Australia Research Guide | Historic Newspapers
Historic newspapers are an extremely valuable source for family historians. Local and rural newspapers in Australia provided a lot of information about people and families in their area. Because newspapers frequently provided information about persons that is not available anywhere else, many researchers use them to help fill out the life stories of their ancestors.
Australia’s first newspaper, the weekly Sydney Gazette and New South Wales Advertiser began publishing in 1802. Since then thousands of other publications have been produced. These publications published birth, marriage, and death announcements, funerals, obituaries, inquests, court cases, legal notices, land sales, advertisements for businesses and military service, shipping intelligence and passenger lists, social events, church activities, school exam results, and sporting events.
Birth Notices – Personal announcements in newspapers may provide information on a birth which may contain the infant’s name, birth date, and parents’ names. They may also include the residence of the parents.
Marriage Notices – Marriage announcements could be published up to several weeks after the wedding. Aside from the bride and groom’s names, notifications may include the names of both parties’ parents, as well as the suburb or town where they live. In the twentieth century, some newspapers printed social pages that included photos or a comprehensive account of the wedding. In some cases, the newspaper reported the names of the visitors as well as what they were wearing.
Engagement Notices – Engagement announcements often included both parties’ residences, and their parent’s names and native places.
Golden and Diamond Wedding Announcements – These may provide additional family history information, such as a list of children, information about the couple’s life together, their movements, and in later years may even include a photograph.
Death & Funeral Notices – Death announcements can help a researcher learn more about their ancestors. They often recorded the name of the deceased, the date of death and residence. At times they also recorded family members’ names. Likewise, funeral notices are often recorded where the deceased would be buried and could be submitted by a number of people representing family members or organisations the deceased was a member of.
Inquests – Inquests into unintentional or suspicious deaths often appeared in newspapers, detailing the inquest or magisterial enquiry. These articles can include extensive accounts of the accident, witness testimonies and details of persons that were involved.
Obituaries – Obituary notices can contain a wealth of background information on an ancestor such as:
Please note that dates, names, and chronologies found in newspaper obituaries and articles might all be incorrect. This may have been done on purpose to conceal an embarrassment or a crime. Always double-check.
Shipping Intelligence & Passenger Lists – Incoming and outgoing overseas and coastal ships were generally noted in the local newspaper’s Shipping Intelligence column. At times passenger names were also recorded which can be invaluable where passenger lists have been lost.
Within a few days of the ship’s arrival in port, a narrative of the journey would frequently appear on the same page as the maritime intelligence section. It usually noted any unexpected events, as well as the number of births and deaths on-board.
Accidents – Newspapers often reported on major local events such as personal accidents, fires, shipping tragedies, mining disasters.
Crimes and Court Cases – Crimes and court proceedings, including theft, inebriation, assault, and murder, were often well documented in newspapers
Social and Personal Columns – These two popular newspaper headlines regularly reported community and sporting activities, along with interesting gossip about dances, church fetes, visits to town and other social events.
The National Library of Australia provides free access to digitised copies of historical newspapers via Trove. As of August 2021, Trove gives access to over 25 million pages from approximately 1,500 Australian newspapers and gazettes from every state and territory, dating from the first published newspaper in 1803 to 1954, when copyright is presumed to have ended. There are further fifty titles with digitised issues published after 1954 and nine after 2000 that have been made accessible with the publisher’s permission. This includes the Canberra Times, the Australian Women’s Weekly, Woroni, and the Chaser. In addition to the English-language press, the collections also include Australian publications in community languages such as Chinese, Japanese, Danish, Estonian, French, German, Italian, Polish, Swedish, Greek, Macedonian, Gaelic, Bahasa Indonesia.
Google News has made the Sydney Morning Herald available online. The scanned images begin in 1854 and continue to the current day. It’s not a full run, but it’s still worth your time if you’re searching for later publications that aren’t available on Trove. The newspaper is free to read and see, but you cannot print or copy the scanned images.
Pictured: Baines River, Nothern Territory – Thomas Baines