N. Vine Hall, 1994. (Family History Library Call Number 994 D23v.)