Aboriginal people and family history

A guide to resources that will help you to research Aboriginal Australian family history.

Basic research steps: genealogy and family history research for Aboriginal people

Talk to family members where possible

The most important place to begin is with family members. If possible, get family members and relatives talking about what they already know about names, places of connection and family relationships. Details of Aboriginal genealogy are often well remembered through a family's oral history, however, sharing memories may be upsetting for some. Finding out where your family lived can lead to knowledge of a traditional area that a family may be connected to. Ask about important events such as births, birthdays, marriages and deaths. Even if exact dates or facts are unknown, the stories may contain clues for further research.

Begin compiling a family tree overview and a family group chart

Compiling a basic family tree overview (commonly known as a pedigree chart and a drop line chart is about getting the 'actors' in your family story in their correct positions on the charts according to their relationships. As you gather information you can can add it in the charts. The State Records New South Wales provides an online Indigenous family history worksheet.

Start with yourself and work backwards in time

Record your own details on a family tree overview chart then move backwards to your parents, grandparents and so on, one generation at a time, confirming the details in official documents where possible.

Advanced guidance for compiling a genealogy can be found in the article, Barwick, Diane, Bell, Diane, Merlan, Francesca. 'Genealogy: tracing family history' in Handbook of Aboriginal and Islander history (Canberra, Aboriginal History, 1979), pages 41-46.

Begin to collect written and printed documents

Examples of written and printed records include, birth, marriage and death certificates, cemetery records, church registers, directories, land records, electoral rolls, wills and probate records.

The administrative records for Aboriginal mission stations and reserves are important records for Aboriginal family history research. Enquire at state and national archives about available government administrative records. Information about locations of and access to government records can be found in the National resources, Victoria and Other states and territories sections of this guide.

The Australian Institute of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Studies (AIATSIS) provides excellent guidance for beginning your family history research. Their Family History Kit contains a wealth of very useful information.

Proof of Aboriginality

Information about proof of Aboriginality can also be found in the AIATSIS Family History Kit.