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Beginning your Family History
Regardless of where your family came from, it is possible to find records of your ancestors and discover how they lived. Join us in a fascinating and enthralling voyage of discovery.  

How Do I Begin?

  • Always begin with yourself
  • Draw a Family Tree with yourself at the bottom
  • Fill in all the dates of births, deaths & marriages that you can
  • Add the places where these events took place
  • Collect all the family documents you can
  • Work systematically.

Family Documents

These can include letters, diaries, papers, photographs, birthday books or, with luck, a family Bible.

Analyse your findings, placing items in a logical order.
Look for clues as to ages and possible locations. 

Visit your Family

  • Think carefully about what you want to ask and how you will approach relatives. Remember some will not want to talk about the past
  • Have possible questions prepared
  • Let people talk freely
  • Avoid any topic which may be sensitive
  • Take any old photographs you may have
  • Where it seems feasible, use a tape recorder
  • Maiden Aunts could well have nursed their parents and be a mine of information.

Carefully copy each document and put the originals safely away. 

Which branch of the family do I begin with?

Choose one branch of the family to begin with. Maybe the one with an unusual name; maybe one holds a particular fascination for you.
Never try to start on several lines.  

Primary Sources

Primary sources are original records created at the time of the event. They have NOT been copied or transcribed.
Always try to work with primary source material.
Mistakes will always be made in copying from old documents and can lead to a waste in both time and money.
Prove each new fact by cross referencing with at least two prime sources.  


All indexes are liable to contain mistakes.
They are there to help you access prime source records and should NEVER be used as proof of any event.  

Family History Societies

Family History Societies such as the AIGS are usually run by the members to help anyone interested in family history research.
You will find them friendly and always willing to help those beginning their research.
Most societies have:
  • Large reference libraries.
  • Courses on various aspects of research including starting your research.
  • A variety of services to assist their members to obtain overseas records.
  • Regular talks on various aspects of Family History.
  • A magazine providing background to research.

Putting Flesh on the Bones!

  • Find out about the area in the period you are researching.
  • Check newspapers and other publications.
  • Find out about occupations and pastimes.

Birth, Death & Marriage Certificates

Civil registration began at different times in each of the Australian States and in the U.K. Indexes to most of these 
are available at the AIGS Library. The Index references enable you to order the certificates.
Civil Registration began in:
New South Wales  
1st March 1856
Northern Territory  24th August 1870
Queensland   1st March 1856
South Australia  1st June 1842
Tasmania  1st December 1838
Victoria  1st July 1853
Western Australia  1st September 1847
England & Wales  1st July 1837
Ireland Marriages  1st April 1845
Ireland Births & deaths  1st January 1864
Scotland  1st January 1855


Most people leave a Will.
Indexes to these Wills are known  as Probate Calendars.  Most of these are available at the AIGS Library.
Any possible Will of an ancestor should  never be ignored as this can provide you with a unique insight into your ancestors' lives and family relationships.


Australian Census, with a couple of early exceptions, have not survived, but the ones of the  U.K. often have.
The AIGS Library has a unique collection of these as well as most of the available indexes.
Census records can give you details of your families including their birthplace and occupations.

Computer Programs

There are many computer programs for Family Historians, some free.
Always make sure any program you choose has  the 'Gedcom’ facility. This enables you to exchange data between programs.

Keeping Records by Hand

Computer programs may not be available or suitable for your purposes; or perhaps you just prefer the comfort of paper records.
If that's the case, you might consider beginning to capture your family's information on our Family Data Sheet, a PDF which you can download and print double-sided if you wish, and/or
recording individual family members' pedigrees on our Pedigree Chart, which is also a PDF.

The Internet

The Internet can provide information on:
  • The location of records
  • Indexes
  • Others researching the same name.



Copyright © Australian Institute of Genealogical Studies Inc. 2012
ABN 97 600 455 890
Updated 18th February 2015
1/41 Railway Road Blackburn VIC 3130
Tel:  (03) 9877 3789