Researching your ancestors' occupations

How to identify your ancestors' occupations and find more information their employment history.

State Library Victoria

Library catalogue

Search the Library catalogue to find books, journals, images, company reports and personal papers. Try searching for the name of the publican, or the name of the hotel or pub. If there are several hotels with the same name, add the name of the suburb i.e. "Prince of Wales" Frankston. Enclosing keywords in quotation marks will ensure that the words are searched as an exact phrase.

Use the catalogue drop-down menu to limit your search to 'Pictures & photographs'. "Journals & newspaper titles" or  'Manuscripts'.


Colour drawing of  the Prince of Wales hotel, Frankston.

Prince of Wales Hotel, Frankston. H9328

Robert K Cole Victorian hotels index - 1841 to 1949

In our collection you can find the Robert K Cole collection of hotel records - an important resource for finding information about Victorian pubs and publicans.
Covering the years c.1841 to 1949, the information was gathered by  Robert Cole, a head brewer at CUB Breweries. Using such sources as post office directories, and newspaper and trade journal notices, he compiled brief details about certain hotels in a collection of exercise books. This collection has been made more accessible through two indexing projects by State Library Victoria volunteers.

  • The Cole-Tetlow index to the Robert K Cole collection - compiled by the State Library's Genealogy Team volunteer Eric Tetlow. This collection contains over 21,000 names of Melbourne and metropolitan hotel licensees.
  • The index to over 16,000 names of hotels and/or licensees from country Victoria - compiled by Australian Manuscripts Collection volunteers Dulcie Burns and Sally Hall.

The online index entries contain information such as the name of a licensee or owner, the location of the hotel, dates when the licence was held, and volume and page numbers to transcripts of the original volumes, which are located in the Newspapers and Family History Reading Rooms.

The following indexes may also help you with your research.

Searching the index

The Australiana Index can be accessed by selecting 'Australiana Index' from the dropdown menu in a catalogue search. To search the index:

  • Enter the name of the publican or hotel you want to search for in the Search box. Hint: If you get too many results, try searching the surname or hotel name followed by the phrase “index of Victorian hotels”
  • Select 'Australiana Index' from the dropdown menu
  • Click the search button (magnifying glass)

Click on any title from the search results to view the full index record.

The record will provide you with the information required to find that material. For further information please go to our Australiana Index research guide.

Liquor licensing - 1851 onward

Key licensing records can be found at the Public Record Office Victoria (PROV). Records need to be ordered for viewing at the PROV North Melbourne Reading Room. Records include -.

  • Licensing registers - Metropolitan  1852-1982  (Record series VPRS 7601)
    The registers record proceedings concerning liquor license applications for premises in the Melbourne metropolitan area under successive licensing authorities.
  • Licensing registers - Country - 1917-1981 (Record series VPRS 7602)
    Rural licenses from 1917. For earlier years please see local court records.
  • Licensing Court registers (various registers)
    Prior to 1886, registers of applications for liquor and non-liquor licences were created and maintained in local courts of petty sessions. The Licensing Act 1885  introduced separate Licensing Court for each licensing district. Registers for each district are held in this collection.
    * Transcript and images of the original Court of Petty Sessions register can be found on the Find My Past database (see below).
  • Licensing registers - Particular occasion permits, Metropolitan and Country -1969-1988  (Record series VPRS7603
    A Particular occasion permits allows an extension of time for serving liquor for a particular or special occasion, such as a wedding or New Years Eve.
  • Registers of owners of licensed premises - Convictions - 1886-1939  (Record series VPRS 7604)
    The registers record offenses against the Licensing Act.  Volume 1-7 cover Metropolitan areas, volume 8, country areas. Registers are indexed by the name of the premises and primarily list such offenses as serving liquor outside trading hours or permitting a drunken person on the premises.
  • Index to defunct licenses - 1907-1977  (Record series VPRS 8519)  1907-1977
    This is a card index arranged under the name of the premises. documenting licenses which have ceased. Information includes hotel name, location and licensing district, ownership and licensing details at 1907 and sometimes the licenses for earlier years.

Liquor licensing - Port Phillip District

Prior to the establishment of the colony of Victoria, the Port Phillip District came under the administration of New South Wales. The following collections includes records relating to publicans and public houses in the Port Phillip District.

  • Publicans’ Licenses Index 1830-1861 (NSW State Archives)
    Search the online index for an individuals name.
    Licences are not held for the period 1849-1852, so check the Trove Digitised Newspaper database or  the index to the post-1826 Colonial Secretary's Main series of Letters Received for records.
  • New South Wales, Australia, Certificates for Publicans' Licences, 1830-1849, 1853-1899
    Available on the Ancestry database (available onsite at the State Library Victoria and in most Victorian public libraries).
    A digitsed collection of publicans’ licenses for public houses in New South Wales (and the Port Phillip District) between 1830-1899. The collection includes butts of licenses that stretch from 1830-1899 and actual certificates from 1853-1860.


The Guide to Australian Business Records provides information on many existing and defunct Victorian breweries. Search by name or the keyword Brewery to retrieve a list of known resources, including depositories of archives. See this example for Carlton and United Breweries.

If the company still exists, check to see if they hold staff records in their archives.

Search the State Library's catalogue and the Trove database for company records relating to a specific brewery.. You may find a history of the company, annual reports, staff magazines or archived business records.

Our research guide Companies in Australia, provides an excellent list of resources for researching historical information on companies.

Several men, stacking or inspecting empty beer bottles

Loading the bottle washer, Carlton Brewery. H99.149/26

Newspaper articles

Newspapers can be particularly useful for finding information on pubs, publicans or breweries.

The Trove Digitised Newspaper database provides full text access to a range of Victorian newspapers, published between 1803-1954.

Try searching Trove for a name, a name and hotel, or the name of a brewery. Use quotation marks around keywords to search for an exact phrase.i.e. "Carlton United Breweries" "William Hudson".

Personal paragraphs, The Herald, 11 May 1937, p. 7.

If the newspaper isn't on Trove you may need to explore the collections held in the State Library's Newspapers & Family History Reading Rooms.

Newspaper databases

Our Library subscribes to a wide range of current and historic Australian and international newspapers databases. They are available in the Library and many can be accessed offsite by Victorian residents who are registered State Library members.

More information can be found in our Newspapers research guides.

What's brewing?

What’s Brewing ran between March 1950 and June 1967 and was developed to be the voice of Carlton and United Breweries. The aim of the  magazine was to bring staff together by keeping everyone informed of what went on in each section; by highlighting activities within the plant and by covering industry news. It was also a place to showcase sporting activities, social activities and personal events.
Copies are held in storage but can be ordered for viewing in the Library.


 Liquid strength, Victoria Brewery, Bitter ale bulk or bottle.
[ca. 1905]

Essendon Hotel

Interior of a pub - with several men standing at the bar

The public bar, Hancock's Essendon Hotel. H2011.52/49