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Searching our historical records—hints and tips

Our online historical index is a great place to start if you want to trace a person's family tree—it is free to search online.

We only hold records of events that took place in Queensland, so make sure you know where the event took place.

You cannot view these records in person at the registry. Contact your local library, the State Library or Queensland State Archives if you would like to access these records in other formats.

You can then buy a historical certificate for $30.00 or a historical image for $21.40 online or in person, if you want.

As historical records, the information on a certificate or image is what was correct at the time of the event—information will not be changed.

Before you start searching

Before you start searching, collect as much information as you can about the person and event (birth, death or marriage) you are researching—you will find the record your are looking for more quickly and easily.

You will need to know the name of the person you want to search for, and have an idea of when and where the event took place in Queensland.

If the event was registered outside of Queensland, contact the interstate or overseas registering authority.

Make sure the name is correct

The most important piece of information you should have is the person's correct name. This might seem obvious, but the name you have might not be the same as their registered name.

For example, people are often known by a shortened form of their name or their middle name, but registered under a more formal name, particularly in historical records. So, a person known as Jack—now often used as a first name in its own right—is likely to have been registered as John 100 years ago.

Is it a historical event?

Historical records are available to anyone online, without proof of ID.

Historical records are:

  • births that took place more than 100 years ago
  • marriages that took place more than 75 years ago
  • deaths that occurred more than 30 years ago.

If you try to search for an event that is not a historical record (i.e. a record that is still in the closed access period) you will get an error message advising of the correct date range.

Why can’t I access more recent records?

To access more recent records—records inside the closed access period—you need to apply to us by post or in person, with proof of ID.

Access to records within the closed access period is only available to eligible applicants. Check our certificate access policy to see if you are eligible to apply.

Is the information in the index correct?

We try to make sure the information in the historical index is correct—based on information given to us at the time the event was registered. The original information might not be correct and we cannot guarantee mistakes were not made when the information was copied into the index.

It will help to follow our tips when searching for records in the historical index.

If you do find a mistake, please contact us and we will review the record and make a correction if applicable.

How to search

To search the historical index for an event, you need to fill in:

  1. At least one of the name fields—either the person’s last name, first name, or their mother or father’s names.
  2. The ‘date of birth, date of death or date of marriage’ field, if you know it. This can be the:
    1. exact date (e.g. 01/01/1901)
    2. month and year (e.g. 01/1901)
    3. year only (e.g. 1901).

These are the only formats you can use to enter dates into the historical index search.

If you are unsure of the exact date, search between 2 dates by putting a date to search 'from' and a date to search 'to'—using the date formats above.

Try to widen your search

If you are having trouble finding a historical record, use less detail to widen your search so you are more likely to find the person you are looking for. Adding more information will narrow your search, because you will only see results that match all the information you enter.

For example, the details below will not find any results unless all of the names and dates exactly match the entry in the historical index.

  • Last name: Anderson
  • First name: Geoffrey Charles
  • Father's first name: Robert George
  • Mother's first name: Georgina May
  • Date of birth: 14/01/1892

While all other information may be correct, a minor difference—for example, if the first name is spelt Jeffery rather than Geoffrey—will mean that the historical record will not be found.

In this case, you should widen your search by entering fewer fields, and less exact information:

  • Last name: Anderson
  • Date of birth: 1892

or

  • Last name: Anderson
  • Date range: From 1892, to 1894

This is more likely to give you a list of results that contains the historical record  you are interested in.

You could also try using a different spelling for the last name. Depending on a family's country of origin, the surname used in our example, Anderson, could have changed over time and also be spelled as:

  • Andersen
  • Anderrson
  • Andersson
  • Andreassen
  • Andersohn

Convicts transported to Australia often changed the spelling of their names to hide their past, and names were often changed to English. For example the Irish Ó Fearghail may have been changed to O'Farrell, Farrell or Farrelly.

Also try using variations of the person's first names. Historical indexes sometimes use formal first names when the person was commonly known by a shorter name. For example:

Formal first names Short name
Charles Charlie
John Jack
Albert, Bertram, Herbert or Robert Bob, Berty or Bertie

Searching the historical index is free so if you are unsure or cannot find a historical record, in the words of a famous saying, you can try and try again.

Search using the wildcard ‘*’

You can also try using the wildcard symbol, '*'. This will return any combination of letters in place of the '*' symbol.

Enter the wildcard symbol after any letters (e.g. sm*), not before (e.g. *sm), and you must enter at least one letter before the ‘*’.

If you want to search for a person you think was named Smith, but you are not sure of the spelling, just enter ‘sm*’ into the 'Last name' field (and the date or a date range). Your search will find every last name starting with the letters ‘sm’, so as well as Smith you may also get Smallbone, Smiley, Smithson, Smyth, Smythe, Smart and Smerdon.

You can also use the wildcard in the ‘First names’, and father and mother’s name fields—you cannot use the wildcard for any of the date fields.

A wide wildcard search may find too many historical records for the system to display and your search could end in a ‘query timeout’.

If this happens, an error message will appear asking you to check your information and refine your search. For example, a wildcard 'Last name' search of ‘S*’ will try to find every last name starting with ‘S’, which could be thousands of historical records.

Sorting your results

To make it easier to find an individual record, sort your results by clicking on the column headings.

For example, search using just the person's last name and a wide date range, then sort by the father or mother’s name to group siblings—brothers and sisters with common parents—making all the related historical records easier to find.

Clicking on the column headings will rearrange the results by A to Z or Z to A for the name in that column.

You can also sort registration numbers to display results from highest to lowest, or lowest to highest (1/1901 to 1234/1901 or 1234/1901 to 1/1901).

Index registration number prefixes and codes

Your search results will usually display a registration number in the left-hand column. This is a unique number used by us to locate the full registration.

It is made up of:

  • year of registration
  • index prefix letter or letters
  • the registration number.

The registration number provides additional information about the event, which may help you identify the specific record you are looking for, particularly if you are searching a common name.

The registration number can give you an idea of where the event took place. For example, the registration number 1901/B2376 indicates that the event was registered in 1901, occurred in Brisbane and was the 2,376th registration recorded in Brisbane that year.

Some records may not display an index prefix, while some index prefixes have changed significantly over time, particularly in South East Queensland.

Remember that the date is the date the record was registered, not the date the birth, death or marriage took place, which may be different.

Find out more about registration numbers and prefix letters.

For more information

Read more about:

Quick tips

If you are having trouble finding a historical record:

  • widen your search with a date range, or use a wildcard ‘*’ search (using '*') on the names
  • check if the person was known by another name—for example, if they were known by a nickname but registered under a formal name or changed their name
  • check corresponding documentation—for example, if you are looking for a person’s marriage, their death certificate might provide more clues
  • remember that marriage last name searches are not bride/groom specific. Searches using ‘person 1’ last name will return records of either the bride or groom with that last name.
Last updated
18 November 2016
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