Find your ancestors in South Australia, unregistered deaths 1840-1970


Do you have South Australian ancestry?

This is an index of deaths not officially registered in South Australia sourced from a range of sundry material. It's a terrific genealogy tool for anyone exploring their family history or building their family tree.

"What information can I find in this index?"

• Surname
• Given names
• Age of deceased
• Occupation of deceased
• Residence of deceased
• Place of death including region
• Cause of death
• Extract from records or notes
• Source or informant
• The index also indicates if the deceased was buried outside a recognised cemetery


You might be quite surprised to know that many deaths in South Australia were never registered. We all know that the effort to register births prior to 1875 was deficient with many individuals, often from distinct ethnic groups, failing to complete the process. Likewise a significant number of deaths were never registered either.

The reason behind deaths not being registered seems to stem from confusion on the part of the responsible bodies. The law was quite concise. A body could not be buried without a Death Certificate. In most cases the Certificate was required before burial could take place. It would seem that the few exceptions that allowed burial before securing a Death Certificate were the root cause of the problems.

In some cases it was impractical to secure a certificate before burial and the rules made provision for this to happen. Incidentally the rules also clearly stated the party responsible for informing the local agent of the Deputy Registrar of a death.

The recording of Deaths in South Australia was and is regulated by Acts of Parliament.

The first Act, 13 of 1842 established Civil Registration in South Australia from 1 Jul 1842. This Act required burial to occur only on presentation of a Death Certificate or Burial Order as the result of an Inquest. The Act also instructed that the coroner must inform the Deputy Registrar who was then required to make the appropriate entry. Clearly this was not working well as the Government Gazette of 11 Jul 1850 p418 suggests that coroners were not following the Act in a published reminder of their responsibility.

The second act repealed the first. Act 3 of 1855/6 maintained the above requirements plus placed the onus on cemetery proprietors to forward quarterly returns of burials to the Principal Registrar presumably to allow him to compare the deaths notified with the burials performed. If any Principal Registrar ever did make the comparison, there is no evidence that they addressed the obvious anomalies.

Although never stated, it is clear from an examination of returns published in the Government Gazette, that many local coroners made a determination to issue a Burial Order without the need to conduct an Inquest and yet it was intended that Burial Orders were only to be issued as a consequence of an Inquest. It would seem that the coroners were being rather more practical than the legislation allowed. Unfortunately, they often did not follow up the requirement to notify the Deputy Registrar. Perhaps they mistakenly thought that the Burial Order in itself was a notification.

While the system of Death Certificates and Burial Orders was designed to account for all deaths, the size of the colony and remote deaths made the system quite difficult to administer. Clearly it was quite indecent to leave a body unburied in the heat of summer while waiting for the arrival of someone with the appropriate authority to authorise the burial. There are examples in the records of police being notified of a remote death by letter from a pastoralist. There are also examples of police attending a remote burial and requiring an exhumation to certify the death. Many wandering men lay where they died for many years before being discovered.

There is no rule of thumb to determine if a deceased person’s death was registered. There are examples of persons lost at sea having their deaths registered when their body was never recovered and others suffering the same fate not being registered. Likewise some skeletons found in the outback were registered and others not. Some accident victims, the subject of an Inquest were registered and others not.

The Act of 1874 recognised unsigned registrations as legal, thus allowing for notification to the Deputy Registrar or his agent by letter rather than attending in person. It also allowed the registration to be made in any district rather than the district in which the event occurred. This can be a potential headache for modern day researchers who have to broaden their search from this date forward as a result.

Just how many deaths were not registered is something of a mystery. About 200 000 deaths were registered in South Australia in the nineteenth century. I would be surprised if the unregistered ones amounted to even 1% of that total, but if one of them was the subject of your research, I am sure you would like to know the details.

It should be noted that a number of entries in the Government Gazette Mortuary Notices have completely different names entered than those subsequently found in GRO Death Indexes. Therefore it is possible that some entries in this listing may have been registered under a differing name. Please check any record carefully. A typical example of this problem can be found in the Government Gazette 24 Oct 1878 p1200 where a Charles Boyer English age 75 is listed as dying at Ral Ral on 7 June 1878 whereas in SA Deaths 1842 to 1915 the man is listed as Charles Boyce of Chowilla age 75 died 7 Jun 1878 Ral Ral SA (Bk 88 p214). Likewise, a Broomfield dying in 1879 is recorded in the Police Gazette as Brumfield and a person called Magraf is recorded as Warggraf in 1878.

Data provided by Graham Jaunay.