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Newspapers to figure out your family tree.

The newspapers we know today are the product of some three centuries of development and are quite different from their 19th and early 20th predecessors.

Three 19th Century industrial developments changed the newspaper dramatically-: the invention of the steam driven printing press; the development of transport systems with steam engines in ships and the railway; and the increasing demand for news by the populace who were becoming more mobile, better educated and more affluent.

Types of Newspapers

National– although these are now carrying news of events throughout the world they were once more local.

Regional– These newspapers usually serve a geographical region and as well as news of events and prominent people of the area they also have ‘district correspondents’ and take extracts and news of local newspapers of the represented region.

Newspapers may also be oriented towards a particular ethnic, cultural, social or political groups and as unofficial sources they often provide information not recorded anywhere else.

Local– these newspapers are the week to week and day to day diaries of communities including ‘ordinary people’ and occasionally the rich and famous or infamous. These are the true treasure chests for the local and family historian.

Ethnic and Foreign Language-these newspapers can be very useful for those whose ancestors came and settled with an ethnic group, particularly from Europe. Communities might have these sent from larger cities to where they settled or they may have used them for advertising their business etc. Well worth looking at when you have exhausted the local newspapers.

Religious– newspapers give news of local as well as national news on a particular religious group. Baptism, marriage and burial events may be included as well as transfer of clergy, lectures and sermons may be published as well as opening ceremonies of churches and church schools.

Political– these perhaps focus on political views and events of a country or region.

Literary– these newspapers publish poetry, plays, stories and literary comments and views.

Military– These give news concerning persons in military, naval and air services. 

Types of Items and Articles in Newspapers to Find your Heritage

Items and articles of genealogical usefulness found in newspapers can be grouped under the following headings:-

News– significant events and disasters

Personal– Birth, death and marriage notices, inquests, obituaries, funeral notices, memorial notices, biographies, marriage items, kitchen teas, work and community farewells etc.

Social– dances, association meetings and gatherings, visitors, and general gossip columns

Business and Commerce– advertisements of opening of business, goods for sale, bankruptcy and insolvency notices and reports, business partnerships.

Legal– Probate notices, divorce cases, formation and dissolution of business partnerships, advertisements of bailiff sales, police and court proceedings.

Education– concerts, P & C Meetings, prize giving ceremonies, class lists, examination result lists (Leaving Certificate)

Sports– Team fixtures, reports of events, team lists, sporting career biographies

Identifying and Locating Newspapers

The above list of newspapers might generally be grouped into Historical Newspapers and Current Publications.

Historical Newspapers


Bibliographies and Union Lists for collections of many nations and states have been published either in printed, microform or on-line, describing where original and microfilmed copies of surviving newspapers can be located. To locate these family and local historians might have to search many catalogues of libraries and institutions throughout the country. 

We have even found old news paper listing strippers and entertainers, now days we have moderns websites like male strippers sydney to do this.

Access to Historical Newspapers


Hardcopy and Microfirm

In Australia, the National and State Libraries have the responsibility of tracking down and collecting newspapers published, even today. They have many volumes of bound hardcopies of both Overseas and Australian newspapers. These can be located through their catalogues.

Regional and Community Libraries, historical societies and museums may also have original hard-copy or microfilm copies of newspapers, particularly those of the local area. You may have to travel to these local institutions to access these newspapers or you may be able to make arrangements for someone to view them on your behalf. There maybe costs and fees associated with this service.

On-line Digital Access

In the past, it could be said that local and family historians did not use newspapers in their research because of poor accessibility, but this is no longer the case. Over the last couple of years, millions of pages of newspapers throughout the world have been scanned and digitized, and made available on-line to the public, through commercial ventures of subscription web sites, such as and, as well as historical document programs in National and State Archives and libraries.

Perhaps the most important source for Australian 19th Century and early 20th Century newspapers on-line are through the National Library of Australia, in their Historical Newspapers program, 1803-1954 at and the historical journals, and magazines program through the Australian Periodical Publications 1840-1845. This is part of the Australian Co-operative Digitization Project, which can be found at

Between these two sites more than two hundred titles are offered. These are in pdf format and can be searched by word or phrase, which makes them a very accessible resource. The history and use of these records are well described on the above mentioned websites.

Abstracts,Excerpts and Indices as Aids.

Previous to these digitized programs, the difficulty of access to newspapers was recoginized by

Historical and Family Histories as well as private individuals.  In some areas these groups and individuals selectively indexed, transcribed or abstracted items from local newspapers and published them in book, microfiche, Cd or on-line format to aid local and family historian in their research.

I have privately published several series:       

Births,Deaths and Marriages in Sydney Newspapers 1830-1840 in Volumes 1-6.

