Historical newspapers are a very valuable source for family history. Australian newspapers, especially local and country newspapers, published lots of material about individuals and families in their area.
Newspapers often contain information about people that you can’t find anywhere else.
The sorts of information you might find include births, deaths, funerals, marriages, obituaries, inquests, court cases, social events, church activities, school exam results, sporting events, legal notices, land sales, advertisements for businesses and military service.
Many researchers find material in newspapers that help them flesh out their family histories, making them more than just lists of names and dates.
While you are more likely to find non-Indigenous people in newspapers, this can be particularly useful when families include both Indigenous and non-Indigenous people.
The State Library of Queensland has produced an excellent online guide Newspapers: family history info guide.
Trove digitised newspapers
The National Library of Australia provides free access to digitised copies of historical newspapers via Trove. Over 218 million newspaper articles are available and the number is growing all the time.
You can filter your search by date, state, newspaper or article type.
Tips for searching
- When you search for a name, add a place name to your search. Searching for both a person’s name and place might bring up more relevant results. Also try variations of the person’s name (surname, given name, full name, different spellings). To search for a full name 'John Smith', put the name in quotation marks. To add a place, write AND Dubbo.
- Try searching using both your ancestor’s name and the term ‘Aboriginal’ or ‘Aborigine’ – for example, Tommy AND Aborigine. Newspapers often referred to Aboriginal people by their first names only or by nicknames, using phrases like ‘Tommy, an aborigine’ or ‘the aboriginal Tommy’.
- Try searching using both the name of the place your family lived and the term ‘Aboriginal’ or ‘Aborigine’ – for example, Bega AND Aborigine. Many newspapers reported in general terms about Aboriginal people, rather than using names of individual people.
- Remember that historical newspapers often reflect the racist attitudes of the non-Indigenous people who wrote and published them. You might find your ancestors described using words that are offensive, or you might find distressing personal details about your ancestors and their lives.
The National Library is continually adding more digitised newspapers to Trove, but not all historical newspapers are available yet. The latest year for the majority of newspapers is 1954 due to copyright restrictions. A very small number of newspapers are digitised beyond that date including the Canberra Times. Read on for ideas about accessing newspapers that aren’t available in Trove.
Hard copy newspapers
For newspapers that are not digitised in Trove, you will need to visit a library that has original hard copies or microfilm copies. This research can be difficult and time consuming unless you have a specific date and/or event to look for.
Some newspaper indexes are available, but they may not include the sorts of terms you want to look up.
State libraries are the best place to look for newspapers that aren’t available in Trove. Copies of suburban or country newspapers might also be held by a local public library, historical society or museum. For information about newspapers in state and territory libraries, use the following search phrases or links:
- National Library of Australia: Newspapers
- State Library of New South Wales: Newspapers
- State Library of Victoria: How to find newspapers
- State Library of Queensland: Newspapers
- State Library of South Australia: Newspapers and guide to SA newspapers
- State Library of Western Australia: WA newspapers
- LINC Tasmania: Tasmanian newspapers
- Northern Territory Library: Territory Stories: Newspaper NT
- ACT Heritage Library: Newspaper holdings
Newspapers and magazines published by and for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people can be useful. The following publications are digitised and available online:
- The Australian Abo Call published by the Aborigines Progressive Association in 1938 (Trove)
- Dawn, publishied by the NSW Aborigines Welfare Boards from 1952 to 1975 (AIATSIS)
- New Dawn, publishied by the NSW Aborigines Welfare Boards from 1952 to 1975 (AIATSIS)
- The Koori Mail, copies are available for issues published from 1992 to present (AIATSIS)
- INFOKOORI - The Australian Indigenous Index (State Library of NSW)
Dawn and New Dawn magazine
The Dawn and New Dawn magazines were published between 1952 and 1975 by the New South Wales Aborigines Welfare Board with the aim of providing information and an exchange of news and views. Dawn and New Dawn were used by Aboriginal people to keep in contact with each other.
The magazines are a valuable source of family history information as they include details of births, deaths, marriages and baptisms, as well as hundreds of photographs.
Dawn and New Dawn contain articles about the conditions and activities on reserves, stations, homes and schools throughout New South Wales. During their time of publication the magazines were also used to report the work of the Aboriginal Welfare Board.
What information do you need to research these magazines?
Dawn and New Dawn have been fully indexed in the AIATSIS Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Biographical Index (ABI) and the State Library of New South Wales INFORKOORI index.
This means that you can search for articles in the magazines using keywords such as:
- your ancestor’s name
- the name of the place they lived, worked or studied.
Where do I find Dawn and New Dawn magazines?
Digital copies of the entire collection of the magazines which are available on our website. Our library in Canberra also has hard copies of the magazines. To search and view the Dawn and New Dawn you can: