To build a family tree back to the first (European) immigrants is the goal of most of us. It is impossible to predict how much work will be involved and how long it will take. Some branches may be easy to track with a chain of birth, marriage and death certificates and parish register entries, and on others we may get stuck and need to trace siblings to get the clues we are looking for. In either case we need to start with birth, marriage and death certificates from the most recent generations possible, and we work back from there.
Purchasing certificates is the most expensive part of the process. Civil registration of births, marriages and deaths began in 1856 in NSW, and most certificates after this date must either be purchased from the NSW Registry of Births Deaths and Marriages, or transcriptions purchased from official transcription agents at a considerable saving, although there is a slight risk of transcription errors. When we get one lot of certificates back we usually then have enough information to order certificates for the previous generation, all going well.
I usually prefer to order the birth, marriage and death certificate for every ancestor in the tree, especially where there is some doubt that we have the correct marriage or parents. This is the most accurate method, especially where there is some doubt about any one record. An alternative is to only order the certificates that are strictly necessary to continue the tree back further, which is sometimes possible.
Once we get back before 1856 we can search parish registers for baptisms, marriages and burials, which are the only records we can access before this date.
Eventually for each branch we will find that the ancestor states that he/she was born outside of NSW, and so we can look for the immigration. Assisted immigrants are the most convenient for us as family historians because of the information they had to provide, including parents’ names and where they were living. Most immigrants fall into this category – that’s why they came, to make a better life for themselves. The more well off immigrants paid their own passage and are difficult to find as there is little to distinguish them from others of the same name.
Of course, the first immigrant on a branch may be a convict. Most researchers are excited to find a convict these days, although attitudes in the past meant that this information was kept quiet. Convict records are good in that we know where they came from and what crime they committed except for the early arrivals, but it is difficult to find parent’s names for convicts unless they are published in local newspapers or the trial records of children.
What were their lives like?
Once we have the basic tree and have found how each branch first arrived in Australia, and perhaps traced the family further back in the old country, we can find more personal information about each person. This kind of information can give us an idea of what sort of person the ancestor was – what they did for a living, how much land they owned, what was left to the children when they died, and so on. This search involves looking in a large number of places for a large number – probate, convict records, newspapers, electoral rolls and directories, police records, and many more. Police records include victims of crime as well as criminals. Probate is the process of proving that a will is valid. Deceased estate files include an inventory of assets so that death duty could be calculated. And so it goes on. Not every type of record is available for every ancestor, particularly women, but can be a goldmine when they are found.
In some cases it becomes necessary to search for this kind of information in the absence of birth/death certificates so that we can determine parentage and so on.
There are many different ways to present family history –
Ancestor chart – charts can be designed to suit the family and can be printed in colour and framed or laminated
Website – a website allows more complete information to be presented than is possible in a chart, including siblings and descendants, and more complete information about each person. Photographs, maps and other images can also be displayed.
Website on a CD – the same website can be built and stored on a CD for privacy reasons. A CD can include living people that would be excluded from a public website, and make excellent gifts.
Photobook – if we are lucky enough to have photographs of our ancestors we can turn them into a photobook, with a description of each person. These also make excellent gifts for family.
Book – a book is a long-term project, only possible once we have enough information to make a book worthwhile. A book can include charts, photographs, maps, scanned copies of letters, postcards, certificates and other documents, and a story about each person.