25 years of Family History: reflection and celebration: Part 2

As I mentioned in Part 1, research in the “bad old/good old” days was very different. We’d probably all riot now if we were deprived of internet access to digitised records, Scotlandspeople, Findmypast, Ancestry, World Vital Records etc etc. We’ve all got used to the ready access to such a wide array of resources, many of which we would “never” have had a chance to look at: imagine, for example, trying to find someone in the Passenger Lists leaving the UK: 1890-1960 without actually knowing when they travelled.

Despite this, much was possible by visiting four different repositories of wonderful family history information. They were invaluable then but are equally relevant now: the “virtual world” of the internet means we can accomplish part of our research lists online and use these “real world” resources for documents etc which may never be digitised.

So my top four research venues then (and now) were:

  1.             Churches and church archives

I have to put this first because the information I obtained directly from the church or denominational archives, was pivotal to taking my families back through time. The marriage record for St Mary’s Catholic Church, Ipswich was the only place where my German ancestor’s place of birth was correctly documented – numerous birth certificates for his children had been unproductive. Similarly the Anglican Archives in Brisbane provided equivalent information on another early marriage. In both cases the information provided was significantly more comprehensive than that on the official marriage certificate. Church archives can be challenging places but I’ve had wonderful support from some. Read the story of how pivotal they were to my family here.

2.                 State Library of Queensland (SLQ)

SLQ was based in William Street in an old building and if my memory serves me, Shauna Hicks was one of the librarians on duty in those days. Historic newspapers were held on microfilm and so you would search for specific known events for your family eg obituaries, weddings, births, deaths, funerals and perhaps war service. No such joys as Trove with the ability to turn up completely random information about your family.

SLQ also had/has books of general historical relevance, especially for Qld families, as well as the indexes for births, deaths and marriages in Queensland. However, and this is a big one, the indexes had a very restricted time range making it a challenge to take your family back, or indeed forward. You had to become adept at using all possible resources to suss out further information – funeral directors’ records were especially helpful. At this stage you thanked heavens you were searching for uncommon names or had some clues about family background. I’d been lucky that my family is somewhat obsessive about keeping documentation and there were birth certificates held for both my paternal grandparents –invaluable clues

3.                 Queensland State Archives (QSA)

QSA was still housed in an old building next to Boggo Road Gaol when I first visited and signed up. There was limited support for researchers, certainly nothing like exists today, and there were no research guides. It took me quite a while to figure out how to find what I wanted and as I was working full-time my visits had to be limited to occasional flexitime days, but slowly the information built up.

The first time I visited QSA after they’d moved venues to Runcorn, around 1992, I couldn’t quite believe my eyes. We had just returned from an overseas trip where I’d done quite a lot of family research in various British archives and repositories. QSA’s facility was cutting edge and far more user-friendly and modern. It continues to be a wonderful resource which well merits learning the ropes: this is where you can add more flesh to your family stories. Like most archives it now has an increasing array of digitised indexes making it so much easier to navigate than previously. But like anything worth having, some of its secrets require “mining” and persistence and repay your efforts, or at least eliminate possibilities.

4.                 Family History Centres of the Church of Jesus Christ and Latter Day Saints (LDS/Mormons)

I think I was a bit uncertain about my early visits to the family history centres, quite unnecessarily. I used the IGI here and also at GSQ but I mainly used the centres to order in and read parish registers, cemetery records, and census films (the only way they came in those days). I still regard these microfilms as a cornerstone of my research and will often order all available films for a particular parish overseas. But don’t forget to see what’s available for Australia as well.

If you haven’t visited them, or their local equivalent wherever you live, do give them a try: they will reward your efforts with new jigsaw pieces for your family history puzzle, and I”m convinced we all  love a good trail to follow!

7 thoughts on “25 years of Family History: reflection and celebration: Part 2

  1. These two posts on Reflections and Celebration gave me the opportunity to do some reflection of my own. My mother started working on some of her family history — mainly by locating gravesites of her two older sisters who died in infancy. She gathered some pictures which I now have in my archives. The pictures snared me into family history. Who were those people of my past staring so intently at me from dog-eared sepia tones of yesteryear? And then I was off on a quest which continues still. Thanks for your reflections that lead to my own.


  2. Pauleen.

    I have used equivalent institutions in NSW but haven’t tried Church Archives. You’ve encouraged me to give this a go to see if I can find more details about some of my early Australian ancestors.

    I must also emphasise the local resources in country towns. Over ten years ago on a genie trip I got valuable information from libraries,museums and societies from Cobar,Canowindra,Cowra,Bathurst,Camden and Dubbo and other places I can’t immediately recall.

    You have caused me to reflect and realise that it’s time to undertake such a trip again.

    Thanks, Jill.


  3. Thanks Jill. Church archives can be really great…good luck with the hunt. A research drive sounds like a fun idea for the summer. Now you’re both retired it will be so much more relaxing and free-wheeling. Pauleen PS I’ve added the link to my story about the impact of church archives on my family history.


  4. I enjoyed reading your reflections. Libraries and archives are amazing places. My Mum became interested in family history in the late 1980s and I remember (when I was little) going to the library with her when she used the microfilm reader to search the BDMs indexes. Mum is often amazed at the records we can access now online, especially records for the UK and Ireland.


    1. You must be made of strong stuff Aillin…I think archives and cemeteries turned my children off FH ;-( Like your mum, I’m still amazed by what we can do now so easily.


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