September 3, 2021
Last week I discovered that I have cousins in Australia. Not just one or two but a whole cluster. I discovered this surprising fact when I ran across a whole group of DNA matches who were Australians. At first I couldn’t figure out exactly how I might be related to these folks from “Down Under.” I was intrigued and decided to try to figure out the connection.
Turns out it wasn’t too difficult to find the connection once I really looked. I’ve always known that one branch of my mother’s family moved to New Zealand when it was first being settled by Europeans. I hadn’t noticed before, but when I checked, I realized that one of those New Zealand families moved to Australia around 1900. Now I knew where those Australians I’m related to intersect with my line.
I guess I could have left it at that, but, being a nosy genealogist, I really wanted to try to find out more about those folks. Especially since that particular line had historically tended to be well-populated with black sheep – my favorite kind of relatives!
Although I consider myself a relatively experienced genealogist, I’d never done any research at all in Australia. I assumed that Australia, like New Zealand, would have decent birth, marriage and death records online – at least indexes – and that there would be some online newspapers. Otherwise, I had no idea where to start.
I could have done what I’ll bet at least a few of you have done when confronted with a new place to research. That is – nothing – just plugged the names of the folks I wanted to research into one or more of the huge websites like Ancestry, Family Search or Find My Past and hoped for the best. I’ll admit I’ve done that before, but it’s definitely not the best way to approach researching in a new place. You’ll probably find some records, but it will be hit or miss. The chances are great that you’ll miss a lot of readily accessible records that are online, just not at the big boys’ websites.
In this case, I really wanted to know about things like newspapers and court records. Black sheep tend to show up in those kinds of records. I didn’t just want a few records, I wanted the big picture of how records might be organized in Australia and where I might find them online. Since I’m pretty much restricted to online research right now, I wanted to do the most complete search possible.
I started with a quick visit to the Family Search Wiki (https://www.familysearch.org/wiki/en/Main_Page ). It’s my first stop when I want an overview of how to research in a new area. It details what records for an area are available, how they’re organized and how you might access them. In the case of Australia, It includes a category called “Getting Started in Australian Research” which gives you links to articles about research strategies.
My next stop to learn about Australian research was Cyndislist (https://www.cyndislist.com/categories/ ). Cyndislist is another important resource when you’re trying to figure what might be available for a certain place. Cyndislist has been around for decades, but it’s still one of the best places to check when beginning a new research project. In this case, there were nearly 1600 links for Australia covering everything from DNA to electoral rolls to civil registration.
As a final step, I checked my most recent go-to aid to research – Legacy Family Tree Webinars (https://familytreewebinars.com/ ). The website has a huge library of recorded webinars on a variety of topics by some of the best genealogists in the world. In the case of Australia, I found nearly twenty webinars covering everything from civil registration to census substitutes. Each webinar is around an hour and includes a handout to download. While the webinars are not free after the first week they’re posted, a year’s subscription costs less than $50. So far I’ve watched a couple of webinars on Australia including one that details exactly what records each of the big four genealogy websites (Ancestry, FamilySearch, Find My Past, My Heritage) hold for Australia. Just exactly what I needed to know before beginning to research my family in Australia. There are several more that are on my “must watch” list while I learn more about Australian research.
At this point, I’ve spent most of this week learning how and what to research in Australia. While I’m not exactly an experienced researcher now, my little crash course in Australian genealogy has prepared me to do more than just plug names into databases and wait to see what happens. Hopefully, I’ll be able to locate some records that answer some of my questions about my new-found relatives from Oz. I’m certainly more prepared to do so than I was a week ago.
Researcher/Director at Large