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Research Guides


Tracking Family: A Guide to Aboriginal Records Relating to the Northern Territory


2. Finding Assistance

Finding information about you and your family can be difficult:

  • You might not know basic family information if you were removed from your family, or if you are trying to trace a family member who was removed.
  • You or your family member may have lived in more than one home or mission or may have been adopted.
  • A number of government and non-government organisations may hold relevant records and the records may be held in the Territory or interstate.
  • Organisations have different requirements for gaining access to the records.

Gathering information

As a first step find as much information as you can:

  • from family and friends, noting the information and who gave it to you (so you can ask further questions later)
  • from family papers, photos or letters.

Make at least one copy of your original documents. Keep the originals in a safe place and use the copies, as you can't afford to lose them.

The sort of information that will assist organisations to help you include:

  • name of the person you are seeking to trace – including nicknames, Aboriginal names or different spellings (if known)
  • their date of birth or death, or age when something important happened. Try to obtain official certificates of births, deaths and marriages – these events were recorded by the registrar-general of the state or territory where they took place
  • family connections – names of parents, sisters, brothers or other relatives
  • where the person was born, lived, worked or was sent to
  • years or period of time the person lived, worked or was sent to a place
  • whether the person served in the defence forces.

Seeking support

A number of organisations support people seeking to link up with family and community. These include:

  • link-up organisations
  • adoption and family information services
  • counselling services
  • other Indigenous service organisations.

The link-up organisations, for example, undertake research on behalf of Indigenous people who were removed from their families. Of course, you can do your own research with the assistance of the organisations that hold the records.

You should be aware that records may hold material that is of a sensitive or distressing nature. At the time the records were created, much of the language used was racist and offensive. Also, remembering the past and finding (or not finding) information in the records about family members can be very stressful. Link-up organisations and counselling services can provide emotional support.

For information about organisations that can provide general assistance, see Chapter 3.

Doing your own research

You can approach government and non-government organisations that hold records yourself. They can assist you to search the records they hold and can suggest other avenues for research.

The National Archives of Australia and the Northern Territory Archives Service have name indexes to certain records relating to Northern Territory Aboriginal people. These index entries can point to files that provide information about a person or family. The files can provide further leads to be followed up. For example, a file might indicate that the person was in a children's home run by a church organisation. By using this guide, you can find the contact details for the church organisation or library that holds, or might hold, the records of that children's home.

The Genealogical Society of the Northern Territory and the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints can also provide advice on undertaking family history research. There are various publications available on family history research that you might find through your local library. For example, Lookin for Your Mob: a guide to tracing Aboriginal family treesby Diane Smith and Boronia Halstead (Aboriginal Studies Press, Canberra, 1990), which may contain out-of-date contact details and other information but still provides a useful overview of the steps involved, the types of records available and a family tree chart.

A map and a list of homes and missions where Aboriginal people have lived, including where records are held, possible locations and dates of other records, are included Chapter 4. If you know where the person you are researching lived, the list will help you decide which record-holding organisation to approach.

Research beyond the Northern Territory

If you are looking for information about a person who has lived outside the Northern Territory, a number of publications and websites can assist you. For information about them, see Appendixes 3 to 7. Some children's homes outside the Territory where groups of Northern Territory children were sent are listed in Chapter 4.

Researching non-Indigenous relatives

If you are looking for information about a non-Indigenous relative, the basic processes are the same as those for looking for an Indigenous relative, that is, you start by gathering information within your family, getting together everything you can about the people you are researching – beginning with yourself and working back by generations.

In the case of non-Indigenous relatives, you will be looking at some different records, for example, you will be interested in birth, death and marriage certificates for both Indigenous and non-Indigenous relatives. However non-Indigenous relatives may have migrated to Australia so passenger arrival and migration records held by the state archives and, for the 20th century, the National Archives would be relevant.

You can:

  • Get copies of birth, death and marriage certificates – see Appendix 7 for contact details for birth, death and marriage registries.
  • Visit libraries or their websites – the National Library of Australia and state and territory libraries have sections dedicated to genealogical research. They hold copies of records (for example, passenger records and electoral rolls) and you can obtain information sheets on a variety of topics and material through their catalogues. Local libraries offer similar services. See Chapter 5 for entries for the National Library of Australia, Northern Territory Library and Alice Springs Public Library, and Appendix 6 for contact details for state and territory libraries.
  • Visit archives or their websites – the National Archives and state and territory archives can provide information about their records and family history research. See Chapter 5 for entries for the National Archives of Australia and Northern Territory Archives Service, and Appendix 6 for contact details for state and territory archives.
  • Read publications – on how to do family history research. Your local library or genealogical society will probably hold relevant books and journals.
  • Join a genealogical society – this will give you access to resources, courses, information days, publications and links to organisations across Australia and overseas. See Chapter 5 for entries for the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints and the Genealogical Society of the Northern Territory.
  • Search the internet for genealogy websites – use search terms such as 'family history' or 'genealogy'. Some search engines have genealogy as a selected subject heading, and using their links will streamline your research. Your local family history society or library staff will be able to direct you to the most helpful sites.
  • Contact historical societies – for local knowledge, publications, photographs, memorabilia and links to other families.

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