Health and welfare records

A guide to researching health and welfare records for family historians

How to find hospital records

Note that hospital records are generally closed for the approximate lifetime of a person, due to privacy embargoes. If you're the next of kin, you may be entitled to access the records, but you will need to make an application to the holding agency.

Finding hospital records can depend on a few things: 

  • If you already know the name of the hospital
  • If the hospital still operates
  • If it was a public or private hospital
  • Whether records have survived

If you already know what hospital your ancestor was treated at, you are more likely to be able to find records.

If the hospital still exists, try contacting them directly to see what archives they hold.

If the hospital no longer operates, there are a few places where records can end up. They may have been transferred to another hospital (if the establishments are connected administratively or one succeeded the other). For example the Monash Medical Centre holds historical hospital records for the Queen Victoria Hospital, Prince Henry’s Hospital and Moorabbin Hospital, among others. If the hospital was run by the Victorian Government, records may have been transferred to the Public Record Office Victoria after the hospital was closed. Some records are held in collecting institutions like State Library Victoria or university archives.

If you do not know the name of the hospital, you may need to do some detective work. If your ancestor died in a hospital, this could be listed on a death certificate or in a newspaper notice. If you know what area they lived in, you could research what hospitals were operating nearby. You can find lists of hospitals in old directories or mentioned in newspapers. You could also try searching published hospital record indexes to see if you can find your ancestor.

Even if you do find records relating to your ancestor, it's unlikely that detailed hospital files on your ancestor have survived. You may find hospital admission and discharge forms that could tell you a small amount about their visit, or there may be surviving 'ward books' or 'case notes' that can contain more detail.

State Library Victoria collections

State Library Victoria holds a number of published indexes to, and copies of, Victorian hospital records. Among them is the Index to Victorian Goldfields hospitals' admissions on CD-ROM, which is a great resource if you had ancestors who spent time in the goldfields area. This index can be viewed in the Library's Newspapers and Family History Reading Rooms.

 Detail from Index to Victorian Goldfields hospitals' admissions

A variety of other indexes and record sets are available in the Library's collection or via free websites - see the below (non-exhaustive) list:

Dates Index name and contents Location
1855 - 1907  Maryborough and District Hospital, Victoria index to admissions GMF 93 box 1
1856 - 1879 Index to Melbourne Lying-In Hospital Midwifery Book No. 1 (1856 – Mar. 1879) ONLINE
1856 - 1879   Melbourne Lying-In Hospital, Midwifery Record Book No. 1, from Aug 19th 1856 to Mar 15th 1879 (former name of Royal Women’s Hospital)
Records “the patient’s name, age, marital condition and parity or number of previous deliveries; date of admission and discharge. It then recorded details of the labour and delivery: the time in labour (which generally meant the time in second stage or heavy labour), the presentation (head, breech, transverse) and whether the baby was born alive or was stillborn. If the baby was alive, its sex, weight and length were noted, as were any interventions such as the use of forceps, or any manipulation by the accoucheur [male midwife] of its presentation. Complications such as prolonged (‘tedious’) labour, haemorrhage, pre-eclampsia or obstructed labour would be noted, along with occasional social comments such as ‘a notorious thief’ or ‘brought in by police’”.
ONLINE Note: no longer accessible via Royal Women’s Hospital website. Contact RWH Archives for access
1856 - 1880 Bendigo Hospital admissions, Index Book 1 and 2, 1856 – 1866 Book 3 to 6, Nov.1866 – May 1880 GMF 93 box 1
1856 - 1905

Patients in Melbourne Hospital 1856- 1905
The index is of 49,552 names in the Melbourne Hospital (now The Royal Melbourne Hospital) Ward Books, each hyperlinked to a set of details extracted from the patient's medical record. An estimated 2,000 Ward Books are extant but many more have disappeared. 451 Ward Books have been indexed for this CD-ROM. These books are held at the Public Records Office Victoria (PROV). Not all the extant books in the period to 1905 have been indexed yet.

Every indexed name is hyperlinked to a set of details extracted from that patient's medical records in the Ward Book. These details include the patient's name, age, and admission date together with some or all of the following: the patient's biography, birth place; the ship on which the person travelled to Australia and its arrival date; whether married, widowed or single; occupation; religion; residence and the result of treatment. Each set of details includes the full reference to the relevant Ward Book's location at PROV. A patient's disease or complaint can only be ascertained by viewing the Book at PROV, or by using the GSV's Research Service.  

