Beginners to Genealogy


If you are keen to start researching your own family history, this article outlines the steps that a beginner should follow. There are many ways and means to tracing your family history both in Australia and New Zealand as well as overseas in the UK, Europe and elsewhere.

There are some commonly accepted standard practices to be aware of that will make your research easier and more organised.

Some Simple Rules

To make sure you don't end up tracing someone else's family, always work backwards from yourself to your parents, grandparents and so on. Don't assume that someone with the same name is connected to you, even if it is a unique name.

Always try and have at least two pieces of evidence to prove a fact or a connection if you can. This can become more difficult the further back you trace.

Another important rule is to always note where you find your information and to note the proper citation so that you can find it again. Don't rely on your memory because as your research grows, so too does the amount of material you collect on each of your ancestors.

Be aware that the spelling of given names, surnames and place names and so on can vary especially the further back you go. There are many reasons for this including:

Home Sources

Don't forget to talk to other family members, especially the older generations as they may be able to provide valuable information and memories that can be recorded in your family history. They may also have a range of documents and memorabilia that could be useful for your family history. Some of the things to ask about are included in the table below:

Family Bible BDM certificates Diaries
Letters Wills Land documents
Photographs Military medals Sporting trophies
Memorabilia Memorial cards Newspaper clippings

There is a great list of questions to ask family members in the 'Getting Started' guide here.

As you gather this information from relatives you might find it useful to record the information on pedigree charts and family group sheets. Many family history and genealogical societies have these kind of charts on their websites free to download and they really do help to see what information you have and what still needs to be added. As you progress there are a number of genealogy software programs that can be used to store your data and to produce a range of charts to save you handwriting the information or trying to draw up a family tree by hand.

Or you may want to use the family tree software on

Start your family tree

Civil Registration - Births, Deaths and Marriages

Obtain your parent’s marriage, birth and death (if relevant) certificates to establish basic information such as dates and places of birth, death and marriage. There is a general outline of what to expect at

Don’t assume that everything on a certificate is true as the information is only as good as the informant.

Using online indexes to BDMs it is possible to draw up possible family connections, assuming the surname is not too common. You still need to purchase certificates as not all the information you need to continue tracing back is given in the index.

Birth Death and Marriage Registrars in Australia and New Zealand

Online indexes & Registrar General websites

There is quite a lot of variation between what is available between the various Australian colonies/states and territories so it is important to know which area they came from. If someone has disappeared, then you also need to check the other states and territories. There was also a lot of travel between the Australian colonies and New Zealand particularly during the gold rushes so check both sides of the Tasman.

Don't forget to check for all spelling variations too for both given names and surnames. There are many reasons why the spelling may not be what you think it should be. In earlier times many people were illiterate and couldn't check how their names were recorded, names may have been written phonetically, or non English speaking people had their names were anglicised. Of course there may also be a human error factor when indexes are compiled. Sometimes using a wild card can be useful to find relevant entries. Think laterally if you are having trouble finding someone.

A useful guide to what is shown on each certificate for the various states is on Graham Jaunay's website under the Free Help - AUS Info page

Remember that each year on 1 January the online indexes are increased by one year as the records enter the open access period.

Fees change from time to time - for up to date charges visit the website.


Civil registration started 1 March 1856 and earlier church records are included in the indexes.

  • Births - Indexes online 1829-1914
  • Deaths - Indexes online 1829-1964
  • Marriages - Indexes online 1829-1937

New South Wales

Civil registration started 1 March 1856 and earlier church records are included in the indexes.

  • Births - Indexes online 1788-1912
  • Deaths - Indexes online 1788-1982
  • Marriages - Indexes online 1788-1962
  • NSW have transcription agents who can transcribe.


Civil registration started 1 July 1853 and earlier church records are included in the indexes.

  • Births - Indexes online 1836-1912
  • Deaths - Indexes online 1836-1985
  • Marriages - Indexes online 1836-1952

As well as having the indexes online, Victoria also allows you to purchase a digital copy of a certificate online which is very quick and easy and cheaper than an official certificate.

South Australia

Civil registration started 1 June 1842 and earlier church records are included in the indexes. The Registrar General in South Australia has given permission to Genealogy SA to host the indexes online

Genealogy SA also offer a transcription service which is much cheaper than obtaining a copy of the certificate but still contains all the information provided on the certificate.

  • Births - Indexes online 1842-1928
  • Deaths - Indexes online 1842-1972
  • Marriages - Indexes online1842-1937


Civil registration started 1 December 1838 and earlier church records are included in the indexes.

The indexes are not online but microfilm copies of the births, deaths and marriages registers to 1900 have been made available in various libraries and genealogical and family history society libraries. The indexes are available in both microfiche and CD format and should be available in a wider range of libraries so check what is available locally first.

  • Births - Indexes 1803-1919 (not online)
  • Deaths - Indexes 1803-1930 (not online)
  • Marriages - Indexes 1803-1930 (not online)

Western Australia

Civil registration started 1 September 1841 and earlier church records are included in the indexes.

  • Births - Indexes online 1841-1932
  • Deaths - Indexes online 1841-1871
  • Marriages - Indexes online 1841-1936

Northern Territory

Civil registration started 24 August 1870 previously part of South Australia.

  • Births - No indexes online
  • Deaths - No indexes online
  • Marriages - No indexes online

Australian Capital Territory

Civil registration started 1 January 1930 and previously part of New South Wales.

  • Births - No indexes online
  • Deaths - Indexes online 1930-1983
  • Marriages - Indexes online 1930-1938

New Zealand

Civil registration for births and deaths started in 1848 and marriages in 1854. There is a useful Historical Timeline on the website which explains various changes to the certificates over time.

  • Births - Indexes online 1848-1912
  • Deaths - Indexes online 1848-1932
  • Marriages - Indexes online 1854-1962 (if the deceased was born at least 80 years ago)

Once you have all the information from your birth, death and marriage certificates, you can start looking for other records. These include passenger lists, school records, inquests, land records, military records and wills and probates to mention just a few that will help you get to know your ancestors in more detail. has birth, death & marriage records available for most states.

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