Land Research for Family Historians in Australia and New Zealand

Land Research for Family Historians in Australia and New Zealand

My new book Land Research for Family Historians in Australia and New Zealand is out now at Gould Genealogy and History.

In the book I have tried to display the main types of land records available and give a summary of where they can be found in each Australian state and territory, and in New Zealand.

Here’s the blur from the back cover:

Land research can tell us so much about how our ancestors lived and worked. It can help us find out the truth about stories we’ve heard, and can give us a much richer picture of our ancestors’ social and economic position. It they owned a house, business premises or rural property there are records to be found, many of which contain a wealth of information.

We can also break down brick walls using land records that we have been otherwise unable to solve. Buying or selling property may have been the only time our ancestors dealt with government in colonial times, and land records can contain evidence such as birthdates and names of family members; information that is recorded nowhere else.

This book will introduce you to the main types of records you can find, such as deeds and grants, Torrens titles, Crown leases, selections and conditional purchases, closer and solder settlements, title applications, maps, and plans. We will look at what they mean and where to find them in New Zealand and each Australian state and territory.

Whether you are researching the history of your house or tracing the history of an ancestor through the property they owned, this book is for you.

Contents:
Abbreviations
Preface
1. Introduction
2. Why land research?
3. Challenges
4. Where to start
5. Where to find land records
6. How to find land records
7. Old System grants and deeds
8. Crown leases and licenses
9. Torrens Title
10. Title Applications
11. Government purchase schemes
12. Maps ad plans
13. Local land records
14. Putting it all together
Addresses
Further reading
Glossary
Index

 

Council rates assessment books for the City of Sydney and Newtown

Rates assessments can tell you a lot about the owners and renters of land. The content varies between councils and over time but at the very least you can see who is living in the property, the type of building, and the value of the land and improvements. You can check subsequent books to trace changes in ownership and tenancy over time.

This information is particularly useful for the early 1800s if your ancestors were not eligible to be enrolled to vote, either for property or gender requirements, or the early electoral rolls have been lost. They can also help in tracing land ownership for pre-Torrens Title land where Old System deeds have to be found one at a time.

CSA027377 p56 1848 Sydney Place
Sydney City Council Archives, CSA027377 p56, 1848 Sydney Place

The image above has been taken from the City of Sydney Council Rates Assessment books 1845-1948. These books have been transcribed and indexed, so that you can search for a surname or street name, and bring up a list of results. When you click on a result you get a transcription of the page, and if you scroll further down the page you can see an image of the original page. The little square in the middle of the page is the magnifying glass that hadn’t yet opened.

SCCA CSA027377 p56 1848 Sydney Place transcription

Even back then in 1848 we could see the name of the resident and the name of the owner. In those days the occupier was responsible for paying council rates, and so both are listed. We can see the type of building; what it was made of; what the roof was made of; and the number of floors and the number of rooms.

City of Sydney Council Rates Assessment books 1845-1948 transcriptions and images are here –> http://www3.photosau.com/CosRates/scripts/home.asp

Newtown Rates and Assessments 1863-1892 (transcriptions only) are here –> http://www.sydneyarchives.info/rate-books

For the Newtown books you need to know which Ward your street was in. There are maps to help you identify the Ward. You can then select the book for the Ward and the year you want and search the PDF yourself.

Some tricks to be aware of:

  • House numbers Most properties did not have house numbers in the 1800s. The house number column in the assessment books refers to the number of the house in the book, not in the street.
  • Street names may have changed since the books were compiled, particularly in the inner cities.
  • Surnames may be spelled differently from one year to the next, and given names may not always be shown. Tenants’ names may be less than informative, with names such as ‘Bob the Jew’.

Most local councils have kept their rates assessment books, although they probably don’t go back as far as this. They may have been microfilmed and made available at your local library, or they may have been deposited with State Records NSW. If State Records or the local library doesn’t have them check with the council.

Image: Sydney City Council Archives, CSA027377-056, 1848 Sydney Place.

A Timeline of Land Ownership

Researching New South Wales land ownership is complicated by the changing regulations and historical events of the time, and it pays to know what regulations were in force at the time of purchase or transfer of ownership.

Here is a brief timeline of the land regulations and events that affected land holders at the time.

1788 – First settlers arrived in Sydney Cove. Governor Phillip was empowered to grant 30 acres of land to freed convicts, with an additional 20 acres if married and 10 acres per child.

