University libraries for family historians

University of Sydney clocktowerUniversity libraries can be enormously helpful for your family history research, especially if you have one nearby. They have a lot of books and microfilms on the open shelves that are not available in most other libraries, or must be ordered and retrieved at the state libraries.

You don’t need to be a student or staff-member  to enter the library. The hours are usually extended into the evenings except during university holiday periods, although it might be better to avoid exams. You can stay all day and make cheap photocopies of what you find.

I attended the University of Sydney, which is in the inner city and a short walk or busride from Central Station. Fisher Library is the main library of the university, and there are smaller specialist libraries around the campus. As a graduate of the university I can pay $80 for a yearly membership that allows me to borrow books. Members of the public can also join in this way as well, although at a higher cost. See http://sydney.edu.au/library/borrowing/cards.html for more information. Other universities may have these provisions.

When you search for books, magazines, journals, or whatever on Trove, the National Library of Australia’s master catalogue (it’s not just for digitised newspapers!), you can also find out which library has what you are looking for. Here is part of the listing for the Historical Records of Australia:

HRA on Trove

The full series of the Historical Records of Australia is in 33 libraries in NSW alone, and most of them are university libraries, which are far more numerous than the state libraries. There may be one closer to where you live than you think.

Consider university libraries too when you visit other cities to research there. A couple of years ago I visited Auckland for a conference and stayed an extra week to do some research on my great-grandmother’s family. I found that Margaret Lowe nee Craig signed a petition in 1893 to give women the vote. Two or three of her sisters-in-law signed it as well, and appear on the same page. New Zealand was the first country in the world to give women the vote, and seeing my ancestor’s name on the petition gave me a real sense of pride – a real ‘Who Do You Think You Are’ moment!

I then spent a morning at the library of the University of Auckland, down the road from my apartment in the centre of Auckland, and found historical information and contemporary sources on the women’s suffrage movement. Reading about the history of the suffrage movement in the university library gave me the context in which this event occurred.

Outlines of the Women's Franchise Movement in New Zealand, by W. Sidney Smith, 1905.

Outlines of the Women’s Franchise Movement in New Zealand, by W. Sidney Smith, 1905.

Consider, too, whether your nearest university library may have microfilms published by the archives authority of your state. The University of Sydney library catalogue lists 80 titles published by the Archives Authority of New South Wales, all microfilms and books that your local library may not have.

The Australian Joint Copying Project was a project to make available to Australians and New Zealanders the the historical sources of Great Britain. Any microlim you see with a PRO prefix has come from this project, and includes Surgeon-Superintendents’ journals, Home Office records about convicts and Colonial Office records about immigrants. The whole set of over 10,000 films is available at the State Library of NSW and the National Library of Australia, but some universities outside Sydney and Canberra have some of the films most relevant to the courses they teach. The University of New England in Armidale, for example, has 18 series of films, of which this list is about half:

UNE Library Catalogue entry for 'Australian Joint Copying Project' microfilms

UNE Library Catalogue entry for ‘Australian Joint Copying Project’ microfilms

So don’t discount university libraries just because you’re not a student there. They may have just what you’re looking for!

What do you know about the house you grew up in?

My first house

I wonder how many of us lived in the same house all through childhood? I didn’t. I lived in four different houses from when I was born until I finished school and left home. I don’t remember one of them; I was too young and we weren’t there long.

The first house that I remember was in Carss Park, in southern Sydney. It was underneath the flight path and I remember planes flying over and scaring my younger sister. It was close enough to the local school that we could walk, even at that age, and we had to climb up a rocky lane through to the street behind to get there. It had a great backyard for kids to play in, and a patio with crazy paving that we used to roll marbles on.

Looking at it now on Google Maps I can see it has a swimming pool and most of the yard is gone. It seems much bigger, taking up the full width of the block, although I can see the flat roof of the garage so that must still be there in some form. I can also see the lane seems to be a smooth, grassy strip, not at all how I remember it.

Google Maps image

Google Maps

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The 1943 aerial photograph shows that the house was there even then. The houses I remember behind and above ours had not yet been built, nor had the house of the old lady next door. It’s hard to tell  but it doesn’t look like the garage was there either, although the back garden looks to have been laid out in a circle.

