AUSTRALIA & NEW ZEALAND
Australia has a large immigrant population, with people settling here from all over the world in a relatively short space of time. The first settlement of Europeans in Sydney was a penal colony, so there is a plethora of records about those first non-indigenous settlers. Since then successive waves of immigration have produced a mixed bag of documentation including shipping lists and naturalisation certificates.
As individual states developed, they created administrative systems to record births, deaths, and marriages, license information – for example for publicans – and business directories. Some of this information is now accessible online and much of it is stored in state and national archives. Below is detailed information and links about these resources.
Trove, as the name suggests, is a goldmine of genealogical treasures, and one of the first and best places to start looking for your Australian ancestors.
The National Library of Australia (NLA) has spent several years working on an ambitious program to digitize and make searchable a comprehensive collection of Australian newspapers. They have worked with institutions across the country to digitise newspapers from the establishment of the colony, including The Sydney Gazette, The Australian Women’s Weekly, and The Hebrew Standard (published between 1895-1953). In 2021, AJHS, the publishers of the Australian Jewish News, and NLA announced that they had completed digitising all Jewish newspapers, and Trove now includes access to more recent digital copies of the Australian Jewish News.
TROVE also provides access to photo collections from libraries across the country, websites archives, diaries and letters, maps and books, music, journals, and document catalogues.
Trove is truly a treasure for genealogists looking for information on a specific person or place. Doing a name search can yield surprising and unexpected results!
One word of caution though: Trove relies on optical character recognition (OCR), a system where a computer translates the print on the page into editable text. As a consequence, it may not always ‘read’ the printed text clearly (especially in older publications). Think laterally when doing your searches, especially in the newspaper archives, and look closely at the results. Something that appears irrelevant may turn out to be a valuable piece of information. And if you are a registered user you can repair misread text to improve the results for other users.
The NAA is constantly working on the collection so it’s worth revisiting it now and then.
There were 8 Jewish convicts on the first fleet as well as sailors, guards, and the free settlers who followed. Records from the early settlement of Australia show a community building itself from the ground up with synagogues built in Hobart and Launceston, Melbourne, and Sandhurst (Bendigo), as well and Sydney, Brisbane, and Perth.
The gold rush saw mass immigration and community expansion, followed by another influx during WW1. Growing anti-Semitism in Europe in the lead-up to WW2 saw more Jewish immigration and then, after the tragic events of the Holocaust, Australia took a disproportionate number of holocaust survivors – second only to Israel.
Australian records are divided between the National Archives of Australia (NAA) in Canberra and archives in each state. All archives have dedicated family history pages to help you make the most of their collections.
Major record sources for family history include:
- NATIONAL ARCHIVES OF AUSTRALIA
- NATIONAL LIBRARY OF AUSTRALIA
- MUSEUMS OF HISTORY NSW (FORMERLY ARCHIVES NSW)
- PUBLIC RECORDS OFFICE VICTORIA (PROV)
- STATE LIBRARY OF VICTORIA
- QUEENSLAND STATE ARCHIVES
- STATE RECORDS OF SOUTH AUSTRALIA
- STATE RECORDS OF WESTERN AUSTRALIA
- STATE LIBRARY OF WESTERN AUSTRALIA
- LIBRARIES & ARCHIVES NT
- LIBRARIES TASMANIA
There are a range of other institutions which may have archives of use to researchers including:
Birth, marriage, and death records are known as vital records. These records are administered by individual state governments and legislation dictates when you can access records if you are not directly related to the subject of said record; i.e. a child or grandchild. In most states in Australia, you can access historical birth records after 100 years, marriage records after 60 years, and death records after 30 years.
Most jurisdictions have searchable databases and there is usually a mechanism to purchase either a hard copy or a digital copy of the record. If you are a direct first or second-degree relation to a person you can usually order a vital record inside the limitation period.