1789 – Non-commissioned officers and privates were entitled to receive an additional 50 acres to encourage them to settle.

1792 – First free grants of land were made.

1810 - Many land grants had been made before Governor Macquarie’s arrival to replace the deposed Governor Bligh. Macquarie revoked many of these, although most were reinstated.

1825 – Orders received for a general survey of the 19 Counties of the Colony. Introduction of fees for large grants of land.

1826 – Land could only be taken up within the ‘limits of location’ within the 19 Counties.

1831 – Free grants abolished; land had to be purchased through public auction.

1833 – The Encroachment Act allowed for the appointment of 13 Commissioners of Crown Lands in an attempt to curb the settlement of Crown land (squatting) outside the 19 Counties.

1834 – Survey of the 19 Counties completed.

1836 – First act passed to formalise grazing rights beyond the 19 Counties for leases of £10 per year.

1847 – Colony was divided into Settled, Intermediate and Unsettled categories, with leases available for one, eight and fourteen years respectively.

1856 – Responsible Government granted to the Colony of New South Wales. Requests for land dealt with by Surveyor General rather than the Colonial Secretary.

1859 – Lands Department established under John Robertson.

1861 – Crown Lands Alienation Act introduced ‘free selection before survey’, or Conditional Purchases. The Crown Lands Occupation Act allowed all Crown land to be selected for purchase, including the pastoral leases of others.

1862 – Real Property Act introduced Torrens Title, a centralised, government-guaranteed, system of land title to replace the British Common Law system.

1884 – Crown Lands Act set out a comprehensive system of land tenures, including conditional leases for land adjoining conditional purchases, occupation licenses, homestead leases, and special purpose leases. Land districts were established and superceded the local land agents.

1900 – Real Property Act consolidated previous acts. Still in force today.

1907 – Closer Settlement Act allowed for land to be purchased by the government within 15 miles of a proposed railway line for division into small lots for farming purposes. Later acts followed.

1916 – Returned Soldiers Settlement Act relaxed the restrictions on the type of land resumed and allowed returned soldiers to settle on it.

1919 – Conveyancing Act established ‘good root of title’ for Old System land, requiring only a thirty year chain of title instead of all the way back to the first land grant.

1941 – War Service Settlement Act allowed for land to be set aside specifically for servicemen or ex-servicemen. A training certificate had to be obtained before land was allocated.

1961 – Strata titles commenced with the  Conveyancing (Strata Titles) Act.

1975 – government reorganisation brought the Torrens Title (Land Titles), the Deeds Registration, and the Crown Titles Branches into the Department of Lands when the Registrar-General’s Office was transferred. The name of the Land Titless Office has been changing ever since.

Sources and Bibliography

Hepburn, S. Real Property Law, 3rd edition. Pyrmont, NSW: Thomson Legal and Regulatory Australia, 2008.

NSW Department of Lands, A Guide to Searching New South Wales Land Title Records in the Queens Square Office of Land and Property Information Department of Lands – User Guide – Searching the Records of the Registrar General. Sydney: Department of Lands, 2008.

NSW Department of Lands, From Crow Quill to Scribbling, History of Pre Computer Mapping, Lands Department New South Wales. Sydney: Department of Lands, 2005.

Ryan, R.J. (editor). Land Grants 1788-1809, A record or registered grants and leases in New South Wales, Van Diemen’s Land and Norfolk Island. Five Dock, NSW: Australian Documents Library, 1981. First published by Keith A. Johnson and Malcom R. Sainty, 1974.

State Records NSW. Archives in Brief 93 – Background to conditional purchase of Crown land.

State Records NSW. Short Guide 8 – Land Grants, 1788-1856.

NSW Lands Department User Guides

The NSW Lands Department, or Land and Property Management Authority as they prefer to be known [or Land and Property Information as they are now known - 2012], have reformatted and republished their collection of User Guides. Here is a complete list, blatantly lifted from their website:

First Stop Guide to the Records of the Registrar General (PDF 1.2MB)
Published 20 Apr 2011

The First Stop Guide is the first of five publications that detail the history of and information about searching and accessing land titling records in NSW. This guide aims to be your “First Stop” in helping you decide which publication(s) suits your particular searching needs.

A Brief History of the Records of the Registrar General (PDF 3.1MB)
Published 20 Apr 2011

This publication offers a brief history of the Office of the Registrar General since its inception in 1843 and the records it holds which date back to 1792. It also describes how land was initially acquired and consequently managed.

