Skip to content | Skip to document navigation

Research Guides

Commonwealth Government Records about Tasmania

7. Finding Tasmanians

This guide does not pretend to be a manual explaining how to do family history. The National Archives has published a substantial publication for this purpose Finding Families: the guide to the National Archives of Australia for genealogists (1998), along with a specialist section of its website. There are also organisations like the Tasmanian Family History Society, which will help with advice about sources and methods, and LINC Tasmania.

Before presenting sample record series and items within which to find Tasmanians, several cautionary comments need to be made.

Rarely does historical information present itself neatly prepared inside particular archival records. Finding family history details in an archive is not as simple as checking for a name in a phone book. Names have variant spellings, immigrants may have arrived on the mainland before arriving in Tasmania, and a soldier may have ended up in the wrong file because he lied about personal details. Turning to the records themselves, the title of a file begun on a particular matter, which then grows in complexity, could become less and less accurate as a summary of the file contents. Also, recordkeeping categories are never perfectly formulated nor always meticulously and consistently applied.

A moment's thought should confirm this. As 'Tasmania' appears in the title of innumerable files, we might ask what it means, in fact, to say someone is a Tasmanian. Does the label include people who moved to Tasmania, for example, the writer Peter Timms, poet Clive Sansom, swimmer Shane Gould or former premier the late Jim Bacon? In reverse, does the category include the untold numbers who were raised in, then left, Tasmania such as the Premier of Queensland Campbell Newman? Some have done both of course, Montgomery of Alamein being one of the most famous.

A related area requiring care concerns names which are correct but misleading. During research for example, I discovered files on the steamer SS Tasmania and a business called the Hobart Manufacturing Company. Neither proved to be relevant.

As a last point, remember that not every occurrence of a name will be in a nominal roll, index or title of a personnel case file. Sometimes relevant information can be found in the most unlikely places and, as Germaine Greer's story of tracking down her father in various Tasmanian archives illustrates, not always where logic or common sense suggest it should be. Sometimes too your search will be in the bureaucratic equivalent of the Deep Web, inside a file or volume, which only great patience and lateral thinking will coax to the surface. Yet balancing the endless frustrations, there can be rewards too. Just a passing use of a name, like the witness to a lease document, can happily confirm a person's existence and suggest further leads (see, for example, witnesses' names in Rays Estate Tasmania Lease to J Jillett, 1926–32, NAA: A1419, A1931/5787). And who would expect to find the record of a birth in lighthouse records (Statutory Declarations, chronological series, 1921–42, NAA: P2187)?


Chapter 7
Finding Tasmanians