NSW Land & Property Management Authority, 1943 Sydney Aerial Photographs

NSW Land & Property Management Authority, 1943 Sydney Aerial Photographs

I also found a real estate advertisement for the property, showing a picture of the front of the house and the backyard, which I’m not going to show you for copyright reasons. The house looks totally different, without that rounded front you can see in the family photo at the top. The back yard looks totally different, too; it looks as though they’ve levelled the terracing to put the pool in. Nowhere for kids to play – it looks like somewhere for adults to ‘entertain’ now.

I’ve recently traced some of the history of the property and now I know that the name Carss Park came from the original owner of the property.

Map of St George Parish Cumberland County 1903

NSW Land & Property Management Authority: Map of St George Parish Cumberland County 1903 showing Carss Bush Park

It was subdivided in the 1920s into the blocks and streets that I knew.

My mother has told me some of our history in the house. We moved in after a year in Melbourne didn’t work out. My little brother was born while we lived there, and then my parents split up and Mum sold the house and we moved to Dubbo.

When I ordered copy of the title I found out some more.

NSW Land Title 4899-26

NSW Land Title Volume 4899 Folio 26, courtesy of NSW Land & Property Management Authority

My mother bought the house in her own name in 1960, before we moved to Melbourne. She immediately took out a mortgage, which most of us do. So the house must have been rented out while we were in Melbourne, and they would have had to get the tenants out when we decided to come back. She sold it after we had moved to Dubbo, which makes sense – she bought a house in Dubbo after we had lived at Gran and Pop’s place for a while.

Unfortunately, titles don’t have sale prices on them. For that I have to look at the individual dealings. One day I will; I would love to know what Mum paid for the house and what she got back when she sold it.

Have a look for the house or houses you grew up in. Not only will you learn something about your family, but it will bring back memories of the houses and your family living in them.

Atlas of New South Wales

NSW Lands Atlas ExplorerI remember the old Reader’s Digest Atlas of Australia that my mother had when I was young. Half of it had detailed maps of the country, but the first half showed New South Wales with different overlays to show the distribution of different things – people, minerals, spoken languages, and so on.

Now there is a similar atlas online, and it’s absolutely marvellous!

NSW Land and Property Information, or the NSW Lands Department as we know them, have set of maps online for historians and other researchers to play with. It’s called the Atlas of New South Wales.

There is quite a bit of contextual information on the site. The most important part, though, and the most fun, is the Atlas Explorer. This  allows you to view, in map or satellite image form, the State of New South Wales or Australia as a whole. For example, you can look at the Changing State Borders map and move the slider along the timeline to see when the different colonies were established and the borders of New South Wales changed as a result.

NSW Lands Atlas borders 1851

You can zoom in and out, choose different types of information within each map, and for some maps you can slide along a timeline to see how things have changed over time. Here is a list of the broad categories of maps available:

  • People
    • Populations
    • Health
    • Housing
    • Religion
    • Indigenous Population
    • Social Inclusion
    • Crime
  • Economy
    • Labour Force
    • Labour Underutilisation
    • Economic Sectors
    • taxation and Revenue
    • Agriculture
    • Forestry
    • Fruit and Vegetables
    • Oils and Grains
    • Livestock
  • History
    • Heritage Properties
    • European Settlement
    • Changing State Borders
    • Goldrush
    • Elections
  • Environment
    • Geology
    • Soils
    • Vegetation
    • National Parks
  • Census 2006
    • Populations Distribution
    • Indigenous Population
    • Housing Costs
    • Income
    • Dwellings
    • Religion
    • Languages

In the examples below I have looked at the maps for European settlement and moved along the timeline from 1820 to 1830. This maps shows how far Europeans settlement had spread in 1820:

NSW Lands Atlas European settlement 1820

This map shows the spread in 1830:

NSW Lands Atlas European settlement 1830

You can see how far Europeans had spread in ten short years. It had already overrun the Nineteen Counties and the Limits of Location. Port Macquarie had been established, and the spaces in between were being filled in. Compare this map with the Map of the Nineteen Counties on the State Records NSW website.

There is much, much more in the Atlas than I can describe here. Have a look around and let us know what you find.

Other resources:

Archives in Brief No. 22 Occupation of Crown Land Prior to 1856

Map of the Nineteen Counties

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