Curious about your family and where you come from?

The State Library and the State Records Office have numerous avenues to help family history researchers.

There are many useful digital resources you can access from home to get started.  The big one you should have a look at is Dead Reckoning - where you will find a vast amount of resources and links.

The Library’s collection is particularly strong for Australian states and territories, Great Britain and New Zealand. The collection includes birth, marriage and death indexes, directories, electoral rolls, newspapers, maps and passenger lists. There are also records relating to cemeteries, census, convicts, courts, immigration, land allocation, probate and the military.

The State Records Office of Western Australia collects, preserves and stores non-current government archives created by the Colonial and Western Australian State Governments and local authorities. Search the State Records Office. 

There are many published guides which explain how to trace ancestors. Some are general, some refer to tracing ancestors in specific states or countries and some refer to tracing specific types of ancestors such as convicts. The family history beginner should check the Genealogy Centre on the 3rd floor for books which may help starting research. When searching the online catalogue for books about genealogy please remember to use the subject headings genealogy and genealogy handbooks.

  • When doing family history research, begin with yourself and work backwards, researching one person at a time.
  • Write down everything you know about the family and map out a rough family tree.
  • Pedigree charts and family group sheets are helpful. They’re available online.
  • Collect material to help with your family tree. Items you might have at home include certificates, photographs, diaries, letters, medals, family bibles, wills and other legal documents.
  • Talk to relatives and record their memories. Be aware, 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.
  • Make sure all results of your research and sources are documented to avoid duplications.
  • The Family History WA (FHWA) offers courses for beginners. They also have useful guides including Starting OutResearch STEPPSOutback Graves and forms to download or buy – the Pedigree Chart, the Family Group Sheet and the Genealogy Relationship Chart – which can help construct a logical family tree.
  • Once you have found information, record where you located it, as you might have to return to the original source to verify something. Record unsuccessful research sources too, as this will reduce the chances of repeating the same work.
  • If possible, confirm facts from a second source at every stage.
  • Always check surname variants when researching, e.g. Sherwood, Shearwood and Sharwood. Try to focus on one area of your family tree at a time.
  • Photocopy certificates and important documents. Leave originals in a safe place.

The State Library maintains a close relationship with the Family History WA (FHWA)​. Volunteers from the FHWA provide extra assistance to family history researchers on Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday mornings from 9.30am – 1pm in the Genealogy Centre on Level 3.

Staff may be available to provide guidance or advice on the arrangement of local history collections, including material such as private archives, photographs, newspapers and ephemera (subject to staff time being available). Reader education programs and tours may be conducted for schools and universities.

Because genealogical research usually involves a considerable amount of time and effort, staff at the Library and State Records Office cannot carry out protracted research for you. They can, however, offer advice and guide you to relevant material and check some indexes and catalogues. Staff can only carry out limited research via letter or email. Residents of the Perth metropolitan area are expected to visit the library to carry out research in person.

If you’re unable to come to the library to do research, the Professional Historians’ Association (WA) and Family History WA  can connect you with researchers who can do general or more in-depth work. These researchers are not accredited by the State Library and all conditions and fees must be negotiated directly with the researcher. Any such dealings are entirely outside the influence of the State Library.

The Battye Library caters for requests for copies of items in its collection where possible. Facilities exist for both photocopying (black and white and colour) and for making reader prints and scans (which can be emailed or downloaded onto a disk or USB drive) from microfilm and microfiche. As much of the collection is rare or fragile, it cannot be photocopied (this applies to all bound newspapers, certain books and serials, outsize maps, ephemera and private archives). For items in these categories a digital scan may be made instead. In some cases, you may be able to use your own digital camera, with the flash disabled, to make copies. There is also a digital camera available in the Reading Room for public.

If you publish a family history, it’s important that all references and sources are correctly referenced. State Library and State Records Office staff can advise on the preferred methods. 

The law pertaining to copyright is covered by the Commonwealth Copyright Act 1968, which sets out rules for the copying and use of different types and formats of material. Copyright protects the author’s rights and legislates against unfair copying. There are many publications which explain copyright and these can be located through the online catalogue. The Australian Copyright Council has produced information sheets on various aspects of copyright law.

The Battye Library obtained published material through the provisions of the Western Australian Copyright Act 1895 and the Newspaper Libel and Registration Act 1884. These acts required that one copy of any printed or published material (which includes commercially and privately produced printed family histories), such as books, serials, booklets, pamphlets, postcards, maps and newspapers published in Western Australia be deposited with the Battye Library.

The Copyright Act 1895 was interpreted to also include audio visual material, sound recordings and electronically produced material. Both acts were repealed, in 1994 and 2005 respectively, but we implore publishers to abide by the spirit of legal deposit, as it assists the Battye Library in acquiring the documentary history of the State for the use of present and future generations. The Battye Library is also interested in acquiring all manuscripts or unpublished family histories.

Explore your family history from home.
Last updated on 12 October 2021