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Family History Starter Guide: Home

For those new to family history and the State Library of South Australia collection, or for those needing a few tips and tricks

State Library family history services

The State Library's Family History Collection is located in the Spence Wing on Level 1. Assistance is available at the main Information Desk.

For lengthy enquiries, you may submit a query via our Ask Us Service and we can conduct an hour of research on your behalf. 

(Gurney Meyer, 1894 aged 2 years. Lovelock album, B 72502/25)

Some useful Research Guides

The links below take you to our most popular family history guides:

Other useful resources

Getting started

1. Before you begin, check to see if your family history has already been researched.  Ask family members, check the State Library catalogue, local genealogy or history groups such as Genealogy SA and the Pioneers Association of SA or try an Internet search.

2. The best way to begin family history research is to work backwards from yourself.

3. Write down all known details about yourself, parents, grandparents, and any other ancestors you know about.

4. Ask relatives, especially elderly family members, about what they know, and whether they have any records or photographs. Use family stories as a starting point but remember sometimes these have become altered over time.

5. Record information as you collect it in a logical way on a family tree chart. These are freely available on various websites. (See 'Forms and Charts').

6. Note the sources for your information carefully. This will save time later if you need to check anything.

7. Always keep a second copy (back-up) copy of your electronic records.

Documenting information

(Jane Tolmer with children Elizabeth,James, Nell, Belle (front), Richard and Bert, c. 1886. B 17666)



  • Write surnames in capital letters to avoid confusion, especially if the surname could also be a given name e.g. James PAUL.
  • Always record the woman's surname before marriage.
  • Underline unusual names or spelling, for example Denis (an unusual spelling).
  • Sometimes nicknames or shortened names were used rather than their actual names, for example Peggy (for Dorothy).
  • Sometimes when a name has been repeated down generations, the younger generation is known by their middle name.
  • Some cultural groups tend to be known by their middle name, this often occurred with German Lutheran families.
  • Traditionally Scottish families used a naming pattern which can give a clue for ancestors, for example the first son was named after the father's father, the second son after the mother's father, first daughter after the mother's mother, second daughter after the father's mother, etc.
  • Remember that even on official records, names may be misspelt.
  • Old records often used standard abbreviations for first names, e.g. