Researching your Victorian ancestors

A guide to family history research using the major Victorian resources

Key research steps

The following steps outline an effective strategy for researching your family history.

As you begin your research we suggest that you consider your approach as finding information on a person, performing a particular activity in a specific place and time. This is a very useful way of thinking that will help you to focus on your task and research more efficiently.

Start with yourself

Move backwards one generation at a time to your parents, grandparents, etc. Be sure to write down everything you already know including details of marriages, births, deaths, occupations etc.

Obtain a blank pedigree chart

Use a pedigree chart to document your findings in the appropriate place and to show relationships between family members. Fill in what you know about your ancestors including key dates, events, relationships etc. Or consider using a drop-line chart to show the descendants of a given person or couple.
You can download or print a simple pedigree and drop-line chart below.

Talk to your relatives

Talk to as many relatives as possible and ask them questions about their lives, their ancestors and other relations. It's a good idea to compile a list of questions beforehand - to keep you on track. Your relatives may all have different stories to tell so write down or record everything they say and be sure to always verify the facts by using official sources.

For information on how to record and preserve your family interviews investigate some of the oral history handbooks held here in the Library.

We also suggest that you make copies of any relevant family items they may own including family photographs, diaries, letters, wills and birth, marriage and death certificates.

Identify & collect records

After you’ve gathered the documents you have at home, your next step is to identify other sources of information. There’s a vast range of records and resources available in Australian libraries, archives and family history societies which can help you with your  family history research.

Here at State Library Victoria you will find one of the largest family history collections in the country, with the Family History & Newspaper Room being dedicated to the study and research of family history. In this room you will find an extensive range of books, journals, eResources, and newspapers. There are also other collections in the Library that may be useful to your research, including the Manuscripts, Pictures and Australian History collections.

There are also a number of comprehensive and specialised collections available in other Australian agencies including the National Archive of Australia, Public Record Office Victoria, the Genealogical Society of Victoria and Family History Connections.

Click on the tabs at the top of this guide to find more information about the resources that you can use to research your families history.

Analyse the documents you have gathered

From your birth certificate you learn the date and place of your parents’ marriage. From your parents’ marriage certificate you gain the information which should enable their birth certificates to be obtained. From these you will obtain the date of your grandparents’ marriage, etc.

It's also important to check and cross-reference your sources, as it's disappointing to have invested time and money on researching someone who turns out not to be related to you. You can find tips on how to evaluate your sources in many of the genealogy books in our collection, or by going to the Evaluate the evidence page on the FamilySearch wiki.

As you analyse your documents you will start to notice how certain types of records can be particularly useful for opening up new avenues of investigation. For instance official birth, death and marriage certificates contain a wealth of information -  from your birth certificate you may learn your parents’ marriage and birth details; from your parents’ marriage and birth certificates you may obtain information about your grandparents’ marriage and births and so on.

Other documents that are also valuable include wills, letters. diaries and photographs. Wills include the names and relationships of beneficiaries, names of witnesses and details of finances, land and possessions. Letters, journals and diaries provide amazing details on an individual's life and photographs are wonderful time capsules that help put a face to a name and place a person in a social, historical and geographical context.

Get organised

Throughout this entire research process we recommend that you keep a record of all the information you have gathered - birth dates, places, baptism dates, addresses etc. Include the source of the information and make sure it's very specific so you can locate it again if required.

Start a file for each person and each family that you research and be sure to include copies of charts, certificates and documents that you find. Some researchers use family history software to store their records and there are many online products now available. For futher information on genealogy software please go to the Victorian GUM website.

Whats on

  • Finding families In this introductory webinar, learn the principles of family history research and find out how to access family history resources through the State Library Victoria.
  • Researching your home This webinar will help to answer the questions and curiosities you may have about your family home, whether it’s the house you’re living in now or the scene of your childhood memories. In this session we will include ways to research your family home, finding previous occupants and uncovering  the social history of the area.
  • Newsworthy learn how to navigate the Library’s extensive newspaper collection in this live and interactive online session. You'll dive into the millions of words printed on both current and historical articles in our online databases, and discover how to find specific newspapers in hard copy, online and on microfilm.


Whitfield family

Grace Whitfield and her children, Red Streak, Creswick. 1874

Grace Whitfield and her children, Red Streak, Creswick. 1874. H2015.74/3