Old System Information and Search Guide (PDF 9.8MB)
Published 20 Apr 2011

This guide explains the intricacies of Old System land title and offers advice and tips on how to search the indexes and documents that have been registered with the Registrar General since New South Wales (NSW) was founded.

Searching the Registrar General’s Maps and Plans (PDF 4.7MB)
Published 20 Apr 2011

This guide has been prepared to provide a reference guide to Land and Property Information (LPI) mapping and plan resources and as a research tool for historical inquiry.

Torrens Title Information and Search Guide (PDF 5.0MB)
Published 20 Apr 2011

This guide describes how Torrens title information has been recorded historically and offers practical information on how to locate current and historical Torrens title information.

I haven’t examined them in detail as yet, but on first inspection they appear to be much more manageable and more concise than the old ones. The Old System Information and Search Guide is 45 pages and is much clearer and more friendly than the old 148-page User Guide to Old System Searching published in December 2009.

Here is an example. This is the first page of Chapter 1 of the old (2009) and new (2011) versions:

NSW Lands old Old System Guide Chapter 12009

NSWLands Old System Guide Chapter 12011

No comparison really. The descriptive text appears to be the same, at least in the first few pages, but the explanations are much clearer.

I recommend you go and find these guides if you have any interest in land and property in New South Wales. Researchers from other States are also likely to find the explanations useful, as the types of land records are similar in all States.

With grateful thanks to the NSW Land and Property Management Authority

A conditional purchase application

Conditional Purchases were introduced in 1862 as a way of getting small landholders on the land. They selected a portion of land, paid an initial deposit of %10 of the value, and then had to pay it off. The conditions were that they had to reside on the property, and they had to improve it – build a house, fences, etc. They could select land before it was surveyed, so by the time the surveyor came around there was often some improvements already built, which the surveyor often described and marked on the plan.

My ancestor Richard Eason (1829-1922) selected some land near Blayney in 1871. The land is Portion 199: 40 acres in the Parish of Graham, County of Bathurst, which is just north of the town of Blayney in New South Wales.

The Conditional Purchase number and Richard’s name was recorded on an old parish map:

Graham Parish map 1884 detail

Historical parish maps can be viewed on the Parish Map Preservation Project website. The names that appear on the maps are those of the first title holders. Conditional purchasers could take 30-40 years to finish paying the land off, and if there was a mortgage involved then the bank became the first title holder. Later maps of this parish show the City Bank of Sydney on this portion.

With the Conditional Purchase number, CP71.252, it is possible to examine the Conditional Purchase Register for that year at State Records NSW:

Conditional Purchase Register 1871

The register gives a summary of the history of the purchase up until the title was issued by the Registrar General. Transfers of ownership to mortgagees can be seen, as well as the transfers back to Richard when he discharged the mortgage. Each of these transfers required a separate form to be filled in, and these forms are part of the correspondence for the purchase.

You can get quite a bit of information from the register, but if you want the actual documents you have to go further and trace the correspondence through the Correspondence Registers. It sounds easy but it is quite time consuming, and easy to make mistakes and lose your way. You must write down each document number recorded in this register, and then find each one in the relevant Correspondence Register to find out what happened to the document. It was either put away or filed with another document. If you are lucky, all the documents will be filed together and you will eventually find where they are. If not, you have to find and retrieve each one separately. If you are very unlucky, you may lose the trail and be unable to find the document, or the document may have been misplaced.

Here is the original application form:

Conditional Purchase application form

There are many other documents for this purchase, including:

  • 1871 – a letter from the surveyor in which he describes the improvements made by the applicant and the land contained an extra 6 acres and 3 roods, which the applicant had agreed to pay for.
  • 1871 – a list of deposits paid, with £1.13.9 against Richard’s name
  • 1874 – the Declaration of the Conditional Purchaser, where Richard declares that he has been in contonuous residence and made £50 worth of improvements
  • 1897 – Notification of Alienation of the land to Richard Chambers (his older sister’s nephew). I believe this to be the result of a mortgage.
  • 1885 – Transfer of Conditional Purchase returning ownership of the land from Richard Chambers to Richard Eason
  • 1891 – Transfer of Conditional Purchase to the City Bank of Sydney in consideration of the sum of £450
  • 1904 – Transfer of Conditional Purchase back to Richard Eason
  • and so on

The land title was eventually issued in 1916, at which point the entries in the Conditional Purchase Register end, as control was passed from the Conditional Sales Branch to the Registrar General.