Click on the links below to access family history BMD research information for individual states:
Cemetery records are an excellent source of genealogical information. Headstones often record birth and death dates for an individual, places of birth, the names of spouses and children, and sometimes even the names of grandchildren as well. The cemetery’s administrative record may hold further information.
You can search the websites for most of the major cemeteries in Australia for individuals interred.
Other resources include:
- AJHS Burials Database – AJHS maintains a registry of burials across Australia and New Zealand. The database also includes Australian War Graves and a small number of other graves of Australian interest located overseas. The collection builds on the extraordinary efforts of Mrs Beverley Davis OAM who, over 28 years, visited hundreds of cemeteries and, with the support of Australian Jewish Historical Society members, transcribed headstones, including the Hebrew inscriptions. Formerly known as the BD-DB, this collection is now maintained by the Australian Jewish Historical Society.
- Rookwood Cemetery – Rookwood Cemetery has a dedicated Jewish burial section with graves going back to the mid-19th century. The website is run by a third-party provider (Ever After) and includes very accurate geolocation for all graves. This includes graves that may no longer have visible markers. The listings include section and row information, map references, and, if available, photographs of headstones.
- Australian Cemeteries Index – This website crowdsources data and aims to provide quality images of inscriptions rather than just transcript lists. The site also includes a quick and easy NSW BMD index search.
- Northern Cemeteries – Major Northern Suburbs burial grounds including Macquarie Park, Frenches Forest, and Gore Hill in Sydney and Sandgate in Newcastle.
- Eastern Suburbs Memorial Park – Botany Cemetery, Matraville
- Woronora Memorial Park – Sutherland Shire
- Metropolitan Cemeteries Board (MCB) – Cemeteries in Fremantle, Guildford, Karrakatta, Midland, Pinnaroo and Rockingham, Western Australia. They have a family history search page with access to a name search tool and instructions for ordering information and images.
- Brisbane City Council has a family history search page for their cemeteries including Mount Gravatt, Pinnaroo, Hemmant, Bald Hills, Balmoral, Brookfield, Cedar Creek, Lutwyche, Moggill, Nundah, South Brisbane, and Toowong, in Queensland.
Australia is a land of immigrants. Everyone with a non-indigenous background descends from someone who came here from somewhere else within the last 225 or so years. Both state and commonwealth archives have immigration records from different times. These records include shipping lists, visa applications, and naturalization records. Click on the links below to find information and access to available online databases.
- National Archives of Australia – Migration & Citizenship – National
- NSW State Records – Immigration – NSW
- Mariners & Ships in Australian Waters (NSW) – Reports of vessels arrived- Jan 1845-Dec 1853 and Unassisted passengers Arriving 1855 – 1922 to NSW.
- PROV – Ships & Shipping Assisted & unassisted passenger lists to Victoria 1852-1923.
- SROWA – Passenger lists & Immigration records – Western Australia
- LINC Tasmania Arrival and Departure – Tasmania
Refugee information Jewish Welfare (now Jewish Care)
THE JOINT/ JOINT DISTRIBUTION COMMITTEE
The JDC Archives holds information about Jewish Refugees who arrived in Australia, via Melbourne, between 1946 and 1954.
Australia was one of several penal colonies established by the British during the colonial era.
The first settlement was established at Farm Cove in NSW in 1788. However, it wasn’t long before other settlements were established in Van Diemen’s Land (Tasmania), Queensland and Western Australia.
There were 8 Jewish convicts aboard the First Fleet. Many more were transported over the subsequent years. Convict records are spread between the UK and Australia. In this section, you will find links that may help you find your ancestors if they came to Australia as convicts.
- Convict Records of Australia
- Information on Convict Records – NSW State Records
- Index to convict records – NSW State Records
- Convict Transportation Registers – State Library of Queensland
- Information on Tasmanian convict records – LINC Tasmania
Ancestry also has extensive convict records in its database. If you do not have an Ancestry account you can access the site for free at most Australian public libraries.
