Finding Your Ancestors: Researching Aboriginal Family History in NSW

Most Aboriginal people are already historians. They hold knowledge of family ancestry, culture and history, and often treasured family photos and documents. There is much more to find online and in libraries and archives, but if you haven’t searched in these places before, it can be a bit hard to know where to start. Finding Your Ancestors is a project to encourage and help you to take your first steps into researching your family history.

On this website you will find a series of short videos to help you plan your research and get started. It doesn’t take special equipment or training, but there are tips you can follow to help you get the most out of your research. There are also links to more detailed guides to help you find out more. So please have a look and join our monthly Zoom Q&A sessions, which you can book online in the RAHS Calendar of Events, if you’d like to ask some questions. You can also download a special article about the project that was published in History Magazine.

In this introduction video, Dr Shayne Williams, La Perouse Aboriginal Community, explains why finding your ancestors is very important and gives examples from his own research on what you can discover about your family networks. Historians Paul Irish and Michael Bennet then explain the benefits of reflecting on your motivations for starting your family history research journey.

In our second video, Paul and Michael discuss why you should talk to your family before getting started. You will learn why it is important to organise your research and why you should not believe everything that you read about your ancestors. Kodie Mason, La Perouse Aboriginal Community, then shares how listening to her family stories inspired her to start researching historical records, and why you too should have a go.

In this third video, Paul and Michael will show you some easy ways to search for your ancestors using Google and the National Library of Australia’s free online database, Trove. You will learn how to narrow your searches on Google and the importance of finding a balance between searches that are too wide or too narrow. You will also find out how to search for two types of records that you will most likely want to access through Trove – images and newspaper articles.

In our fourth video, Paul and Michael will show you how to search for records online using the NSW Registry of Births Deaths and Marriages (BDM). You will learn tips to help narrow your searches, including finding ancestors who had common surnames or whose surname might have been misspelt. The official certificates you find can provide useful clues about your ancestors, and in some cases may include cultural information.

In this video, historians Paul Irish and Michael Bennett explore the NSW Tindale Genealogies at the State Library of NSW with the assistance of SLNSW Indigenous Service Librarians Ronald Briggs and Melissa Jackson.

Special thanks to Debra Beale, Dr Shayne Williams and Kodie Mason for their generous contributions to this project.

This project was supported by the City of Sydney through a 2020 Cultural Sector Resilience Grant.

This project was supported by Create NSW through the Arts Rescue and Restart Package - Stage 2.

Artist: Debra Beale, Gamilaraay/ Wonnarua and Boonwurung/Palawa/Yorta Yorta nations across Australia.

Title: Journey of Our Ancestors. © Debra Beale, Deboriginal

‘My artwork represents a healing journey. It depicts a song line of the ancestors guiding us on our spiritual journey, connecting us back to family and community.’

For more information on Debra, view the Boomalli Aboriginal Artists Co-operative website or contact