On the map you can see many other names of the people that Richard must have known. Robert and William Ewin were his brothers-in-law. A sister-in-law married a Thornberry. The Easons, Ewins and Thornberrys all came from the same couple of parishes in County Tyrone in northern Ireland.

Richard built a house on this land and raised his family in it, even though his wife died not long afterwards. His son John raised his own family there. John’s son Richard, my grandfather, sold the land and took the materials for his own building.

A couple of years ago I visited this land and saw the remains of the house. I have written about this previously. I met the current owner of the property, who gave me a photo of Richard’s son John Eason, my great-grandfather, that I had never seen before.

Fernside

I’ve traced many conditional purchases since then, but none have been as exciting as this first one for my great-great-grandfather!

Further information:
State Records NSW Archives in Brief No 93 – Background to conditional purchase of Crown land

This post is based on a post previously published for Australia Day 2011 on my blog Carole’s Canvas.

What use are land records?

compass 300x220Land records are a much-neglected resource in family history. Land and property is an important part of most people’s lives, whether they are paying off the mortgage on the house they live in, or rent business premises, or own farmland. Land records can tell us much about our ancestors’ ownership of, and attitude to, their land and property; they can tell us about the history of a house or piece of land; they can tell us who owned the land before or after our ancestors did, or who they rented it from. Land records can help to fill in the details of an ancestor’s life that make him or her seem more like a real person than a file of birth, death and marriage certificates.

Why look for land records? Land records can tell us much about the financial standing of our ancestors. Purchases, mortgages and sales of property reflect the fortunes of the landowner, whether it was farmland, investment property such as houses or business premises. An initial investigation of my grandfather, Richard Eason, a farmer and grazier in the Central West of NSW, showed that he started off with very little land and a mortgage to the Bank of New South Wales (now Westpac) in the early 1920s before he married, and later sold many parcels of land in the 1950s before moving to another town, indicating the increasing prosperity of the family. His father, John Eason, owned one small neglected farm when he died in 1933 according to his Deceased Estate File (for the calculation of death duties) but a search of the land records showed he owned many parcels of land over his lifetime.

Land records can also show us the history of a house or property as nothing else can. Who built the house, who owned it before our ancestor did, who bought it afterwards, who built the extension, when was the sewage connected, what did it look like, how was it furnished – these questions may be able to be answered by searching for relevant records. The signature of our ancestors may appear on some documents, and some may have been wholly hand-written by the ancestor.

What do we mean by land records? Land records are those created for the recording of land transactions – grants, purchases and leases, and sales, including mortgages and transfers. These records are generally kept by the Land Titles Office, now the Department of Lands, although some have now been handed over the State Records NSW. Old System land transactions and Torrens Title deeds show purchases, mortgages, transfers and sales, often with maps and diagrams. Parish maps show the name of the original purchaser or grantee of the land and that of the neighbours. Primary applications to change Old System land over to Torrens Title can contain much information about the family where proof was required of transfer of ownership. Conditional purchase files may contain the original request for the land. There are many different types of records that cannot be covered here.

Although some of these records, such as primary applications and conditional purchases, have now been archived with State Records NSW they can only be identified using Land Titles Office reference numbers, so a search must always begin at the Department of Lands.

What other records are there? Related records were created by other government bodies, and are mostly now kept by State Records NSW. Deceased Estate files relate to the administration of death duties, which were payable from 1880 to 1958, and may contain certificates of Valuation of Property, schedules of furniture and other assets, and balance sheets of businesses. Local government records include development and building applications, rate and valuation records, and maps and plans showing water distribution, sewage and the location of public amenities such as schools, parks and shops.

Land records are time-consuming to find but can be of inestimable value in filling out our family history and knowledge of our ancestors. In a later blog I will discuss how to go about finding these records.

Sources:

Land and Property Information NSW. A Guide to Searching New South Wales Land Title Records in the Queens Square Office of LPI NSW, March 2002 Edition. Sydney: Department of Information Technology and Management, 2002.

Regan, Des, and Press, Kate. How to Trace the History of Your House. Ringwood, Victoria: Penguin, 1990.

State Records New South Wales. Archives in Brief 29, 93, 106, 108Â and 109. Sydney: State Records NSW, 2006.