Beginning your search

Have you decided to trace your family history but are unsure where to begin? Below are some suggested steps to help you get started with your family history research.

A good place to start is to fill in as many names as you can on a blank family tree. If you get stuck on a name, try searching the Birth, Death and Marriage indexes and certificates.

You can use the names and information in your family tree can to search indexes and other resources. A full list of Indigenous family history resources can be found in the Resources section.

Getting started - Indigenous family history research

Have you decided to trace your family history but are unsure where to begin? Here are some steps you can take to get started with your family history research.

For an overview of the resources you can use for Indigenous family history research see Brief guide.

Write down what you know about yourself and your heritage.

  • As with all family history research, it is a good idea to start with a blank family tree and fill in as many names as you can.
  • Do you know your parents' names or nicknames? Where and when were they born? 
  • Your grandparents' names or nicknames? Where and when were they born? 
  • Do you know your grandparents' parents names?
  • Do you know the names of your parents' or grandparents' brothers and sisters?

Work your way back through certificates

  • Each state has a Births Deaths and Marriages (BDM) registry or department
  • You can apply for your own Birth or Marriage certificates
  • You can apply for the certificates of your parents, grandparents, great-grandparents etc. If they are alive, you will need their permission. For more recent births, deaths and marriages you may be asked to show proof of your relationship to the person whose certificate you would like to see.

Place is important - what area was your family from?

  • Finding about the town or area that your family is from can be helpful. It is useful to know about the times and places where your family lived.
  • For example, was there an Aboriginal mission, reserve or station in the area? Were particular types of employment associated with the town? Was it a mining town or might your family members have worked on a pastoral property? All of these may lead to possible sources of family history information and records.
  • The local historical society of the town your family is from may have useful information.
  • Family history, genealogical and historical societies often have resources such as cemetery transcriptions and church records which may contain information on your family. You can pay a small fee for their research time or become a member for approximately the same price.

Think about what records might have been kept about your family

  • For example, Army records, employment records, school records, etc.

Think about the spellings of names

  • There are sometimes differences between birth names and the names that people are commonly known by. It is also worth remembering that names may not always be spelt correctly on certificates and other records. See About names for more information on name variations.

Think about other people in your family

  • Brother and sister lines go back to the same parents
  • Cousins go back to the same grandparents.

Check if any other family members have been doing their own searching

  • The internet makes it easier to connect with other people who are searching the same family as yourself. A word of caution though: remember that just because something is on the web does not necessarily mean it is fact. Always verify your information, if possible, no matter what the source.

Read about family history research

You may like to borrow a 'how to search your family history' book from your local library. Another useful resource is our Brief guide to Indigenous family history research.

Do one family line at a time and keep detailed notes on your research