Australia and New Zealand have long and complicated pasts, with Australia’s history dating as far back as 70,000 years when the ancestors of its Indigenous peoples first settled the region. European exploration began in the early 1600s, opening the door to centuries of immigration that started after Captain James Cook claimed parts of the region for Great Britain in the late 18th century.
Although stories of forced transportation and convict ancestry are familiar to most of us, the truth of Australia and New Zealand’s settlements are incredibly diverse and complex. And each family represents a unique part of this history.
In this article we have listed a variety of free record sites and resources to help you uncover the stories of your own Australian or New Zealander ancestors. Each one of these resources is detailed below.
Please note that we did not include FamilySearch in this list because the site is not dedicated to research in this region, however they offer 39 record collections for these countries, representing millions of records. Find these online collections here.
Although we have only included no-cost resources in this article the big paid subscription sites also offer many records. To discover how to find them visit our article on accessing the card catalogs of Ancestry, MyHeritage and Findmypast and then simply search for Australia or New Zealand in the provided search boxes.
12 Free Sites for Researching Your Ancestors from Australia and New Zealand
Every site in this list includes free searchable databases as well as learning resources. For links to pages that focus on learning and finding aids please see the separate educational sites list below.
The site offers 180 online databases for family historians. Records include cemetery research, electoral rolls, genealogies, vital records, convict ships, military records and more. This collection of databases requires that you be registered with the National Library of Australia. You can apply for a free card online by following the prompts, but this service is limited to Australian residents.
Trove is a freely accessible collection of resources from many Australian sources and includes a massive newspaper database where you can search for your ancestors. Because it is part of the library’s digital collections it does not require a library membership to access it and actual scanned and searchable newspaper pages are available. The library’s other digital collections, which include oral histories and photos, are available free to all as well.
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This AIATSIS holds information about Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander individuals, families, communities and places. You can also contact its Family History Unit to find information in other collections in Australia. This site also provides language instructions, research tips, and toolkits to assist you in your search.
The Australians in the Boer War (Oz-Boer) Database Project is a free online search aid to help you identify books, journals, webpages and other ephemera dealing with individual Australian soldiers and nurses involved in the Second Anglo-Boer War (1899-1902).
A variety of records are available online, as well as help and how-to aids on researching your family history as an Australian or within Australia as a foreigner. Find the Family History section here.
More than two million inscriptions and images are available for free from Australian cemeteries across the country.
Search for ancestors who served their country domestically or in wars on foreign soil, including WWI and WWII. Also includes many helpful resources. Jump directly to the search here.
This site is a library that provides links to many useful records. You can search for all kinds of information including looking up BDM records by various states, burial information, historic records for occupation and trades, state-held shipping and immigration records, last wills and inquest records, war records, adoption information, convict and court holdings, naturalization information, and census and electoral records. It also provides links to different local historical societies and groups that offer help and resources for your search.
The site belongs to the State Archives and Records Authority of New South Wales. It keeps various records such as immigration, divorce papers, convict registrations, railway records, and even early settlement information from the Colonial Secretary’s Papers 1788-1825. If you are looking for information of your ancestors of early colonial period, then this is a wonderful resource. The Papers provides a comprehensive index of early NSW settlement including petitions by convicts, marriage permission requests, memorials of potential settlers, land grants/leases applications, other court cases, etc.
The above link goes to their family history guide which includes information and links to many record types. To access searchable births, marriages and deaths visit the NSW Registry of Births, Marriages and Deaths.
The Archives also contain help for researching Indigenous Australian family history with a special guide for this topic found here.
A free index of obituaries found in Australian newspapers from 1803 to present, with an especially large amount of names from New South Wales and the Sydney Morning Herald.
More than 3 million pages of digitized New Zealand newspapers and periodicals. The collection covers the years 1839 – 1948 and includes 119 publications from all regions of New Zealand.
This site offers more than 3 million historical birth, death and marriage records for New Zealand. You can search the extensive index and order complete records when available.
These links point to learning and finding aids that can help you locate more records.
- The FamilySearch wiki for Australia offers a good deal of help, including a breakdown of states and territories and how records were collected and where they are stored.
- The Whakapapa Club site offers many resources for researching Maori ancestors. The Maori New Zealand Research Guide from FamilySearch is also a good starting place.
- A guide to researching convict ancestors can be found here from the State Library of Queensland or from Convicts to Australia. For more help read our article on researching criminal ancestors, which includes sites with records pertaining to transportation to Australia.
- The Society of Australians Genealogists is a wonderful website to locate information on researching your Australian ancestors.
- The National Library of New Zealand’s online genealogy section should be your first stop for help on researching your New Zealand ancestors.
- Australia GenWeb provides guidance and resources for researching your Australian ancestors.
By Melanie Mayo, Family History Daily with assistance from Isabel Wu
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