Aboriginal Family History

Many Indigenous Australians are visiting archives and libraries to search for information about themselves and their ancestors.

The State Records Office contains many records of value to Aboriginal people undertaking family history research. To improve access to these records the State Records Office has undertaken initiatives designed to help Aboriginal people achieve greater ease of access to information that may be of importance for family history research.

Official Records - Aboriginal Affairs

In Western Australia successive State Government agencies controlled the lives of Aboriginal people from 1905 until the latter were granted citizenship rights in the late 1960s. The official records that document this control are of vital significance, particularly for those people who were removed from their families and settled elsewhere in the State.

The State Records Office holds departmental files relating to Aboriginal affairs dating back as far as the 1880s. Before this period records relating to Aboriginal people can be found in the correspondence of the Colonial Secretary’s Office - also held by the State Records Office.

Staff on duty in the State Records Office Search Room are available to assist clients in locating records of relevance to their family history. Most of these records will have subject or locality based titles; i.e. they concern places where Aboriginal people lived, such as missions, pastoral properties, town reserves and institutions (such as Moola Bulla and Moore River). Only a handful of records are personal or family files.

It should be noted that some records about Aboriginal people are restricted due to the personal and confidential nature in the information relevant files and that some of this information is restricted for up to 100 years. Therefore prior permission must be obtained from the Department of Aboriginal Affairs (DAA) or other relevant government departments to access restricted access records. Further information on accessing restricted records can be found on the Restricted Access page. State Records Office staff can assist clients in completing the necessary application to see the records. Applications are made on special forms that can be obtained from either the State Records Office Enquiry Desk or the Aboriginal History Research Unit at DAA. Once a request has been approved by DAA, the records can be examined in the State Records Office Search Room or the information provided via DIA.

Further information relating to Aboriginal people can be found on the Aboriginal Records page.

Other Official Records

Records created by government schools, police stations, courts of law and prisons are important sources of family history information for all people with Western Australian ancestry.

The following areas are of particular relevance to clients interested in researching Indigenous family history:

Examples of some of the records that may be of interest to clients undertaking research into Aboriginal family history include:

    * A register of prisoners sent to Rottnest Island from 1886 to 1900 (Cons 1156, Series 844).
    * The records of evidence heard by the Broome and Wyndham "Native Courts" (Series 564 and 1260).
    * Applications for citizenship lodged by Aboriginal people with the Perth Police Magistrate between 1946 and 1964, under the Natives (Citizenship Rights) Act 1944. (Acc 3318, AN 17).

More examples of Aboriginal records held by the State Records Office can be found on the Aboriginal Records page.

Enquiry Desk staff are always happy to advise clients on the use of the numerous finding aids and indexes available in the Search Room to assist clients in locating records of relevance to their family history.

Helpful Indexes to Personal Names

Indexes can provide a short cut to information contained in archival sources or in published material, such as newspapers. Useful indexes to names of Indigenous Western Australians are:

  • The Bicentennial Dictionary of Western Australians
    This multi volume publication of the University of Western Australia Press includes four volumes devoted to Aboriginal people:
    • Vol VI Albany Region 1821-1898;
    • Vol VII New Norcia 1845-1914;
    • Vol VIII Southwest Region 1829-1840;
    • Vol X Rottnest 1838-1931.

In addition to these published volumes further indexes to names of Aboriginal people by region have been compiled by Neville Green (a member of the Dictionary’s Aboriginal Committee) and Susan Moon, covering the Murchison, Pilbara, Southwest, Gascoyne, and Kimberley up until 1890. Individual entries give a person’s common name, alias (or other name), locality and the source of the information (invariably nineteenth century official records and newspapers).

Copies of these indexes are available in the State Records Office Search Room and the J.S. Battye Library.

Personal Names Index
This index was compiled by the (then) Aboriginal Affairs Planning Authority and contains references to over 5,000 people of Aboriginal descent who are referred to in the General File series held by the State Records Office, and to personal history cards held by the Aboriginal Affairs Department. The relevant file number or card number is provided against the person's name.

The personal history cards are particularly useful, containing information extracted from former Native Welfare personal files held by the Department for Community Development.

Researchers are welcome to consult the State Records Office’s copy of this index at the Search Room Enquiry Desk. To obtain access to the information on these cards you will need to contact the Aboriginal History Research Unit at the Department of Aboriginal Affairs.

An Index to the Chief Protector of Aborigines Files 1898-1908
The Chief Protector of Aborigines Files (Acc 255, Series 3005, 1898-1908) comprise one of the most significant collections of unrestricted Aboriginal related material held by the State Records Office. This index contains a comprehensive listing of all the names of Aboriginal persons mentioned within the files, as well as the names of settlers, officials, stations and locations. The index was created by the State Records Office, with assistance from the Friends of the Battye Library Inc and the Department of Family and Children’s Services.

Other indexes which may prove useful to clients wishing to undertake Aboriginal family history research include:

Missions Index
This index lists the records in the General File series which pertain to particular missions (e.g. Beagle Bay Mission, Forrest River Mission, New Norcia Mission, etc).

Stations Index
This index lists the records in the General File series which pertain to particular stations throughout the State (e.g. Clifton Downs, Minderoo, etc).

All of the indexes above are available from the Reference Shelf in the State Records Office Search Room. Staff at the Search Room Enquiry Desk are happy to assist clients with using these indexes.

Restricted Indigenous Records

Many records relating to Aboriginal people created by the Department of Aboriginal Affairs and its predecessor agencies are restricted due to the personal and confidential nature of some of the information in these records. Restricted access records may be restricted for up to 100 years so permission to access these records must be sought from the Department of Aboriginal Affairs or other relevant government departments.

Further information on accessing restricted records can be found on our Restricted Records page.

Reference Queries

In some cases State Records Office staff may be able to provide limited assistance to clients who live outside the Perth metropolitan area and are unable to to attend the Search Room in person

Private Archives

Private archives are records that have been donated by non-government organizations (such as churches and benevolent associations), families and individuals. These records can be of significance to Aboriginal people researching their family history, particularly church mission records which can contain vital information on Aboriginal people who have lived in those communities.

Arrangements can be made to view these records in the Battye Library Researchers Room located on the Fourth Floor Mezzanine of the Alexander Library Building. For more information on accessing Private Archives material contact the Battye Library Reference Desk on (08) 9427 3291.

Useful Contacts for Family History Information

Aboriginal people wishing to research their family history should be aware that there are specialist departments within other agencies that may be able to assist them. Of particular importance are:

Department of Child Protection
Address: 189 Royal Street
East Perth WA 6004
Tel: (08) 9222 2777
1800 000 277 (Freecall STD)
Fax: (08) 9222 2776

The Department of Child Protection can assist Indigenous people to trace their family history.

Aboriginal History Research Unit
Department of Aboriginal Affairs
Address: Level 1
151 Royal Street
East Perth WA 6004
Tel: (08) 6552 9990
Fax: (08) 6551 8088
Website: www.dia.wa.gov.au
Email
: ahru@dia.wa.gov.au

Officers at the DAA’s Aboriginal History Research Unit can provide advice to Indigenous people undertaking family history research. In particular they are able to provide access to personal history cards.

Further Information

Further information can be found on the Aboriginal Records page.

State Records Office staff at the Enquiry Desk can provide additional information on the range of resources available from within the State Records Office collection that may be of benefit to Indigenous family history researchers. For more information contact us by telephone on (08) 9427 3600, by facsimile on (08) 9427 3368, via email at sro@sro.wa.gov.au or in person.