Research wins within the AIATSIS Family History Unit

Post date: 
Friday, 11 August 2017

The Family History Unit at AIATSIS offers a unique service where we can help you to research your Indigenous family history. The AIATSIS Collection hold information about Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander individuals, families, community and places and along with accessing resources in other national collecting institutions, our Family History Unit can help you find information in other types of organisations and agencies across Australia.

When we start a request, we hope that we are able to find some type of record about your family. Recently, I worked with Sandy Mullett, a Brabuwooloong and Tatungoloong woman from north and south Gippsland, to help deepen and document the Kurnai custom of knowledge keeping of genealogies.

Sandy was searching for any information on her paternal grandparents, along with information about their children. I was able to provide to her birth, death and marriage (BDM) records from the Victorian BDM Registry, family trees and cemetery records. It was interesting to find records for Sandy that were not  easily retrievable due to family members having used different surnames, changing the spelling of their Christian names and persons who seemed to adopt completely different identities after their births.

Engraving of Coranderrk – A government run reserve for Aboriginal people in Victoria from 1863 – 1924

Most importantly I was able to help Sandy access material in the AIATSIS collection about the Mullett family that she did not know existed. References relating to her uncle and cousins appeared in the Victorian Protection Board Reports for 1886, 1907 and 1909.

We do not have an exhaustive index of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples mentioned in material within our collection so I strongly encourage anyone researching their family history on their own to visit and view materials held in the AIATSIS Library.

Within our photographic database I was lucky enough to locate two identical photographs of Sandy’s paternal grandparents on their wedding day that have been made accessible to her and her family.

Since receiving research help from me, Sandy has interpreted the information supplied to her and will soon be meeting with the South Australian Museum about materials collected by twentieth century Anthropologist Norman Tindale. She hopes that there will be genealogies, photographs and hair samples in his collection that she can match to her family.

Sandy tells me that “we do research to get to the truth of the matter …it’s like being a detective” and we are thrilled to see that she is continuing further research into her family member’s heritage with the tools and recommendations I was able to provide to her.

For the Kurnai people in Sandy’s family, the research work that is undertaken at AIATSIS is enabling them to map and track down Aboriginal people’s time lines and their history for their future generations of family members. The Kurnai customs encourage people to want to learn and strengthen their identities. Sandy tells me that this type of work will enable her mob to better pass on oral histories by recording them as written evidence whilst also supporting emerging elders in the future so they have full, detailed understandings of their tribe and other mobs around Victoria.

If you would like help finding your Indigenous family history, we encourage you to get in contact with the Family History Unit. We have a great webpage that offers you advice, tools, sources to search and places to go if you’d like to do your research yourself. If you reach a roadblock in your searching, or you’d like to talk about where you’re up to and where to go next, we can be reached by phone on 1800 352 553 or by contacting the Family History Unit.

Last reviewed: 4 Nov 2019