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Queensland Genealogy and Archives Research Tips

This page gives a brief overview of some important sources for genealogy, family history and local history research in Queensland. For more detailed information and problem-solving research strategies, see my book Tips for Queensland Research. It is in some libraries, but be sure to use the current edition described on my 'Publications page.


Births, deaths and marriages in Qld

NOTE!  On 16 Oct 2013 there were major changes to the Qld Registry of Births Deaths and Marriages Web site. Read my tips on how to benefit from those changes.

Queensland was part of New South Wales until 8 Dec 1859, and some events prior to Separation were registered in NSW. Civil registration began in Qld on 1 March 1856. To find out what details are shown on certificates, see www.judywebster.com.au/faq.html.

The Queensland Pioneer Index 1829-1889 and Queensland Federation Index 1890-1914 are consolidated alphabetical lists, on microfiche and on CD-ROM. The Pioneer Index has births, deaths and marriages registered 1856-1889, plus some early church records (baptisms and burials 1829-1856, marriages 1839-1856). The Federation Index has births, deaths and marriages registered 1890-1914. The CD-ROM indexes allow wildcard searches and searches on various combinations of fields, and you do not need to enter a surname. No index is perfect, and the CD-ROM omits some entries that are on the fiche, and vice versa.

On microfiche there are (for 1915 onwards) separate indexes for each type of event, and each index covers 5 years. Date ranges are births to 1919, marriages to 1939, deaths to 1964 - so there are some birth indexes on fiche that are not on the Internet.

On the Internet you can only search for births that occurred more than 100 years ago, marriages more than 75 years ago and deaths more than 30 years ago. Please note:

  • The registration year and event year may differ for births and deaths that were registered late. Indexes on the Internet do not give an exact date, though it may be possible to work it out by doing multiple searches with different date ranges. The quickest way to find an exact event date is to use indexes on fiche or CD. An exact date allows you to look for newspaper notices, or record dates for distant relatives whose certificates you do not wish to buy.
  • Indexes on CD-ROM (and now also the online indexes) let you omit both surname and given name. Consequently you can often find a death even if you don't know the deceased's married surname.
  • Online death indexes include some notes (birthplace, age etc.) that are not on fiche/CD. They may be useful if you cannot identify the correct entry from the fiche/CD indexes.
  • You may have trouble finding undated church records, and prefixes in online indexes may differ from those on fiche/CD, so read 'Search Tips' on the Registry's Web site.

Birth and death indexes show (if known) father's name and mother's maiden name. Marriage indexes on fiche and CD-ROM give the date and spouse's name (which may be a previous married surname). Indexes do not say where the event took place, except that 'B' in a registration number means 'Brisbane'. On fiche/CD, index prefixes include 'MAR' (marine birth or death on a voyage to Qld); 'MB' (memorandum of birth); 'LR' (late registration); and 'BA', 'BU' and 'MA' for church records before civil registration began; but different prefixes may be used in online indexes.

Some birth certificates have annotations, which may give year of marriage and/or death, married surname, year of death of the child's parent, etc. 'Cc' followed by a date means that someone applied for a certified copy on that date (but you cannot find out the applicant's name).

Certificates can be purchased from the Queensland Registry of Births, Deaths and Marriages. Their Website gives prices. Anyone can apply for certificates for births registered more than 100 years ago, marriages registered more than 75 years ago, and deaths registered more than 30 years ago. For more recent events, restrictions apply as explained on the Registry's Web site; but see the advice in 'Free Certificates in Archives Files'.

It is now possible to save money by downloading some Queensland birth, death and marriages certificates as images. Whether you receive an image or a certificate on paper depends on the date and type of event. Details are on the Queensland Registry of Births, Deaths and Marriages Web site.

Qld has no certificate transcription agents, but before buying certificates read the latest edition of the book Tips for Queensland Research. It explains how to view some certificates free of charge in probate files and various other sources. It also suggests alternative research strategies when you cannot find a certificate.

The Qld Registry of Births Deaths and Marriages holds:

  • birth, death and marriage registrations in Qld
  • Australian Imperial Forces deaths during World War I
  • World War II deaths of servicemen who enlisted in Qld and died in action
  • Marine births to 1915 and marine deaths to 1916 on voyages to Qld.

Immigration records and indexes

Although some 'assisted immigrants indexes' are on the Qld State Archives Web site, you must also (for both 19th and 20th century immigration records) check the card index to immigrants in the Public Search Room at Qld State Archives. It covers additional sources including some Immigration Agents' lists that say where or to whom a person went when they arrived. If you haven't found your ancestor's arrival you should periodically re-check the card index. This applies especially if you used the microform version of the index. Thousands of cards have been added since the index was microfilmed, and cards that were incorrectly placed are re-filed whenever mistakes are discovered.

For c1861-1907 see also the card index to Land Orders (which are immigration records, not land records).

