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Research Guides

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

8. Frequently asked questions

1. How do I start?

The first step is to gather together the information that you already have about the person you are researching, whether it is yourself, or one or more members of your family. Even if you have very little information, it is useful to note down what you do know.

For a list of questions to ask yourself (or family members), see Chapter 2. Chapter 2 contains more information about how to seek advice and do your own research.

If you have been affected by former government removal policies, you could approach link-up organisations and they will undertake research on your behalf (see Chapter 2 and Appendix 4).

If you live in or are visiting Darwin, you could visit the Northern Territory Archives Centre, where reference staff of the National Archives and the Northern Territory Archives Service could tell you what records they hold that might be relevant and could suggest other avenues of research in your particular case. The Northern Territory Archives Service also has an office in Alice Springs which could assist you. You can also email, write to or telephone the National Archives (for contact details see Appendix 5).

Some useful resources on the National Archives' website include:

2. I, or a member of my family, was born outside the Northern Territory. How can I find relevant birth, death or marriage certificates?

See Appendix 7 for the contact details for birth, death and marriage registries around Australia. The registries have websites that outline procedures for applying for certificates. There will be some restrictions or additional requirements on requesting more recent certificates of other people. For example, if the person is still alive, you will need their permission, or you will need evidence that the person has died and that you are related.

3. I can't find a birth registration for my family member/myself. What can I do?

It is not always easy to find a record of an Aboriginal person's birth. If the birth is not included in the Registry of Births, Deaths and Marriages (the first place to check for births), it may be recorded in the records of pastoral stations, hospitals, missions or homes.

The National Archives holds some information about births of Aboriginal people in the Northern Territory, often created by the former Native Affairs Branch or Welfare Branch.

For more information, see Chapter 5 - National Archives of Australia.

Identification – your own birth certificate

If you need your own birth certificate for identification purposes, and are having difficulties, Tangentyere Council in Central Australia and the Larrakia Nation Aboriginal Corporation may be able to assist. Both organisations provide assistance with obtaining identification or a birth certificate and also provide a certified photo ID for Aboriginal people.

The Tangentyere card provides photo ID accepted by banks and various other institutions.

The Larrakia photo identification, issued by Larrakia Nation's Return to Home office in Casuarina, is widely accepted at banks, Australia Post, clubs and airlines (see

Contact details

Tangentyere Council
4 Elder Street
Alice Springs NT 0870
PO Box 8070
Alice Springs NT 0871
Tel: (08) 8951 4222
Fax: (08) 8955 5561
Online contact form:

Larrakia Nation
Larrakia Return to Country
Bradshaw Terrace
Casuarina NT 0810
Tel: (08) 8945 5211
Fax: (08) 8945 5200

4. I was adopted. How can I find out more?

The Adoption Unit of the Department of Children and Families has a Family Information Service which provides information and counselling to adopted people, birth parents, adoptive parents and former state wards. You can also approach the Northern Territory Stolen Generations Aboriginal Corporation.

If you were adopted interstate, your adoption records will be held in the state where the adoption occurred. Each state has an agency or unit which can help with access to your adoption records.

You can approach these agencies directly or you could contact the Northern Territory Adoption Unit. They could tell you how to contact the interstate agency.

5. How do I find out about a mission or children's home?

Records about missions and children's homes can be held in various places, depending upon which organisations ran them. A mission or home in the Northern Territory may have been administered by the Commonwealth government, a church group or both.

You can find out which organisations administered the relevant mission or home by looking in Chapter 4. Then you can look at the entries for the organisations in Chapter 5 to find out what records are available and how you can access them.

It is also worth contacting the National Archives of Australia and the Northern Territory Archives Service as they may hold relevant records. For example, a church organisation that ran a mission or home often received subsidies from the Commonwealth government and had to submit reports which sometimes listed children. These reports and related correspondence were filed in the Commonwealth records held by the National Archives.

