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Family history frequently asked questions: Family history FAQs

Designed by the State Library of South Australia for use in the Family History area to answer only the most frequently asked family history questions (FAQ). For further assistance please see our family history LibGuides on specific topics.

When did South Australia start keeping official records of births, deaths and marriages (civil registration)?

July 1842. Prior to that date records of births, deaths and marriages in the colony were recorded in the Holy Trinity Church baptism, burial and marriage registers (located on the bottom shelf under the SA Births, Deaths and Marriages Registration Indexes in the Family History area) or in the Register newspaper (available on microfilm in the Family History area). Some pre-1842 births and deaths were never officially documented. There is a three volume set of indexes to the personal notices published in the Register covering the years 1836 - 1870 (located on the shelves in the Family History area).

Does the State Library of South Australia hold the original births, deaths and marriages certificates?

No. The Library only holds indexes to these certificates, for SA births: 1842 - 1928; SA deaths: 1842 - 1972 and SA marriages: 1842 - 1937. 

Certificates can be ordered from Consumer and Business Services, Births, Deaths and Marriages Registration Office, Level 2, Chesser House, 91-97 Grenfell Street, Adelaide. Application forms can also be obtained from any South Australian Post Office or online at

The SA Births, Deaths and Marriages Registration Indexes have a code at the end of each entry. What does the ‘b’ and ‘p’ mean?

‘b’ = book, ‘p’ = page. This is the code used by the SA Births, Deaths and Marriages Registration Office to identify individual certificates. Explanations of other abbreviations used in the Indexes are located in the front of each volume or in the help section on the CDs. Anyone wishing to purchase a copy of a certificate will need to quote the book and page numbers, to the SA Births, Deaths and Marriages Registration Office when ordering it.

Why can’t I find someone in the Births, Deaths and Marriages Registration Indexes?

There are various reasons for this. One common reason is the name may have been misspelt or transcribed incorrectly, so try checking under variations of the name.  Other common reasons for an event not being registered include religious groups who resisted civil registration; early on children who died within 42 days of birth only required a death certificate; time and distance meant the inability to register an event (they had 42 days to register before incurring a fine). It is also possible that the event was registered locally but the record never made it to Adelaide. When a registration was made locally it was the responsibility of the local district registrar to send a copy of all records (every 3 months) to Adelaide to be incorporated into the Principal Register. As this did not always happen and the published indexes only use information from the Principal Register, those that did not arrive were not included.

In 1991 the district register system was closed and all registrations centralisted in Adelaide.  In 1993 the original district registers were given to various custodial libraries throughout the State. They are available for people to access, however the custodial libraries only hold those registers which relate to their district. The State Library does not hold copies of the local district registers, however does hold copies of some of the indexes to them, although they are incomplete. There is a list of these custodial libraries, including contact details, located in a folder on the shelf with the 1842-1916 SA Births Registration Indexes in the Family History area.

Microfiche copies of all the district registrations are available at the South Australian Genealogy and Heraldry Society (Genealogy SA). There is a charge to use the Society’s Library if you are not a member. For more details about the registration of SA births, deaths and marriages (including district maps) have a look at South Australian registration districts of births, deaths and marriages by Beryl E. Schahinger (located on the SA Research shelves in the Family History area).



How do I find out about births after 1928, deaths after 1972 and marriages after 1937?

The SA Registrar of Births, Deaths and Marriages has made the decision not to release any more indexes after these dates for privacy reasons. It may be possible to track later events using the National Library of Australia’s Trove site to search the South Australian newspapers up to 1954 at SA deaths may also be located using the Advertiser Funeral Notices index if a personal notice was placed in the Advertiser newspaper. This index is located in large black folders on the shelf adjacent the published SA Deaths Registration Indexes in the Family History area.

What information is found on a South Australian birth, death or marriage certificate?

This information has been printed and is displayed at the end of the book shelves (left side) where the SA Births, Deaths and Marriages Registration Indexes are housed in the Family History area. For more information on SA births, deaths or marriages refer to the State Library’s guide Births, Deaths and Marriages at

How can I find out about an adoption in South Australia?

Legalised adoption was only introduced in South Australia in 1925. Prior to this 'adoptions' were generally arranged within families or by various churches. More information relating to adoption can be found in the State Library’s guide Adoption and Fostering of Children at

When did women get the vote in South Australia?

1894; however it was not exercised until the next election in 1896. The first surviving electoral roll on which women’s names appears is 1909. Prior to 1857 only men who were British subjects and owned or rented property with a minimum value of £100 could vote. In 1857 the franchise was extended to all adult males who were British subjects or naturalised citizens residing at the same residence for 6 months. Further information can be found in the State Library’s guide Electoral Rolls at or at SA Memory

Can I find records of my ancestors in South Australian census records?

Yes, although the only SA census with personal details attached is 1841. A copy (with index) may be found in the Family History area. The next available census with personal details will be the 2001 census which will be released to the public in 2101. On census night in 2001 an option was given on the form to have personal details retained or destroyed. Those who ticked 'no' to retain or left the question blank will not have had their details kept.

How far back do West Terrace Cemetery records go?

Records are available from 1840 onwards. The first burials were in 1836; however the records of burials for 1836 - 1839 were destroyed by fire. The State Library has copies of the records up to 1959 on microfiche in the Family History area. You can also search via the cemetery's website This is part of the Adelaide Cemeteries Authority site which also has links to Enfield Memorial Park, Smithfield Memorial Park and the Cheltenham Cemetery.

My ancestor lived and worked in Adelaide. Why can’t I find a burial record for him/her in West Terrace Cemetery?

Many of the early inhabitants of Adelaide were buried in the North Road Cemetery rather than at West Terrace. The State Library has copies of these records from 1853 - 1996 on microfilm (SRG 94/24) in the Family History area. For more details on South Australian cemeteries, including the State Library holdings and what is available online, refer to the State Library’s guide SA Cemeteries at

Why can’t I find my ancestor on a passenger list?

Not all passenger lists have survived. A large number of early manifests were either destroyed by fire or water. Newspapers printed lists of arriving passengers and many of these have survived. Unfortunately in many cases the newspapers name those who travelled in 1st and 2nd class but only gave a number for those in steerage e.g. 'plus 216 in steerage'. Further information can be found in the State Library’s guide Immigration to South Australia at

Where can I find convict records for South Australia?

South Australia was the only colony not settled using convicts or indentured servants so there are no South Australian records for convicts transported directly from England. There are records available however, for convicted criminals who were sentenced to transportation from South Australia to the eastern penal colonies 1837-1851. For further information see the Australian convict records Library Guide at

Why can’t I find my ancestor in the various almanacs and directories?

The almanacs and directories were produced essentially for commercial purposes.  There is evidence to suggest they were compiled by publishing companies who employed people to door-knock the suburbs and country towns. As this method was not foolproof many people are likely to have been missed and therefore their names not listed. Occasionally homeowners may also have declined to be included.
Note only the ‘head of household’ is recorded in each instance.  Single women and widows were not named if they were living with other (male) relatives. Similarly boarders, guests, servants and other adult dependants were not included. More detailed records of home ownership and occupation are contained in local government assessment (rate) records available through State Records or individual councils. More information about directories can be found at:

State Library of South Australia's Family History area

The State Library Family History Collection specialises in South Australian resources. It is also strong in material relating to England and Ireland and includes a selection of interstate and overseas resources. The collection is located in the Library's Spence Wing on Level 1. A staff member is in attendance in the area weekdays (excluding public holidays) from 10am to 5pm. Outside these times assistance is available at the Information Desk.