Of special value are records of nominated immigrants and their nominators. For 1908-1922 there are typed indexes to all persons nominated (many of whom did not actually arrive) and the relatives or friends in Qld who nominated them. For 1923-1933 there is a card register arranged alphabetically by name of main nominee. Both series give the overseas address, age and occupation of the intending immigrant; address and relationship of the nominator in Qld; date/ship of arrival if applicable; and often other details.

When you know a ship's name, check Qld State Archives' card index to ships to find additional, unindexed records.

Another superb source is the Index to Emigrants from Hamburg to Australasia 1850-1879 (compiled by Eric and Rosemary Kopittke from Hamburg departure lists). This is now on FindMyPast.

See my article in Inside History magazine about 19th century immigrants to Australia who travelled using false identities.

The most common reasons why you cannot find an entry in Qld State Archives' indexes:

  • The person was not an immigrant in a Qld Government assisted scheme (eg, may have paid his/her own fare, or arrived via NZ, India, New Guinea, America, Africa etc.)
  • The person disembarked in a State other than Qld.
  • Indexing error has occurred (perhaps due to poor handwriting in the source).
  • Name was incorrect (or spelled differently) on the passenger list.
  • Passenger list is incomplete or has not survived.

Ages in immigration records are notoriously unreliable. If you cannot find someone in Qld State Archives immigration indexes, there are often other ways around the problem. The latest edition of the book Tips for Queensland Research gives various 'tricks of the trade' that may help. It also refers to records of people departing, passport records, coastal passengers etc.


Wills and Intestacies

Qld State Archives hold two main series of Supreme Court files, both of which may contain wills:

  • Supreme Court ecclesiastical files (commonly called 'wills')
  • Supreme Court Public Curator orders and elections files (commonly called 'intestacies', but they do include many wills).

Each series is subdivided into three Supreme Court Districts (Northern, Central, Southern). To find out where indexes and files for certain dates are held, use the six Search Procedures (one each for wills and intestacies, for each of the three districts) on Qld State Archives' Web site.

Qld State Archives have a combined index to Supreme Court ecclesiastical files ('wills') for Southern, Central and Northern Districts, 1857-1900. It corrects thousands of errors and omissions in the old indexes. If a previous search failed, try again now! This index covers all of Qld, but only for the ecclesiastical series. To find wills in the 'orders and elections' series you must use different indexes. WARNING! If you used this index before Feb 2006, only Southern District wills were listed, so check it again now.

The Archives have added some indexes to post-1900 wills to their Web site, but they do not cover all series or all districts, so read the explanatory notes.

Many files include the original will, various affidavits (often with useful information such as names, addresses and occupations of beneficiaries and their spouses), an inventory, and (from about the mid-1890s onward) a death certificate. Occasionally there are other certificates or even a photograph of the deceased. Some 'intestacies' also have similar documents. Those that don't will generally tell you when and where the person died, and their occupation. There are thousands of files in Qld for people who lived and died in other States or overseas.

There is no closure period on Supreme Court wills and intestacy files at Qld State Archives. A closure period does apply to a few files created by a different agency.

For more information, including suggestions on how to find wills not held by Qld State Archives, see:


Tracing people's movements using electoral rolls

In Qld, electoral rolls are very useful for tracing people's movements and locating living descendants. Qld has four separate series of electoral rolls: State rolls, Commonwealth rolls on microfiche, annotated Commonwealth rolls, and local government voters lists. State rolls and Commonwealth rolls differ. In general, State rolls give more information - but if you have no idea where a person lived, it is easier to use Commonwealth rolls because there are fewer electorates to search. The book Tips for Queensland Research explains why one series may be more useful than another in particular circumstances.

State electoral rolls (held by Qld State Archives) were generally produced annually. They start in 1860, but are incomplete for 1860-1874. From 1875 onwards they are complete except for 1887-1888 (missing) and 1976 (no rolls printed). In many cases an electoral district consists of several different divisions. Within each division, names are listed alphabetically (although some are arranged by first letter of surname only). As well as the annual roll, there may be bi-monthly supplementary rolls and lists of names added to or erased from the annual roll.

Indexes to Qld State electoral rolls 1860-1884 are now on FindMyPast.

Myles Sinnamon advises that a one-page listing of voters for the divisions of North Brisbane, Fortitude Valley, South Brisbane, and East Moreton was published on Sat. 7 Apr 1860 in the Moreton Bay Courier. This roll is not held at Qld State Archives.

Details shown in early State rolls are name and address only. Some rolls in the late 1890s / early 1900s give date of enrolment, age at that time, occupation, and address (which may include the real property description of land). Most 20th century rolls give name, address, gender, occupation, and date of first enrolment in that district. From about the 1920s until 1991 there are annotations showing what electorate someone moved to, the reason for their removal from the roll (e.g. death), change of name (e.g. when a woman married), and other useful information.

The categories of persons entitled to vote in State elections have changed over the years. Women became eligible to vote in Qld State elections from mid-1905. Enrolment for most men and women aged 21 and over was made compulsory by the Act of 1914. In 1974 the voting age was lowered from 21 years to 18 years.

