Family history resources I use

July 24, 2022

I had lunch with some old school friends last week. In our far-ranging discussions, we spent a bit of time talking about our family histories and trees and I mentioned some resources that I use to manage (and find) all the information (I have some 12,000 people in my extended family tree software). I thought others who are interested in searching and documenting their family trees might also be interested, so I’ve listed below the various tools and websites I use. Note: I’m Australian, with the two threads of my family extending back to the UK and Prussia/Germany/Poland on one side and to South Africa (and the Huguenots) on the other. Part of the UK branch went to Canada and the US. Therefore, I use resources that have records from around the world, as well as a lot of local (Australian and Western Australian [WA]) records to track more recent twigs on my family tree.

Software I use to manage it all: Family Tree Maker (FTM), from https://www.mackiev.com/ftm/. About AU$115 (one-off payment, NOT subscription). I’ve been using FTM since the late 1990s and am very happy with it. There are other family tree software programs available, but I haven’t used any of them as I’ve had no need to move to something else. With FTM, you can also upload your family tree to Ancestry.com, but I don’t use that function.

Global resources

  • Ancestry (paid subs): My main source for official records (birth, death and marriage [BDM] records, electoral rolls, census records, baptism records, grave records etc.) is https://www.ancestry.com.au. Originally I just paid for access to Australian and UK records, but with relatives in the US and further back to South Africa, Prussia etc., I now pay for an annual worldwide subs (about AU$470/yr I think; it’s cheaper if you only want to access records just from a specific region). Ancestry has BILLIONS of official records you can search and link to your tree. You can also create your tree in Ancestry (or upload it from FTM), though I’ve never done so. Note: the sites that let you create your own tree on them give you the option of keeping your tree private (i.e. not searchable) or making it public. If you choose to make it public, be aware that living people, typically those under 75 but could be older, are typically NOT listed by any identifiable information.
  • Find My Past (paid subs): Another annual subscription I pay for is https://www.findmypast.uk, which has millions of UK records (quite a bit of crossover with Ancestry, but enough different that I maintain my annual subs with them); also has some US and other records too. About GBP180 per year for full access to all records (thought not the recently released 1921 UK census). Again, you can create your tree directly with them and not use special software.
  • Family Search (free): https://www.familysearch.org/en/ (part of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints [aka Mormons]). In addition to official records, they have thousands of publicly available uploaded family histories from members, which can cover many other records (e.g. some of my South African links on this site go back to about the 900s in the Netherlands, France etc., but I haven’t verified these, so I take them with a very large grain of salt; actually I treat anything before about 1750 with a great deal of skepticism, unless I can view the actual record). You don’t need to be a Mormon to search on this site and I think you can create your own tree on it too.
  • Cemetery records (free for basic use): Gravestones also carry a lot of information, and the global cemetery site linked to Ancestry.com is https://www.findagrave.com/ (free); you don’t have to be an Ancestry member to use it. Another worldwide gravestone site is https://billiongraves.com/.

Australian and Western Australian (WA) resources

In addition to the global resources above, which have very extensive Australian records, I also use these resources:

  • Newspapers:
    • For Australian newspaper records before about 1980 (date depends on the archival rules for various newspapers and public domain use), you CANNOT go past Trove from the National Library of Australia (free): https://trove.nla.gov.au/search/advanced/category/newspapers?l-artType=newspapers&keyword= This link is for the start of the newspaper search and you can use the filters on the right to narrow your results (e.g. if you’re looking for your own birth notice, you could narrow down to Western Australia / Family Notices / [decade] / [year]). Back in the day most Australians would announce major life events in their state and/or local newspapers—BDM, of course, but also engagements, funeral notices, wedding anniversaries, etc. and these all give information. Trove includes lots of smaller country newspapers as well, and many of these have social columns that read like the Facebook of today (e.g. “Miss Susan Smith visited her sister Mrs Mabel Brown in Albany last Tuesday.” and from that you might find out that Mabel Smith’s married name is ‘Brown’ so now you’ve added another piece of information to the puzzle).
    • The West Australian newspaper has various BDM and funeral announcements online, though it’s a clunky interface. I’m not sure if you have to be a West subscriber or not (I am, so I don’t know if non-subscribers can see these announcements): https://www.westannouncements.com.au/ You can search back ‘all time’ but I don’t think the online records go back more than about 10 or so years.
  • Cemeteries (free):
  • Marriages (free): For WA marriages (up to about 1965?), the reverse marriage search is brilliant as you can search by either party and it tells you who the spouse is (not as easy in the official Australian marriage records on Ancestry where you only get one party and a reference number to try to match to the other): http://www.wamarriage.info/
  • Teachers (free): If your ancestor was a teacher in WA, then the old Education Department ‘stud books’ from 1900 to 1980 are available online here: https://www.carnamah.com.au/teachers These are great for verifying names and where people lived and worked in particular years.
  • Official WA BDM records (free): https://www.wa.gov.au/organisation/department-of-justice/online-index-search-tool Has birth records only to 1932, marriages to 1936, and deaths to 1971 (there are laws about sharing information about people who are living and/or under a certain age). Other Australian states have similar websites, but the amount of information freely available can vary and some require payment to access details of individuals.
  • WA vehicle registrations (free): The busy Carnamah historical society has added a searchable database of some 80,000 records of vehicle registration data from 1915 to 1928 for Western Australia (metro and country): https://www.carnamah.com.au/ (direct link: https://www.carnamah.com.au/car-registrations)

See also: https://cybertext.wordpress.com/2015/10/05/the-usability-of-gravestones-and-memorial-markers/

[Links last checked July 2022]

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