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Here are our tips and strategies for researching births, deaths and marriages.
Start with yourself, work backwards through each generation using certificates and other official records.
Speak to family members - they might also have copies of records.
It's possible that the event occurred at a different place, time or didn't happen at all. For example, not all children were baptised and not all people who lived together were married.
Try widening your search to include earlier or later years or by entering less information in the search.
Search other indexes from different areas including other states and countries and registers from nearby parishes. Look also at records that include births and deaths at sea.
Events weren’t always registered.
There are various reasons why, such as the family lived far from town or the clergy didn’t bring their register and instead made rough notes to be written up later (this especially happened in rural areas). The event may have been accidentally left off the index or the register could have been lost or destroyed.
The Catholic Church registers do not begin until 1820 and it wasn’t until 1834 that they were officially allowed to record baptisms, marriages and burials.
Before this time many Catholics chose not to marry or had their children baptised into another denomination.
Your ancestor’s first or last name may not be spelt the same on all records for their birth, marriage or death. The spelling of their name may have changed over the years or they may have changed it. The spelling may also be different from other family members.
Don’t forget to take into account pronunciation at the time of registration as well as 19th century literacy levels.
Search all spelling variations as well as possible nicknames. Try wildcards and truncation when searching online.
Mistakes may have happened when the handwritten records were transcribed and indexed. Check the name from the index against the record.
Searching only the family name will widen the search to help you find other family members including their children. You can usually narrow your search by including the date or place. See other pages on this guide for online resources that you can search for births, deaths and marriages.
View or buy the certificates, parish registers and other original records as these records usually provide more details than indexes.
Want to know what details should be included on a certificate for a birth, marriage or death for a particular time? Refer to Faye Young’s Birth, death and marriage certificates in Australia.
Sometimes the information on a certificate can be incomplete, especially early church records. Use other resources such as newspapers, cemetery records and hospital records to help you complete the puzzle.
Make sure you record all the resources that you've used - even if they weren't helpful. You can use pedigree charts to record direct line ancestors (parents, grandparents, great-grandparents) and family record sheets for recording other ancestors (non-direct) including siblings and second marriages.
We have several guides to help you get started with researching your family history. Use these guides for strategies and tips. You will find many of these guides in the family history area of the Governor Marie Bashir Reading Room. Here are some of the guides we recommend:
Ask staff at the desk for more recommendations
See the Births page of this guide for more birth certificate indexes and other resources
Here are some of the possible reasons why you can't find the record for a birth, death or marriage.
Try widening your search by entering less information such as your ancestor's given names.
When searching a common name you will usually get too many results. Try narrowing your search by adding more detail in your search such as the date or place.
Unsure of the spelling?
Wildcards: Replace one of the letters with a wildcard symbol. The symbol for wildcard searches can be a question mark (?), hash (#) or asterisk (*) depending on the resource. For example search 's*mpson' to return results for Simpson and Sampson
Truncation: Add a truncation symbol such as an asterisk (*), question mark (?) or dollar sign ($) to the end of the search term. For example, 'byrn*' will search Byrn, Byrns, Byrne and Byrnes.
Always check the resource's help documentation to find out if they allow wildcard or truncation searches and which symbol to use. Unfortunately you can't perform wildcard or truncation searches on the NSW Registry of Births, Deaths and Marriages website.
Find your ancestor's siblings by searching only their parents' first and last names birth indexes.