Getting started

The best way to start researching archival records is to prepare for your research.

Before you begin

Gather information to help your research

If you’re searching for a person, gather as much information as you can about them, such as their:

  • full name
  • date of birth
  • nationality or country of origin
  • date of arrival in Australia
  • places they may have lived, for example their town, county, or parish.

Read more tips for doing your family history at Queensland State Archives.

Work out the connection with a government agency

Make sure QSA is the right place for you to search. We hold permanent records for the Queensland Government and local governments.

This means, to find a record you need to work out whether a government agency would have created or received a record about the person or topic you’re researching. Try asking these types of questions:

If you’re looking for a person:

If you’re looking for a house or building:

The answers to these questions will help direct your research.

Hello and welcome to Queensland State Archives.

QSA holds over 2.8 million original records created or received by Queensland State Government, dated from as early as 1824. That’s over 59 kilometres of all sorts of records about people and places in Queensland.

The records held at QSA can help with historical information for family history research, schools, buildings, land selections, the workings of government, and much more. If you’re new to researching at QSA, here are 6 tips to help you get started before you come and visit us.

1. Find out as much as you can before you visit us

To help you find information at QSA it will help if you gather as much information as you can. Names, dates, and places connected with your search will all help with locating records in our collection.  This step could also help save you time and expense because the records you are looking for may not be held at QSA.

For example, birth, death and marriage records cannot be viewed or ordered at QSA. The Registry of births deaths and marriages has historical databases that you can search online, and order copies from.

2. Try to figure out what the Government connection is

Did a department in the Queensland State Government receive or create information about the topic you are interested in? There could be a lot of different interactions with different government departments and thinking about these connections may help you find things you didn’t even think of.

3. Try online sources

There are lots of places online that can help you find useful information. For example, the National Library of Australia has digitised newspapers from around the country that are available online up to the mid-1950s.  TROVE is searchable by name and can show all sorts of interesting information.  Obituaries, court appearances, hotel licenses and much more.  All of this information can help find records at QSA.

4. Make notes and keep careful records

As you search through all of these different sources of information, make sure you keep careful notes of what you have found, and where. For example, if you find information about a court appearance in TROVE, we may be able to find an original court record if you provide the names of the parties involved, the name of the court, the date, and if at all possible, the offence.

5. Search online from home

Once you’ve gathered as much information as you can, try entering the name you are searching for in our catalogue, ArchiveSearch. Some of our records can be searched by a person’s name. You might be surprised by what you find.

If you are lucky enough to find a record with a name search, make sure you make a note of the Item Identification and the caption. This information will help you find the record again whether you visit us at 435 Compton Road Runcorn to view the record or request a quote to have a scanned copy of the record sent to you

6. Explore our collection

We have lots of guidance about our records on the website. This section of the website contains lots of information about some of our most popular topics.  Each section contains brief guides that explain the sorts of records you might find, as well as links to indexes that can be name searched.  Have a look around.

If you have any questions or would like to give us some feedback, please contact us via the online form on the ‘Contact the State Archives’ page or any of the other methods available.

Thanks for watching.

How archival records are arranged

Understanding how archival records are arranged can help you find what you need.

Archival records are preserved in the original order the government agency put them in. In general, records are not arranged by name, geographical location or very specific subjects.

Records are arranged into items which can be, for example, bundles of correspondence an architectural drawing or a 500-page book.

Items are arranged into series, which are groups of items created, received or used in the same activity of the given government agency.

Series are then grouped by the government agency that created the records.

Read the Research Guide to Queensland State Archives’  record systems for more information.

Start your research

Research online

You can do preliminary research online by:

Most of the records are not viewable online. So while you can do preliminary research online, to view an archival record you will most likely need to order a copy or visit us in person.

Archival research can be time consuming and often involves searching through many records with no certainty that you will find the specific information you’re looking for. While this can be frustrating, it can also be exciting to find information you didn’t know existed.

Record what you find

Always record what you have researched, even if you didn’t find the information you were looking for, as it may save you time later. Establish a system of recording your information. The biggest mistake made by most researchers is not keeping accurate records.

Accessing what you find

Ordering copies of records

We can provide a digitised copy of our records for a fee. You can order a copy of a record listed in an index or ArchivesSearch.

Restricted records

Some of the records we hold are restricted and closed to the public.

The length of time a record is closed is listed under ‘Access Category’ in ArchivesSearch. The closure period begins from the end date of the record. For example, an item closed for 100 years, with an end date of 4 October 1946, will be open on 5 October 2046.

In some cases you can access closed records. Contact us for help requesting access from the Government agency that is responsible for the record.

Why can’t I find what I’m looking for?

There are several reasons why you may not find a record at QSA.

  • Some records have not survived.
  • Some records are restricted.
  • The name may have been written in the record phonetically as the clerks wrote the names as they heard them. Think about how it could be spelt as it was heard.
  • Spelling of all names was not as consistent as it is today. Check alternatives e.g. Thompson and Thomson.
  • The name may have been incorrectly indexed as the handwriting is sometimes difficult to read or the ink has faded. The capital letters L, T, F and S are often confused as are lower case letters n, m, u and w. Also, the use of double ‘s’ (ss) often looks like fs, so Ross will be indexed as Ross but may appear in the record as Rofs.
  • A blank cell indicates that there is no information recorded in the original.

Citing archival records

Whenever you reference records from QSA, the accepted citation should be included. Citations for archival records are important for the attribution and acknowledgment of the creator of the record, and to link to the origin or provenance of the record. Citation also enables other researchers to find and use the records.

Contact us

Contact us for more help.