Commonwealth electoral rolls start in 1903 (but early rolls for some districts have not survived). Some women appear on 1903 Commonwealth rolls, two years before they could be listed on State rolls. Enrolment for Federal elections has been compulsory for most Australian citizens since 1911. Commonwealth rolls were produced at irregular intervals (sometimes in consecutive years, sometimes 2 or 3 years apart). They give name, address, gender, and (until 1983) occupation. Some early rolls are alphabetical only by first letter of surname. Until 1988, each district consisted of many different divisions. From 1988 onwards the rolls consist of a single alphabetical list (one list for each State and Territory).

Commonwealth rolls between 1903 and 2008 are on microfiche at the National Archives of Australia (Brisbane Office) and at the State Library of Queensland. A current roll for all of Australia is on computer at Australian Electoral Commission offices. Some Commonwealth rolls up to 1980 are on AncestryAncestry but beware of gaps and indexing errors.

Queensland's Commonwealth electoral roll databases for 1903, 1913, 1922, 1934, 1949 and 1959 are now on FindMyPast.

Official (Annotated) Commonwealth electoral rolls for Qld are at the National Archives (Brisbane Office). For more information, plus advice about some of the traps involved in using State and Commonwealth electoral rolls, see the book Tips for Queensland Research.

Local Government voters lists:  see Local Government Records and Family History.


Inquests and related records

Inquests are magisterial enquiries held to establish the fact of death; the identity of the deceased; when, where and how death occurred; and whether any person is to be charged with a criminal offence. An inquest was held in cases of homicide, suicide, or drowning, and in many other cases involving sudden death or accident. There are some files for unregistered deaths, enquiries re missing persons, and cases where a body was not recovered.

Inquest files usually include signed statements by witnesses, describing the circumstances of the death and sometimes giving unique personal details about the deceased or his/her family. There may also be photographs and other useful items.

Qld State Archives hold Justice Department inquest files (a 30-year closure applies). There are new, corrected indexes for 1859-1880 and 1881-1886. Indexes for 1887-1926 are incomplete and sometimes inaccurate. From 1926 to the most recent year on open access, chronological registers of inquests include a name index arranged by first letter of surname.

Fire inquests (often held even if no death resulted) give the date, place and supposed cause of the fire; damage to property or injury to persons; signed statements by witnesses describing the circumstances of the fire; and names of suspected persons, if any. There are many files for hotel fires, some with sketches or detailed floor plans. Up to 1886, fire inquests are indexed by place and by name of owner or occupier. For 1887-1926, fire inquests are indexed by town, not by personal name. For more recent years, fires are listed separately in the registers of inquests. Check for cases involving the home, business, barn, haystack or woolshed of your relative or his/her neighbour.

Qld State Archives also hold preliminary enquiries into Brisbane deaths 1931-1962 for which, in most cases, no inquests were ordered. This series (JUS/Y) includes foreign servicemen, prisoners of war and others who died in the Brisbane area while visiting from interstate/overseas or on a ship. Some cases did go on to become inquests, but the JUS/Y files contain police reports giving extra details. There are separate surname indexes (each covering a few years) for the deceased and relatives/witnesses mentioned in the files.

Similar 'no inquest' files exist for some other districts, including Cairns 1955-1963 (indexed), Rockhampton 1870-1874, Georgetown 1902-1963, and Landsborough 1942-1965. Information about deaths (with or without an inquest) may also appear in Police Gazettes or records of the local Court of Petty Sessions, Magistrate's Court or Police Station. See the Qld State Archives guide Pathways: Inquests and Preliminary Enquiries.

For more information about inquests, and the traps involved in using them, see the book Tips for Queensland Research.


Benevolent Asylum records

The function of a benevolent asylum was to provide for poor people who because of age, accident, infirmity or otherwise were unable to care for themselves. The inmates included not only the elderly but also younger people. A benevolent asylum was not a mental asylum, but some people spent time in both. For advice about records of Dunwich Benevolent Asylum (including Qld Government Gazette notices re inmates), see the book Tips for Queensland Research.

Some Queenslanders (including unmarried mothers) are listed in the Sydney Benevolent Asylum Index 1857-1900 (opens in a new window).


Illegitimate children

There are many records that may name the father of an illegitimate child even if the birth certificate does not. Refer to my mini-guide 'Researching Illegitimate Children' (updated June 2014) and check the list of names from my indexing project.


People who 'vanished' - asylum, police and missing persons records, etc.

If someone 'vanished', I recommend that you start by using:

Other sources that may help to trace people who vanished include Council rate/valuation records;  passport records for people departing;  Premier's Department undertakings re fares;  prison records;  criminal depositions;  Police Station 'missing friends' books, letterbooks, watchhouse records etc.;  divorce files;  deed polls;  Helen Harris's index to missing persons; etc. For more information about those sources, plus some alternative research strategies, see the latest edition of the book Tips for Queensland Research. See also the list of names from undertakings re fares.


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