Australia Research Guide | Church Registers
Recording of Australian baptisms, marriages, and burials began on the voyage of the First Fleet in 1787 and continues to this day.
The content in church registers differs depending on the historical period and the church official who documented the event. In general, the most current records provide the most detailed information.
Baptism Registers – Generally, children were baptised within a few days following birth. Baptism registers typically include the names of the child and parents, the status of legitimacy, the names of witnesses or godparents, and the christening date. Other information may include a birth date, age (if the baptism is of an older kid or an adult), the father’s employment, and the family’s address.
Marriage Registers – Marriage registers usually include the marriage date, the names of the bride and groom, their marital status previous to the marriage, and the names of witnesses. Other details such as age, address, employment, parent’s names, and birthplace may also be included.
Burial Registers – Burials are recorded in the church registers of the local congregation where the person was laid to rest. Burial registers include the deceased’s name, as well as the date and location of death or burial. They may also include other information such as the deceased’s age, place of residence, cause of death, and names of surviving family members. Occasionally, the date and location of birth, as well as the names of the parents, are provided.
The beginning date for church records is different for each State:
When compulsory registration began in each State, all churches were directed to submit their registers to the Registrar General in their State; however, it should be noted that not all churches complied and that many church documents were either destroyed or retained by the church.
The following repositories hold early church registers:
New South Wales – The NSW Registry of Births, Deaths, and Marriages provides online indexes to its collection of church pre-1856 baptisms, marriages, and burials. These entries were obtained from the original church registers or from the Clergy Returns, which were copied from the original registers. Certified copies can be ordered through them.
Queensland – The Queensland Births, Deaths, and Marriages Registry holds baptism and burial records between 1829 and 1856 and church records for marriages 1839 to 1856. The State Library of Queensland also holds some early church records of baptisms, marriages and burials.
South Australia – The South Australian State Library has a large collection of church records, including baptism, marriage, and burial registers, as well as pictures, administrative records, correspondence, and Sunday School records. Their most comprehensive records relate to the Anglican, Methodist and Presbyterian churches.
Tasmania – Libraries Tasmania holds many records on behalf of churches in Tasmania. It should be noted that some church register records from before 1838 can be found in their births, deaths and marriage registration records.
Victoria – Early church records of baptisms, marriages and burials 1836 to 1873 can be searched through Births, Deaths and Marriages Victoria online indexes. Certified copies can be ordered through them. The original church registers were transferred to the Public Records Office Victoria (PROV) in 2018. These records are available to order and view in their North Melbourne Reading Room.
Western Australia – The State Records Office of Western Australia holds church registers of baptisms, marriages and burials for Perth, Fremantle, Guildford, York, Canning, Wellington, Plantagenet, Albany, Upper Swan, Vasse and Augusta for 1829-1841. They also hold compiled records from various parish registers c1840-c1920. The Battye Library holds extensive collections of baptismal, marriage and burial registers for a variety of places in all the major Protestant sects.
Unfortunately, there isn’t one place to go to find all surviving church records and after civil registration began, many church records were kept in local custody. Sadly, some record collections have been damaged in fires and floods over time, and some records have been lost or were never recorded at all. This was especially true when a clergyman had a large region to cover and simply forgot to write the information in the church register. It also should be noted that some baptisms, marriages, and burials of Catholics, Presbyterians, and other outlying residents were not recorded in the early years of the Colony and many couples did not marry or baptise their children.
If you’re unable to locate the church registers you require for your research in the above repositories, try contacting the Church Archive (if you know your ancestor’s religious denomination and location) or check if the local family history group has any published records or transcriptions.
The following descriptions of Australia’s major religious influences may also be useful.
The Church of England – The Church of England was the State Church of the Australian colonies until the Church Act of 1836. The first church service was conducted on February 3, 1788.
The Presbyterian Church – Founded by Scottish and Scots-Irish immigrants, the first congregation was established in New South Wales in 1803.
The Methodist Church – The Methodist Church was formally established in Australia in 1815; however, Methodists were gathering in Sydney as early as 1812.
The Roman Catholic Church – Irish-born immigrants and their descendants were important to the establishment of Catholicism in Australia. The first Catholic mass was conducted in 1803 when two priests were sent to administer to the needs of the Irish community.
Baptist Church – By 1831, the Baptists had begun to hold services. They have, however, never made up more than 1.5 percent of the population.
Pictured: New Zealand Gully near Rockhampton, Queensland, James Howe Carse (a.k.a. J. Carr)