Indexed and produced by volunteers of The Genealogical Society of Victoria Inc.

CD-ROM Available on PCs 1-5 in the Newspapers and Family History Reading Rooms
1856 - 1913 Ballarat Base Hospital Admission Register GMF 93 box 1
1861 - 1924 Darragh index to the Melbourne German Sick and Relief Society membership, 1861-1924
Melbourne German Sick and Relief Society (also known as the Melbourne Deutscher Krankenverein) records are held in the Library's Manuscripts collection. This is an index to the membership records that comprises over 1200 names, translated and compiled by Dr Tom Darragh. The index is searchable on the Library's Australiana Index, and sometimes gives information relating to a member dying in a particular hospital.
ONLINE via the Australiana Index GMF 91 box 2 LTMF 197
1863 - 1883 Creswick Hospital Index in-patient’s register GMF 93 box 1
1867 - 1880 Deaths in the Melbourne Hospital: Index Pt. 1, April 1867 to December 1868 Pt. 2, January 1869 to December 1870 Pt. 3, January 1871 to December 1872 Pt. 4, January 1873 to December, 1874 Pt. 5, January 1875 to December 1876 Pt. 6, January 1877 to December 1878 Pt. 7, January 1879 to January 1880 G 994.51 D34F (index) G 994.51 D349F
 

 

Hospital records in the Australian Manuscripts Collection:

The Library holds some hospital records in the Australian Manuscripts Collection. These records can be found by searching the catalogue for hospital and confining the search to Manuscripts.

As with welfare records, hospital records held in the Library's collection are available subject to access restrictions and privacy embargoes, due to the personal nature of the contents. The item's catalogue record will contain further details about any access restrictions, and for further information you can contact the Library via the Ask a Librarian service.

Records held by other organisations

Public Record Office Victoria (PROV)
PROV may hold records from government run hospitals. For more information see their guide to Hospital patient records.

Royal Women's Hospital Archive
The Royal Women's Hospital holds some historical patient records in its archive. You can request access to health records under the the Freedom of Information Act 1982.

Monash Medical Centre
The Monash Medical Centre holds records for various hospitals, which have either closed or been absorbed by the Centre. See their website for more information about the records held and what can be accessed.

University of Melbourne Archives
The University of Melbourne Archives holds records for the Dental Hospital Melbourne, as well as the papers of many health professionals and professional healthcare bodies.

Family Search
Log in to or create a free account to access these records:

Search for more records by place name using the Family Search catalogue.

Melbourne's Hospitals

Foundation dates of Melbourne hospitals
Hospital Date of foundation
Melbourne Public Hospital 1841
The Melbourne Hospital

1848

The Women's Lying-In Hospital (later the Royal Women's) 1856
Eye and Ear Hospital 1866
The Alfred Hospital 1869
The Children's Hospital 1870
Prince Henry Homeopathic Hospital 1876
The Austin Hospital 1882
St Vincent's Hospital 1893
The Queen Victoria Hospital 1896

Proust, A.J., A Companion to the History of Medicine in Australia (2003), page 98.

What was life like?

A variety of different sources can give insight as to what a hospital stay might have been like at a particular point in time. These resources could range from published histories of hospitals or patient memoirs through to hospital reports and historical images and so on.

You can search the Library catalogue for a hospital's name to find out what resources the Library holds relating to that institution. 

You may find a variety of results, from photographs and architectural drawings through to histories and annual reports. You can refine your search by adding keywords such as 'history', or by changing the scope of the search to a particular format type such as 'Pictures and photographs'.

 

 

Many items, especially pictures and photographs, have been digitised and are freely available to view online but some you will need to request either via our catalogue or by giving us a call. The library catalogue for the item will let you know what to do. If you want to request an item you will need a Library member number. If you are not already a member you can register online.

 

Austin Hospital, Heidelberg. H13945

State Library Victoria

Note - we have just upgraded our Library catalogue and are updating some links on our guides.

As we do this some catalogue links may not resolve correctly.