Please note: Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people should be aware that this website may contain images, voices or names of deceased persons in photographs, film, audio recordings or printed material.

Some material may contain terms that reflect authors’ views, or those of the period in which the item was written or recorded, but may not be considered appropriate today. These views are not necessarily the views of AIATSIS. While the information may not reflect current understanding, it is provided in an historical context.

Research step-by-step

The steps outlined here provide tips and advice on how to do Indigenous family history research. Some steps and sources will apply to your research, some won’t.

Indigenous family history research in seven steps

Preparation

  • Before you start – Read our information sheets on some of the challenges of Indigenous family history research. See Before you start.
  • Develop your research plan – The first step is to be very clear about what you want to know and why you want to know it. Then plan how you are going to achieve it. See Develop your research plan and Toolkit.
  • Get organised – Most people end up with piles of notes, photocopies and other papers. If you decide at the beginning how you are going to keep track of things, it will be easier in the long run. See Get organised and Toolkit.

Close to home – yourself and your family

  • Start with yourself – Family history research always starts with yourself and works backwards. Write down everything you know as the starting point for your research. Then gather as much information as you can from family members or friends of the family and the sources that they have. Photographs, address books, birth, death and marriage certificates.. Sit down with family members and collect all the family stories you can. See Start with yourself and Toolkit.

Further afield – tracking down the sources

  • Do some background reading – Once you have a good idea of the places and dates that are important to your family, it may be useful to find out more about the history of the place. Look for family histories, biographies and the history of government legislation relevant to Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islanders. See Background reading.
  • Search for records held by organisations – Once you have gathered as much information as you can from the people you know, it’s time to get information from organisations. Most of these will be government agencies – libraries, archives, records authorities, registries, although some may also be held by church and other non-government organisations. At this point go back to your research plan and decide where you are most likely to find more information. See: 
    • Family history sources – information about the type of information you may find in the different types of sources
    • Where to get help – contact information by state and territory for key sources
    • Toolkit – worksheets and checklists that will help you plan, search and keep track

Finishing up – what do you do with your research?

  • Put it all together – Once you’ve done the research you may want to share it in a family tree, timeline, scrapbook, biography or family history. See: Put it all together.

Do you have to use the internet?

These days the answer is probably, yes. 

It is difficult to do research without using the internet. Many of the resources that will help you to do your family history research are now online. Some of them are only online.  

You may need to go to your local library to use one of their computers. Many libraries have courses where you can learn how to search the Web or you can ask a librarian. If you have relatives or friends who use computers regularly, you might be able to ask them to help you. Libraries and community centres often run short courses in using computers and/or searching the internet. 

Family History Kit

If you are reading this online, AIATSIS has collected all of the information on the Finding your family website into an easy to download Family History Kit. You can download the whole thing at once, or section by section, or page by page. It includes a Toolkit of worksheets and checklists. You can also print off the sections or the whole kit if you would like to. 

See: Family History Kit

Last reviewed: 27 Nov 2018

AIATSIS acknowledges the traditional owners of country throughout Australia and their continuing connection to land, culture and community.

We pay our respects to elders past and present.

Research step-by-step | Australian Institute of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Studies

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