For Beginners

There is a wide range of resources available at the State Library for researching your family history. It can be rather overwhelming for beginners, so we would recommend attending one of our regular introductory genealogy tours or workshops. See our Tours and Workshops page for full details of what’s on.

What type of information can I find?

Using our collections you may be able to discover:

  • when someone arrived in Australia
  • when someone was born, married or died
  • what your ancestors did for a living
  • where someone lived
  • photographs of your ancestors or of where they lived or worked

Where should I go?

Western Australian material is housed in the J S Battye Library of West Australian History on the 3rd floor. Material relating to the rest of Australia and other countries is housed in the Genealogy Centre also on the 3rd floor. The Family History tours explain the key resources held on both floors.

Can I get help?

If you are just starting out, you may like to visit when the Western Australian Genealogical Society Inc. (WAGS) volunteers are in attendance in the Genealogy Centre. They are on duty on Tuesdays, Wednesdays and Thursdays 9.30am – 1.00pm. Library staff at the enquiry desks will also be able to help you get started with your research.

How do I get started?

  • One of the most important things to remember for family history research is to begin with yourself and work backwards. Start by writing down everything you already know about the family and map out a rough family tree
  • Collect together material which can help with your family tree. Items which you may already have at home include certificates, photographs, diaries, letters, medals, family bibles, wills and other legal documents
  • Talk to relatives and record their memories. Remember, though, that family stories may not be entirely factual and will need to be confirmed
  • Decide how you are going to record all the information you find. This can be on paper, in a family history software program or a combination of the two

Resources for Beginners


There are many introductory handbooks available in the State Library. Try searching our catalogue with the keywords genealogy handbooks or browse the shelves in the Genealogy Centre at 929.1.


The State Library subscribes to a number of family history journals. You will find these on the family history display stand in the Genealogy Centre. They often include articles for beginners on topics such as choosing family history software programs, how to interpret old documents etc.


Use our SLWA Family History Bookmarks to find websites recommended by the Family History Subject Specialists. Simply click on any heading of interest to see a list of websites relating to this topic. The larger the tag, the more websites appear on the list. Most of the headings are geographic locations, such as countries or Australian states, but there are also some general headings such as or convicts.

Other useful Australian gateways include:

Web Sites for Genealogists by Cora Num
Australian family history and genealogy selected websites by the National Library of Australia
The most comprehensive international family history gateway is Cyndi's List

Subject Guides

For detailed information on the family history sources available within the State Library and online, please refer to our Guides to Family History.

Tours & Workshops

Free tours and workshops are offered at the State Library as part of our Family History Program.

Research Tips

  • Always check surname variants when researching, e.g. Sherwood, Shearwood, Sharwood
  • Try to focus on one area of your family tree at a time
  • Once you have found information, make a record of where you located it, as you might have to return to your original source to verify something
  • Record unsuccessful research sources, as this will reduce the chances of repeating the same work further down the track
  • If possible confirm facts from a second source at every stage
  • Always photocopy certificates and important documents and leave the originals in a safe place
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Page last updated: Tuesday 3 May 2016

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