If the person you are researching contributed significantly to Australian life they may have an entry in the Australian Dictionary of Biography. As the entries often list other family members, it is worthwhile checking all entries with the same surname.
Australia has been involved in war and conflicts as part of the British Empire and Commonwealth and as an ally to the USA. The Australian War Memorial in Canberra holds many valuable and fascinating records that detail the history of those conflicts such as official histories, unit diaries, rolls, and reports. Please note: service records for individual soldiers are held at the National Archives of Australia. Military records are a great resource for family historians, often providing information such as next of kin, residential addresses, and occupation as well as personal data like height, weight, complexion and hair colour. Later records sometimes contain a photograph.
The military file of an individual soldier may also contain all correspondence sent to and received by the military about that person, as well as detailed information regarding their movements during the conflict, medical incidents – illness and wounding – and whether or not they were killed in action.
- Australian War Memorial – Researching A Person Guide
- National Archives of Australia – Personal Service Records
- Australian Army – Family History
Subscription sites such as Ancestry and MyHeritage also collate Australian military records. If your ancestor served in a conflict for a foreign military force please refer to our INTERNATIONAL resources page for more information.
Even though museums rarely contain specific details of ordinary people, they can give us valuable contextual information regarding our ancestors’ lives. Institutions like the Australian War Memorial and specialist museums like The Australian Film and Sound Archive can provide vital contextual information in their collections and exhibits that can enhance our understanding of the times our family lived through and what life may have been like for them.
JEWISH MUSEUMS & ARCHIVES
- The Archive of Australian Judaica is a collection of rare books and ephemera, housed at The Fischer Library at The University of Sydney, relating to Jewish life in Australia from the origin of the Jewish community up to the present day. The collection catalogue is available online at The University of Sydney Library website. The Archive is open from Monday-Friday from 9:30-4:30 in Rare Books & Special Collections at Fisher Library (University of Sydney). You can schedule an appointment to view materials by filling out the request form on the Rare Books website.
- The Australian Film and Sound Archive (Canberra) contains an extensive collection of audio and visual recordings covering the full gamut of Australian life and history.
- The National Museum of Australia (Canberra) explores Australia’s social history, highlighting key issues, people, and events that have shaped the nation.
- Cowra and District Historical Museum (Cowra, NSW) displays history from this region including information on the local Army camp. This museum has an extensive collection of photographs showing what life was like for POW’s interred in a camp like this. Cowra is around 400km from the town of Hay in central NSW, the site of the camp that was home to the famous Dunera Boys.
- The Museum of Freemasonry (Sydney) happily shares the secrets of this ancient society. Many Jews were Freemasons so this collection of archives, gallery, and library could shed valuable light on your relatives’ lives.
- Immigration Museum (Melbourne) is operated by Museum Victoria. It explores the many complicated stories associated with the immigrant experience. The helpful are on hand to help you find information on your ancestors’ journies to Australia.
There are also numerous historic houses, vocation-specific collections – for example for police and firefighters – and local history collections managed by local history societies (see below).
An extensive list of museums around the country can be found here on Wikipedia
Local history societies can also be a treasure trove of information for family historians. They are often associated with or work in conjunction with local genealogical societies. Most regional towns in Australia have local history societies. As they are usually run by volunteers the levels of assistance available to researchers can vary but many of them have a website where you can find relevant contact details. If you can’t find a local history society for the town or region you are researching try the local tourism office. They can often connect researchers with local history experts. These societies may not have documents related to specific individuals however they can be a great source of vital contextual information for your ancestors’ lives. Search for historical societies using your preferred search engine. This list on Wikipedia has links and information to some regional historical societies.
- The Australian Jewish Historical Society (AJHS) documents the Jewish communal experience in Australia, which began with the arrival of the First Fleet in 1778 and continued with Jewish involvement in all facets of the subsequent development and evolution of Australia. They are a valuable source of contextual information for family history research and their Journal is filled with fascinating research papers about the community
- The Jewish Historical & Genealogical Society of Western Australia is very active, with involvement in many local issues about Jewish history. They generally meet on the last Sunday of the month to hear a guest speaker or conduct a practical workshop and their Library is open at those times.