The Find & Connect website has information about children's homes and missions around Australia, including the Northern Territory. The web resource, developed as one component of the Australian Government's Find & Connect services and projects, provides histories of children's homes and related organisations. It includes links to digitised records and photographs available for viewing online and to published material.

6. Are there any photographs of missions and children's homes?

A number of organisations, particularly libraries, hold some photographs of missions and homes including, for example, the Northern Territory Archives Service, the Northern Territory Library, the Genealogical Society of the Northern Territory, the South Australian Museum Archives, the State Library of South Australia, the National Library of Australia, the National Archives, and the State Library of New South Wales (see the entries for these organisations in Chapter 5).

For photographs of a particular mission or children's home, see Chapter 4 to find out which organisation administered the mission or home. You can then look at the entry for the relevant organisations in Chapter 5 to find out what photographs they have and how you can access them.

Some photographs are available online. For example, the Find & Connect website has a small number of photographs for each of the children's homes and missions.

7. I know my family member was in a particular home for several years, but how do I find out where he/she went after that?

Start by looking at the records of the home (see Question 5).

Other kinds of records held by the National Archives may also contain information about the movements and whereabouts of individuals, for example:

  • registers of wards
  • Aboriginal population records
  • admissions to government settlements and homes
  • child endowment records and maintenance of government dependants records
  • health records
  • education and training records
  • Aboriginal Trust Fund records.

For more information, see the National Archives' entry in Chapter 5.

You can also check Chapter 4 as movements of groups of children are mentioned, for example, the evacuation of children during World War II from homes and missions.

8. I, or a family member, was born and/or lived on a pastoral station. How can I find out more?

Some station owners or managers kept records such as diaries, wage books or registers of births. If someone in your family was born, lived or worked on a station, you may be able to find out more about them through the records kept on a station, if they still exist. The following institutions hold pastoral station records:

Pastoral directories can be helpful. They include listings of pastoral properties, their names and owners, and so on. Such directories are held at the Northern Territory Library, Noel Butlin Archives Centre and Charles Darwin University Library. The Noel Butlin Archives Centre also has map collections that may assist in identifying a pastoral property.

Also, station owners and managers corresponded with the Commonwealth government about certain issues, including the welfare of Aboriginal people, and so there is some material on files in the National Archives (for the contact details see Chapter 5).

See also the National Archives' Fact sheet 108 – The pastoral industry in the Northern Territory.

9. Family members have passed away. How can I find out where they are buried?

Information about burials can be found in a number of records, including burial certificates, church registers, civil death certificates, newspaper funeral notices, undertakers' records, cemetery records and inscriptions on gravestones.

Your family member may be buried in a cemetery or perhaps a lone grave.


A register of cemeteries in the Northern Territory is included in the Genealogical Society of the Northern Territory website. This register provides information about various cemeteries, such as whether burial listings exist for them and where those lists are located (see the Genealogical Society of the Northern Territory in Chapter 5).

Cemetery records are also available through:

The website www.austcemindex includes listings for a number of Northern Territory cemeteries as well as those in other states.

Lone graves

A lone or lonely grave is a single grave or a small group of graves outside a recognised or currently used cemetery – for example, graves that are located on properties, river banks, hillsides, disused railway sidings and rural homesteads.

You can look up lone graves in the publication Lone Graves of the Northern Territory of Australia from June 1839 to July 1976. This is available at the Northern Territory Library and the Charles Darwin University Library and in a number of other libraries around Australia. A register is also available at the Genealogical Society of the Northern Territory.

10. I do not live in Darwin or Alice Springs. How do I get access to records?

In most cases, copies of records can be posted to you once you have made an application and your identity has been verified. The agency you are seeking information from will be able to advise you of their processes.

If you feel you need support during the process, you can approach one of the organisations providing general assistance and support mentioned in Chapter 3.

11. How can the National Archives assist me?

The National Archives' entry in Chapter 5 outlines the records that the National Archives holds that may contain information about yourself and your family members. The entry also provides information on how to contact the National Archives and how to access records.

Further information about relevant records can be found in the National Archives' website:

See also Question 1.