Writer, reader, adventurer from the empty side of Australia. Add me at https://www.facebook.com/pages/ForgottenWa/1452887231664550?ref=hl.
Published August 11th 2014
Discovering who you are cheaply
Genealogy is all the rage at the moment and it has never been easier to find out whether creepy Uncle So-and-So is actually related. The downside can be the price; many genealogical websites charge for their services. Luckily, there are several free services offered on that giant, beautiful yet sometimes terrifying mystery known as the worldwide web. I have compiled a list of my five favourite online options and the ones which have aided my family history quest the most.
Top Five Free Online Genealogical Websites chosen by ForgottenWA:
Like some things in Australia, the states do not have a universal approach to accessing birth, death and marriage records. While your ancestors may have been born in Western Australia, they may have left (shame on them!) and died in other states, or vice versa regarding birth, so it can be important to widen one's search area when documenting births and deaths. Only Western Australia, New South Wales, Queensland and Victoria offer free access to their online state databases and these can be found here:
Free online access to Birth, Death & Marriage databases (Australia):
The majority of my experience is hunting through the Western Australian database and it is relatively easy to use. For example, if you were looking for a John Smith born in 1900 in Western Australia, you would toggle the BIRTHS (1841-1932) button; fill in what information you had (Family Name: Smith, Given Name: John, Year of Birth: 1890-1910 (I find it best to give a little leeway in case the records note a different year) and voila! Up come the records. Do not be down heartened by an occasional red sign stating "Sorry no records found in the database"; I think the database sometimes gets bored and just wants to see you cry. Retry the same search or change it slightly. For example, remove the Year of Birth or search for a J. Smith instead; it is amazing what the database 'suddenly' finds.
Unfortunately, when researching family history you will be dealing with a lot of death. If your idea of a fun day is not visiting rural cemeteries or pooling over gravestone records, family history might not be for you. Cross stich?
Lorraine's Cemetery Records Pages or Ozburials.com is an amazing website for cemetery records. A lot of work has gone into transcribing grave headstones from all over Australia and it is surprising the amount of information you can gather from this site. For example, from one headstone you can sometimes construct a whole family; say you find poor John Smith's headstone, you might find it also notes since parents, wife and children ex. John Smith. Son of Mary and Paul Smith. Husband of Jean Smith. Father of Jack, Jill and Murray Smith. There are a lot of records on this site so it is best to know whereabouts someone was buried and don't forget to Ctr F (or whatever Mac users do) for faster searching.
Do remember this is not a government website, all burials records might not be listed and there may have been a mistake in the transcription. While it is a good starting point, if you are serious about your genealogy it is best to visit the cemetery yourself.
This database draws from six cemeteries across Perth: Fremantle, Guildford, Karrakatta and Midland Cemetery and Pinnaroo Valley and Rockingham Regional Memorial Park. While the Western Australian Births, Deaths and Marriages Register only lists deaths up to 1971, the Metropolitan Cemeteries Board records for these six cemeteries are largely up to date. Again, it is good practise to visit the actual grave as the website only gives you the bare minimum information (name, date of death, location of grave) and not the extra information which is often included on gravestones ex. family members.
Many Australian's can trace their lineage back to an awful journey out from England on a wooden floatation device using steam or *shudder* sails. FreeUKGEN offers free access to birth, death, baptism, marriage and census records in the United Kingdom. This is an ongoing project so if you don't find relevant information the first time, don't forget to go back at a later date and have another look. While the different databases can be a little complicated to navigate, once you get the hang of it you'll be making family connections to the royal family in no time!
A free service provided by The Church of the Jesus Christ of the Latter-Day Saints, familysearch.org is an incredible resource. The website boasts the "largest collection of genealogical and historical records in the world" and it is believable when you start searching their simple to use database. This size can create an issue; you need to be careful what you incorporate into your family tree as their database is so large the information might relate to someone else. You need to be clever with genealogy and not accept information at face value. If you find something on familysearch.org, try and match it from another source ex. ozburials.com. If it doesn't match, look a little deeper.
I hope these five online options help you to discover some interesting information about who you are and where you come from. I have tried to include local, national and international collections and these five have been the most beneficial to my searching. In a rather short time I have been able to construct a comprehensive family tree. These sites are only the beginning though; you may have a start and end date but the information you gather about your ancestor's lives is the most intriguing. For more information; check out my follow-up article: They Did What?! Researching the life and lies of your ancestors.