Beyond the Internet: Week 50 Licences

Beyond the Internet
Beyond the Internet

This is week 50 (alleluia!) of my Beyond the Internet series and this week’s topic still partially relates to occupation but is a grab bag: Licences

Bureaucracy isn’t a new thing and really we should be grateful for it historically, if not in our day-to-day lives. There’s so much that is documented thanks to the need for governments to raise taxes one way and another, and to monitor appropriate standards. I’m not going to deal with the professionals like doctors here as they are generally fairly easy to track down one way and another, and other occupations I’ve already written about.

Instead I’m going to briefly touch on some licences which may tell you about your ancestors. They may only tiny scraps of information but don’t we just thrive on any snippet?


pub2Some archives will hold copies of licences for ancestors who were publicans. As always what survives is a matter of luck really, and while the indexes may be online you will likely have to visit and/or pay for a copy of the actual document. For example here are relevant links, New South Wales, Victoria, Queensland etc.

You may also find references in the Court of Petty Session documents for your area of interest.

You will definitely want to see if any good books have been published about “your” pub, or hotels in general, as well as searching for images online or offline in reference libraries (search for the town, not the pub name).

Government gazettes will often throw up links publishing their licence, enabling you to see if your relatives moved from pub to pub.

Keep a look-out too, for local history websites about pubs in the region, as well as references to the hotel in local newspapers.


FARM HORSEHow about looking for horse and cattle brands? In the early days horses were day-to-day transport so you may well find out something about your ancestor’s livestock. Does it tell me much that George Kunkel’s brand was GK2…not really but it makes his farming work more real to me.

If you’re in Scotland, you might want to search the farm horse tax rolls or the female and male servant taxes (useful for my farming Sim family). You can find the link here (yes I know they’re not offline) but for those of us who aren’t in Scotland offline is good, especially for digitised original documents.


Shelley from Twigs of Yore talked about the public health requirements for her butcher ancestor, Daniel Miller Couper, in her Australia Day 2012 challenge and it provides interesting insights into how some occupations were carefully monitored.

Similar requirements were surely in place for the likes of bakers and confectioners but to date I’ve been unsuccessful in tracking them down for my own family.

I would generally expect that these might appear in the government gazette or be recorded by the Court of Petty Sessions.


Dog licences don’t appear to have been preserved in the records, though I’m willing to be corrected on that. However it was plainly a requirement as old newspapers will record that ancestors may have been fined for not paying their dog licence. Another of those moderately useless pieces of information that add texture to our stories.

Did you know that in the “olden days” (ie when I was young) you had to pay a licence fee to own a radio or TV? I expect it will take a while they become available, assuming they’ve been preserved. Just imagine our descendants being astonished by there being no television!

Will our car licences one day be available for our descendants to view? Will they be embarrassed by our choices in vehicles or will they be astonished at what we owned? Will they be impressed that someone that thought quite sedate once owned a flash car or be astonished by a mid-life crisis vehicle purchase?


I feel sure I’ve missed some licences that would be helpful to other researchers but my mind is simply not retrieving any. Have you used licences in your research? If so which have been helpful? Please share them with us via the comments or your posts.

5 thoughts on “Beyond the Internet: Week 50 Licences

  1. I have a relative who had a pub for a few years in Sydney. I have found his name with the licence information, published in the Sydney Morning Herald. I want to know WHY he had a pub though – he previously was a grocer. What prompted him to move into the pub business? And was it the pub that caused him to become insolvent soon after he gave up the licence? Unfortunately, these things are all undocumented and I’m left to wonder. : )


    1. It’s the unanswered mysteries that niggle at us, isn’t it Prue? I think we’re just never satisfied…there’s always something more we want:-) I suspect pubs were often not good financial bets..was it the location of the pub or that the customers didn’t pay. Is there anything in the insolvency papers at NSW State REcords?


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