Index of Passengers and Crew In and Out of Sydney 1830-1841 in Volumes 1-7.

Clarence River Registers Volumes 1-12.

These are more fully explained in later articles, and may be purchased in book or ebook format on this website.

Other newspaper index details may be found by on-line Google searches.

Modern Day Newspapers

Todays newspapers all have an on-line presence and can be found through Google. The on-line content varies, but most have useful sections for contacting living persons.

Present day newspapers can be used to connect with people who are working on the same family lines or to locate living descendants of a common ancestor.

General Tips on Using Newspapers for Family History Research.

(1)               Historical Newspapers

1) Generally the smaller the area covered by the newspaper the more effective it will be for family history research.

2) If no newspaper existed or survived for the time period, look at a regional newspaper for the District News.

3) If more than one paper survives for the area and time period, look at each, They may have different coverage. For example many regional newspapers were weekly. If more than one newspaper was published they would be published on different days.

4) When looking at a newspaper get to know its design particularly if you need to search hardcopy or microfilm. Local news items, notices and advertisements often appeared on the same page and often the same column of each issue.

5) Watch for abbreviations used in dating events in newspapers-for example. Married on the ’30th ult.’ (Latin for ‘ultimo’ or last) refers to a date last month. Died on the ‘2nd inst.’ (means ‘instant’ which refers to a date this month. Terms seldom used these days such as ‘the relict of the late John Smith.’ -means the widow of the deceased John Smith.…

History Captured for Posterity

TWO-and-a-half years, 600 man hours and plenty of dedication contributed to the success of the oral history project that was presented to the Clarence Valley Council yesterday.

More than 140 interviews covering a wide cross-section of the community have been put together by a ‘dream team’ of 12 University of the Third Age volunteers. One Interview with a Steel fabricator and another with a blacksmith.

Memories and experiences of everyday events from long-term residents, as well as newer residents, of the Clarence Valley area have been compiled onto CDs to highlight and reminisce on the history of the area.

Project volunteer Nola Mackey said it was her passion for history that inspired her to take this idea to the next level.

“This particular project came about when Noelene Grace and myself took up an invitation some years ago to attend an oral history workshop,” she said.

“We were most impressed with the idea and thought it would be great to have something like it in the Clarence Valley.

“This project not only honours past generations but is for the benefit of present and future generations.”

The project provides oral records of events and experiences that have shaped the local community from as far back as 1870.

Making the project all the more special is the fact that the average age of people involved and working on this project is close to 80 years.

Mayor Richie Williamson accepted the pieces of history on behalf of the Clarence Valley Council and will hand them over to the library for public listening.

“The council is very grateful for the gift of this comprehensive oral history. It has been over two years in the making and it is great that the thoughts, memories and stories that are recorded can be heard forever,” he said

“Everyone has a story and I am so glad and proud that we can preserve this history of the Clarence.”

The audio history CDs will be available for public listening at the Clarence Regional Library in the next few months.…

Historical Background

As you will be moving backwards with your research you will need the Civil Registration records first. Civil registrations began in NSW on 1 March 1856 when births, deaths and marriages were required to be registered by law at the office of the District Registrar of Births, Deaths and Marriages,or of the Principal Registrar of Births Deaths and Marriages in Sydney. You should note that in NSW from 1856 to recent times the responsibility for the registration of births and deaths was with the family, friends or employer, unless there was a coronial inquest in the case of a death. This in itself caused problems which I will discuss in a later article.

The Principal Registrar required the District Registers to send in quarterly returns of copies of all the Birth, Death and Marriages registered at their office in the previous three months. To facilitate access to the registration details the agency created indexes to these records both at local and state level. For many years these indexes were entered into large registers, which had what is termed ‘running’ numbers for each year. These were not available to the public, but when people sort a certificate or extract of a registered birth,marriage or death, at the district or central office, these index volumes were used to find the entry, which could be then copied.

However when more and more people wished to purchase copies of birth, death and marriage certificates, particularly for family history, the Registry officers decided to produce indexes, which were released to the public domain. The first series were microfiche made from film copies of the original hand written registers and covered the years 1788- 1855 and 1856- 1900. These could be purchased by libraries, institutions and private individuals. The release of the first Genealogical Kit by the State Records Office complimented and supplemented these indexes. They were very successful and there was a great upsurge in interest in tracing ancestry. The Registrar of Births, Deaths and Marriages could then see the potential with computerisation and consolidation of these indexes, and these too were released on fiche as series. The Pioneer Index covering the period 1788 – 1888, the Federation Series 1889 – 1918, followed by The Between the Wars Series.      However with the necessity to create laws to protect living individuals, The Between the Wars Series were for Marriages and Deaths only, 1919 – 1945. Later these indexes were released on CD’s.

With the new technology of the ‘ internet’ the Registry of Births, Deaths and Marriages for New South Wales has a website at On this website they also have an online index for Births, Deaths and Marriages.

Since the release of the Consolidated Indexes mentioned above,the law has changed in NSW, and the on-line indexes follow these rules- Births 100 years; Marriages, 50 years and Deaths, 30 years.

You can see that the on-line index for Marriages and Deaths has been extended, but the Births have been contracted. The microfiche and CD’s Consolidated Indexes can still be found at libraries and local and family history societies for the Birth Index 1910-1918 gap. Talk to your local librarian about the availability of these, if your birth searches fall in this time period.

Other States may have similar arrangements and formats and information concerning these may be found at –





Western Australia

Northern Territory

Basic and further information on the Birth, Death and Marriage certificates of all the Australian states can be found on the following website.

Graham Jaunay’s site at has in the Free Help – AUS Info a page showing What you can expect to see on an Australian BDM certificate over any given time period, with suitable extended options for each certificate type.

Remember what you are using on-line is an index only and it has only basic information with a reference to the original copy of the document. You cannot do your family history using only the index, and in fact using these indexes on their own can be very misleading. You need to purchase a document for full information of the individual named in this index.…

Locating Documents of Heritage

Locating The Documents

Some of you will already have in your possession either by having acquired it previously for legal purposes, or being passed down from your parents, that is  a copy of your own birth certificate. However be aware there is a difference between an ‘extract of a birth certificate’ and a ‘full birth certificate’. For example, many years ago most people got an ‘extract of their birth certificate’ so they could get a vehicle license or a passport. This has the full name, place and date of birth of the the individual. Today you need a certified copy of a full birth certificate for many circumstances including applying for a passport, so many people will already have this important document. This full birth certificate will give you clues on other documents you will need as you progress on your quest to find your ancestors.

In Australia, most modern birth certificates will have what we term ‘full information’ however this was not always so for all states. Since civil registration began in Victoria,(1852) NSW (1856) and Queensland (1859), a full birth certificate has not only the full name; place and date of the birth; but also, parents full names, including mother’s maiden name or in case of a widow her former married name; date and place of parents marriage; place of birth and age of parents;and all other children previously born into the family,often including both their name and age.

By studying your own birth certificate you can see that it is a stepping stone back to another generation, that is it gives information on your parents, so now you can search for their certificates.

It is at this stage most people use the Birth, Death and Marriage Indexes for their state of interest. Many internet-based indexes are being released, but due to the privacy laws of each state, their range and availability vary.

Where to Start finding your family tree.

Where Do I Start

Work backwards from yourself slowly, from the known to the unknown, verifying and documenting your information, and if possible, from more than one source. If you do not do this you may end up following someone else’s family line, wasting money and time.

The key family documents for doing a family history are the Birth, Marriage and Death Certificates which are the legal documents for these events.

Be prepared to spend money in purchasing full copies of the key birth, death or marriage certificates of yourfamily line. It is false economy to try to research your family history without referring to your correct key primary documents.

Talk to family members and take notes of the information you are told, but remember you will need to verify it all.

Remember there is no such thing as a ‘correct’ way to spell a particular Family or Surname, or indeed even Christian or Given names, and over a life time a person’s name may be spelt and recorded in many ways by the person themselves, or by others. Always check various possible spellings when looking for your ancestors.

Also note there can be persons of the same Surname, Christian Name, and of the approximate age living in the same place and at the same time. They may, or may not be related in some way. This can be particularly so if the Surname is rather ‘common’, for example Smith or Jones etc.…

Get Started Finding your Ancestors in Australia

The basics of Getting Started

Both Surnames and Christian names are very important to your family history, as they are the key to a person’s identity, and therefore their life. Although the historical term is ‘Surname’ in modern times the terms ‘Family or Last Name’ is sometimes used.

The key events of Birth, Marriage and Death of our ancestors form the outline or ‘skeleton’ of our ‘family tree.’ The details of where and how our ancestors lived fills in the story, so it becomes a ‘family history’.

The most common stumbling-blocks or brick-walls when doing family history research, is finding the correct birth, death and marriage or marriages of our ancestors.Family history is not a competition to see how many names you can collect on your ‘ tree.’

When researching your family history the place to start is yourself. You are the main person and anchor for your family history.

Did you know your family history is unique? The only other people in the whole world, who have the same ‘family tree’ as you, are your full blood brothers and sisters. If you are an only child, you are the only person who has that ‘ family tree’.

You may share ‘twigs’ and ‘branches’ with many other people, but not the whole ‘tree’. Therefore, you cannot do your family history on the Internet in an afternoon, no matter what the ‘ads’ may tell you.