Shipping and immigration records online

Finding an ancestor’s arrival in Australia can be challenging, but there is an increasing number of ways to track them. Queensland State Archives, the National Archives of Australia and State Library of Queensland hold the major Australian shipping records for the 19th and 20th centuries. On Friday 3 August, as part of National Family History Month 2018, key staff from these three organisations came together to discuss their records and how to use them to discover your family history.

Drawing of migrants disembarking from a ship ca. 1885, State Library of Queensland, Neg. no. 62474,

Drawing of migrants disembarking from a ship ca. 1885, State Library of Queensland, Neg. no. 62474,

Queensland State Archives (QSA)

Saadia Thomson Dwyer, Senior Reference Archivist with QSA, gave an overview of their resources, which include government records relating to immigration. She explained the various categories of immigrants, such as assisted, unassisted, nominated, bounty and fully paid. Assisted immigrants applied for passage to Australia, paying a reduced fee before the voyage, then again within a set time of their arrival. As a result of the payments due, more detailed records were kept regarding these passengers, creating invaluable information for family historians today. Immigration records at QSA date from 1848, when information was initially limited, through to more comprehensive information in the 20th century. Some records include full names, country of origin, occupation, marital status, ability to read and write, religion, as well as the ship’s name, date and port or embarkation, and the date and place of arrival in Queensland.

Other useful records include immigration agent records, which may provide details of where an immigrant went, and who employed them after their arrival, and land orders, which may help establish if a person was resident in Queensland at a particular time.

National Archives of Australia (NAA)

Cara Downes, from NAA, gave a practical summary of the various shipping records held at NAA, what is contained in the different series of passenger lists, and how to search them. The passenger arrivals index at NAA covers the period 1898 to 1972 for ships coming to Australia, and includes aircraft from the 1940s, providing access to digitised lists. The Brisbane inwards passenger lists (J715 series) includes digitised passenger lists for ships arriving in Brisbane from 1852 to 1964. Another series (J25) includes passenger lists for ships arriving in most Australian ports from the Second World War to the 1970s. While not all lists are digitised, you can contact the NAA to arrange digitisation or access the records in their reading room.

State Library of Queensland

Stephanie Ryan, Research Librarian from State Library, discussed useful resources, provided some helpful search tips, and showed several enlightening examples of searches that required the use of multiple resources, strategies and some lateral thinking. The examples she gave highlight the importance of looking at a variety of records, including ones from other jurisdictions, and allowing for variations or errors in spelling, dates and ages. Stephanie emphasised the importance of searching beyond the Queensland records, as Moreton Bay was part of New South Wales until 1859, immigrants often moved between New South Wales and Queensland, and when ships arrived in other Australian ports passengers’ names were recorded as having arrived there, even if they then came to Queensland. Using death records, electoral rolls, newspaper reports and other resources, such as diaries, can help us put the pieces of a puzzle together and overcome missing or incorrect information.

Passenger list for the Quetta, 1886; Image: Queensland State Archives

Passenger list for the Quetta, 1886; Image: Queensland State Archives

View the full Shipping and immigration records online presentation now.

For information about State Library’s immigration resources, our family history resources and useful websites for family historians, see our family history webpage.

For help with your family history research, visit us at State Library, or use our Ask Us service for online research assistance.

Fiona Dixon, Librarian

Information Services

More information

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