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Immigration to South Australia: Family history FAQs

This State Library of South Australia guide has information on passenger lists, newspaper indexes and immigration schemes. It includes some resources about immigration to other states.

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

July 1842. Between 1836 and this date, most births, deaths and marriages appear in the records for the colony's first church, Holy Trinity Anglican Church.

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

No. The Library holds indexes to SA births, deaths and marriages, created by Genealogy SA and the Registrar's office. These may only be searched in the Library due to restrictions placed by the Registrar's office.

The years available are:

  • Births: 1842 - 1928
  • Marriages: 1842-1937
  • Deaths: 1842 - 1972

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

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.

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

There are various reasons why a birth, death or marriage may not have been registered:

  • The name may have been misspelt or transcribed incorrectly, so try checking under variations of the name. 
  • Distance from a registry office (generally a local police station) may have been prohibitive.
  • In early years if a child died within 42 days of being born, a death registration (but not a birth registration) was required.
  • Sometimes the event was registered locally, but a copy was not forwarded to the Registrar's office in Adelaide.

 For full details about the history of birth, death and marriage registration in south Australia (including district maps) see South Australian registration districts of births, deaths and marriages by Beryl E. Schahinger.

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

It may be possible to find newspaper notices of births, deaths and marriages by searching the National Library's Trove site of digitised historic Australian newspapers up to 1954.

Newspaper notices for funerals since 1971 may also be searched in the Savill index of the Advertiser Funeral Notices.

The State Library holds microfiche of the Supreme Court Testamentary index (probates) for 1844-1999 which generally gives date of death.

Church registers of baptism, marriages and burials may also help - the State Library has a significant collection of church records. For full details search the Library catalogue. (Note that there are privacy restrictions for more recent records.)

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. Records for fostering in South Australia from 1855 onwards are held at State Records of South Australia. More information relating to adoption can be found in Adoption and Fostering of Children 

When did women get the vote in South Australia?

In 1894 legislation enabling women to both vote and stand for Parliament was passed in South Australia.

The first election after the change was in 1896.

The first surviving electoral roll on which women’s names appears is 1909.

Further information can be found in  Electoral Rolls at or at SA Memory

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

The first SA census was taken in 1841. This is the only census which has retained names.

The next available census with personal details will be the 2001 federal census which will be released to the public in 2101. But only if those completing the form gave permission for personal details to be retained.

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 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: