Indigenous family history beyond the National Archives – Fact sheet 270

Many records that are useful for Indigenous family history are not held by the National Archives of Australia. This fact sheet describes some of the types of records that exist and the organisations you might approach in your research.

Colonial and state government records relating to Indigenous people

Except in the Northern Territory, the function of 'Aboriginal affairs' was administered by colonial and state governments before 1967. For this reason, state archives or the relevant state government department are the main sources for records relating to the administration of Aboriginal affairs before the late 1960s. Addresses of Australian archival institutions.

For Victoria, Aboriginal affairs records from 1836 to 1859 are kept by the Public Record Office Victoria (PROV). Those from 1860 to 1972 are mostly, but not entirely, kept by the National Archives in Melbourne. For further details, see Fact sheet 113

Aboriginal affairs records may include correspondence files, board minute books, personal case files, ward registers, indexes, station reports, certificates of exemption, financial records and photographs, all of which may contain names of Indigenous people, reserves, homes and other related places. 

Other state government records, such as those relating to health, education, housing, government employment, lands, police and the courts can include relevant information.

Where else might information be found?

Questions to help you to think about what kinds of records to look for

Think about how your family might have interacted with the government. For example, some useful questions might include:

  • Did they live in or have an association with an Indigenous mission, reserve or home?
  • If so, was it run by the government or another group (such as a church), or both?
  • When and where did they go to school?
  • Were they born in a state hospital?
  • Are they likely to have received any pension or child endowment?
  • Did they serve in the armed forces? (Defence force personnel files are kept by the National Archives.)

Also think about:

  • What you know about yourself and your family – names, nicknames, dates, places and any other details you remember from family stories.
  • Checking electoral rolls – contrary to common belief, Indigenous people could enrol before 1967 although relatively few did. Fact sheets on Commonwealth electoral rolls held in Perth and Commonwealth electoral rolls held in Brisbane detail some of the National Archives' holdings of electoral records.
  • Place names – some Indigenous missions and other places have had various names at different times and there are often several ways to spell them.
  • Personal names – names that people are known by are not always the same as on their birth certificate. Could the name you know be short for another name or be a nickname? Also think about spelling variations for names; for example McGuinness, McGuiness, McGinnis, McInnes.

Publications and websites

Further information about Indigenous resources can be found on the websites of the state archives and state libraries. Some specific publications and websites include the following:

Copyright National Archives of Australia 2014