Beyond the Internet: Week 21 Pensions

Beyond the Internet

This is Week 21 in my Beyond the Internet series in which I explore the sources of information beyond our computer screens. This week the topic is Pensions (Australian and Ireland).  Please do join in and add your comments or better yet, your own post, on your experience with pension records.

This topic probably falls into the peripheral category because it is not necessarily going to add a great deal to your knowledge of your family. Still every little snippet helps to round out the story so it’s worth looking to see what’s there.


The Australian state-based pensions ceased mid-1908 when the Commonwealth took over this responsibility. In the early years of the 20th century you will need to look at your state archive. PRO Victoria has a searchable index here and this is the reference for Queensland State Archives. Queensland’s pensions only cover the very narrow period of 1908-1909, but you never know you might be lucky. I have found only one of my ancestors in these records and while it doesn’t tell me a great deal it does tell me that he was sober and responsible and had minimal assets, because these were among the conditions under which the pension was provided.

Queenslanders will once again find Judy Webster’s research contributions heaven-sent with her guide to the pensions and pension indexes. If you find an ancestor’s name in there, you can also get Judy to provide a copy for a relatively small fee.

Please add your experiences with other states, we’d all be interested to hear about it.


Ireland’s “pension records” can be invaluable, as in claiming the pension people had to establish their year of birth. The pensions took effect from 1909 for those over 70 years of age. Due to the late start of civil registration (1864), the evidence used was often the 1841 or 1851 census returns. The individual had to provide parents’ names and their residence at the time of the census so that these could be checked.  There are a couple of good online guides here, definitely worth reading. One option for searching is here.

When I first learned of this research opportunity, I was very excited! It seemed like this would be the doorway to learning about my Mary O’Brien’s family at the time of one of these two critical censuses (finding 1851 would have been like winning the lottery). Mary’s sister, Honora, had remained in Ireland and lived on a poor piece of land in the townland of Ballydonaghan near Bodyke, Co Clare. There’s little doubt from the estate records that their economic condition was vulnerable but perhaps it improved sufficiently over time that she was not eligible for the pension. I was very sad that her name did not appear in the list at the National Archives of Ireland, and so I could not use this gateway to resolve the 1841 or 1851 composition of my O’Brien family. It now seems that even had I found her listed it may have only provided her own details and not the whole family’s.

So if you have Irish ancestry, don’t forget to see if you also have the luck of the Irish and can find your relatives among the pension verification documents.


I have no real experience with these, but of course there are also military pensions like the Chelsea Pensioners. Anyone want to add something about these?

A thought: don’t forget that most of our ancestors will have done hard physical work throughout their life. For them the pension was about not having to struggle on as their strength dwindled.

9 thoughts on “Beyond the Internet: Week 21 Pensions

  1. Thanks Pauline… this certainly is “food for thought”. Grandpa’s Australian Pension records (in the 1950’s) may give me info about his birth family because he had to provide a birth certificate. Even though it was his brother’s…the parentage would be the same (I guess 🙂 Will do some investigating to see if these can be accessed. Wonder if you have any tips? Cheers, Catherine.


    1. I don’t know Catherine -I haven’t explored Commonwealth ones and not sure whether they’re available or not. Is his birth certificate not available in the usual way? It’s certainly a pertinent question to follow up.


      1. I’ll let you know how I go Pauline… The birth certificate for Grandpa’s brother was accessed for him by the union in the 1950’s. My prob is it’s a rather common name, not sure where he lived, age, parents names etc… but I’ll get there eventually
        🙂 …


  2. I know nothing about NSW pensions. I’ve never even considered them. I’ve never seen them mentioned anywhere either, not even at the archives (that I’ve noticed anyway).


    1. Do let us know if you find any NSW pensions Prue so we can all be “in on the act”. Records are such variable things -ones that are available in Qld, aren’t in NSW and vice versa. I guess it’s just knowing what MIGHT be there so we can go looking, with our fingers crossed. I didn’t learn a lot from Qld pensions,but every little bit of info adds to the picture.


  3. I know nothing about US pensions, but this post makes me curious about what is available. There are so many resources if you just know how to access them.


    1. It will be interesting to know if there are US pension records Sheryl. Like you say, there’s just so much hidden out there that we don’t think about, and others have made me think further too.


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.