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Family History Guide

This guide is designed to help with family history research and provides suggestions for resources from other institutions and organisations.

Start with yourself, work backwards, be thorough

Conducting research imageThe best place to start is with yourself and your immediate family. Follow each line backwards one generation at a time and make sure you have the following information:

  • Date of Birth (DoB)
  • Place of Birth
  • Date of Death (DoD)
  • Place of Death
  • Names of parents and siblings (and the names of the siblings' parents, should they have a different mother or father), and their dates of birth/death.

Additional information at this time can be helpful further down the track in your research, even if you dont think you are going to use them. Such details could become useful:

  • Occupations
  • Education (primary, secondary and further training)
  • Church affliations
  • Military service
  • Known locations where they have lived
  • Previous or subsequent marriages
  • Memberships in clubs and organisations.

Talk to your family

You never know where you will find information about your family. Ask everyone you know about everything they know. Someone might have already done research that you can use, other people may have information about relatives that has been passed down. For example, the distant uncle who was in the Navy during WW1, or a great great grandparent who came out in the First Fleet.

Who are the oldest living relatives in your family? Visit or call them and ask questions and hear their stories. You never know what useful information is contained in the stories. A lot of family history is known to the family and this can point you to the official records and other relevant sources. Be prepared to photograph or scan their photos and records, they may not want to lend the originals. Find out the names of towns/places where family members lived. Useful information (such as census data) are based on address not names. It will also open up searching local resources such as parish registers or cemetery records.

Beyond birth and death certificates

Birth and death certificates are relatively recent phenomenon and these records may not exist in this form for many of your ancestors. Others may  have lost theirs as a result of some circumstance, such as war or a fire. 

Other types of records can be found instead. These include family bibles, parish registers, postal directories, almanacs and the like. Some of these will be online, other might only exist in microfilm/microfiche in the state library or national archives. Local libraries may also have local records such as cemetery records, they can be worth investigating.

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Except where otherwise noted, this work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike (CC BY-SA) 4.0 International License. Content from this Guide should be attributed to James Cook University Library. This does not apply to images, third party material (seek permission from the original owner) or any logos or insignia belonging to JCU or other bodies, which remain All Rights Reserved.