Skip to content
British Institute Logo

Australian Genealogy Unleashed:  Finding the Lost in Australia

A British Institute Course by Helen Smith

No previous experience with Australian research is required, so anyone can attend.

Questions? Reach out to our Institute Director at


European settlement started in Australia in 1788, initially with the convicts who could no longer be sent to America, but increasingly from the 1820s with free settlers from the United Kingdom (England, Ireland, Scotland and Wales), many with the promise of a free or assisted passage. The Australian colonies sent emigration agents to the UK to extol the virtues of the Australian colonies. These are the same geographic areas from which an estimated 10 million people went to the USA and the British Empire/Commonwealth countries including Australia, Canada, South Africa and also New Zealand in the nineteenth century. It is not unusual to have families within a few generations going to different countries based on availability of passage, especially if they were assisted through programs in the UK or in the destination countries.

The advent of autosomal DNA has reinforced the spread of people from the United Kingdom around the world. As well as the emigration from the United Kingdom, we can also see the movement of people searching for trade or opportunities, from the early whaling ships to the gold rushes, and to World Wars I and II. Not everyone stayed at their first destination, with some moving on to seek a better future, from Australia to North America and vice versa.

Join Helen as she goes through the records, pre-and post Federation. These will include immigration (both involuntary and voluntary), vital records, education, occupations, the law, probate, military and more. She will share case studies on how to find and use records to find the ancestors/relatives lost in Australia.

Course Details:

Course information will span the time of European settlement to post World War II and will cover the following items.

Immigration: European immigration started with the convicts who were sent there involuntarily, then marines and army, and finally the free settlers who arrived later, responding to various colonial immigration programs to attract settlers. Next, there were post-Federation (1901) Commonwealth programs, post-World War II refugee settlement, and the “Ten Pound Pom” scheme. Coverage will include both government-assisted and non-government assisted immigration.

Church Records: We’ll talk about how to find and access church records.

Civil Registration: Civil registration started in each colony at different times and still remains a state responsibility. The earliest was Tasmania in 1838, then Western Australia in 1841, and so on. The majority of Australian certificates are genealogical treasure troves (with a few sad exceptions). The class will cover contents, access (Australia has strict privacy legislation), and alternatives to accessing information, which is covered by privacy legislation. Divorce will also be covered in this module.

Military Records: The British government had military control of the Australian colonies, with the last permanent British regiment leaving in 1870. The colonies established their own military forces until the formation of the Federation, when it became a Commonwealth responsibility. We’ll cover British military in Australia, Colonial military forces, the establishment of Commonwealth military forces in 1901, Royal Australian Navy 1911, and Australian Flying Corps 1912, which then became the Royal Australian Air Force in 1921. We’ll cover the military conflicts pre-Federation and then the post-Federation conflicts, including the existing records and their availability.

Canberra Parliament Building

Government: Legislation forms the backbone of daily life in Australia. We will cover levels of government responsibility, access to records, etc. This module will also describe the court systems, the records, and their availability.

Education: Education was and is a colony/state responsibility. We’ll cover the levels of education available, the records of students and staff, and the availability of records. We’ll also discuss the availably of records for the start of educational institutions.

Probate: Probate is a colony/state responsibility, and we will cover the process of probate, plus availability and access to probate material.

Occupational Records: The course will cover various occupations and the records likely to be available for the time and place. 

The Poor and Disadvantaged: The course will cover how the poor and disadvantaged were treated in the colonies, what records are available, and how to access those records. This will include charitable institutions, orphanages, pensions, Friendly Societies (non-profits) and more. This module will also include access to health services.

Researching in Australian Archives: Australia has eight states/territories, plus federal and local governments, all of which retain government records. There are also many non-government archives.

Census and Census Substitutes: While censuses were (and still are) taken, post-Federation, no-named census information is available. The statistical information was retained. Pre-1901 musters and census-named information is still available. We will cover what is available and how to access these documents, and we will discuss various record types that act as partial census substitutes for the genealogical information.

Case studies will be used to illustrate key points.


Choose what’s best for you! You may want to view two, or possibly all three courses; consider attending one in person and purchasing recordings for the other course(s).
Optionally, you may purchase one or more course recordings without attending in person.

See our FAQ page for more information!

Below is an excerpt from Helen’s Winter Webinar presentation. The full webinar is still available for members only on our Winter Webinar recording page.

Helen Smith