- Pride History Group (Sydney) is a not-for-profit community group that collects and preserves memorabilia and other information about LGBTQI lives, politics, and communities in the Sydney region.
- Regional local history societies – most regional localities in Australia have a local history society. They may cover a single town or a whole region. These societies can be a great source of information about the kind of lifestyle your ancestors may have lived when they resided in that area. Local history societies often have collections of old photos, newspapers, and ephemera, as well as oral histories and stories that may not be available in metropolitan collections. Their interests are represented by the Federation of Local History Societies.
THE SOCIETY OF AUSTRALIAN GENEALOGISTS – SAG
The Society of Australian Genealogists (SAG) was established in 1932. It is the oldest family history society in Australia. Their main aim is “the advancement of genealogical education“. SAG has a research library located at 379 Kent St, Sydney. This library allows access to a huge variety of family histories and biographies, local & school histories, and databases covering births, marriages, deaths, and burials. In the Library one can also access online databases such as Family Search (including the International Genealogical Index and Ancestral File), and subscription sites like Ancestry, FindMyPast, The Genealogist, British Newspaper Archives, Discovery (National Archives UK), as well as over 1200 electronic databases covering both Australian and overseas resources. They run a regular program of events including webinars that can be watched at home. Subjects include DNA research, taking oral histories, and writing up your research. They also offer many online courses should you wish to undertake further study. Membership to SAG is available, they offer a range of books, CDs, and other resources for sale and any donations made to the organisation are tax-deductible.
JEWISH GENEALOGICAL SOCIETIES
The Australian Jewish Genealogical Society (AJGS), which covers NSW and QLD, is now part of the AJHS. Other Australian states host Jewish Genealogical Societies. You can contact the conveners of these societies directly if you are in their states:
New Zealand has a small but active Jewish community. Many Jews migrated to New Zealand before WWII and subsequently came to Australia. For help with specific records contact the Jewish Genealogy Society of New Zealand.
Indexes to New Zealand vital records from 1840 can be found at Births Deaths and Marriages Online.
- Births that occurred at least 100 years ago and Stillbirths that occurred at least 50 years ago
- Marriages that occurred at least 80 years ago
- Deaths that occurred at least 50 years ago or the deceased’s date of birth was at least 80 years ago.
The main Archives New Zealand collection in Wellington includes immigration records, probates, coroners’ reports, notices of intention to marry, and military service records up to 1920. Regional branches are in Auckland, Christchurch, and Dunedin. Very few records have been digitised but you can order copies online from archives.govt.nz or search the collections at archway.archives.govt.nz
The New Zealand Dictionary of Biography has been incorporated into the Teara Encyclopedia of New Zealand website. It has biographies and photos of some prominent Jews.
The Auckland Museum has an Online Cenotaph. This memorial brings together information relating to individual service people from sources such as embarkation, military service, and other government records and newspapers. Public contribution of additional material is welcomed.
The JewishOnlineMuseum (JOM) is a compendium of biographies, Judaica, New Zealand Jewish history, photographs, and audio recordings. The site includes Claire Bruell’s chapter on New Zealand Jewish Genealogy Research for the Avotaynu Guide to Jewish Genealogy.
DigitalNZ, like Trove, searches across more than 29 million digital items to discover New Zealand treasures such as photos, posters and memorabilia, newspaper clippings, artworks, and publications.
To search newspapers only go to Papers Past at the National Library.
The New Zealand Electronic Text Collection comprises significant New Zealand and Pacific Island texts and materials held by Victoria University of Wellington Library. The collection has several items of Jewish interest, including the full digital text of Rabbi LM Goldman’s History of the Jews in New Zealand.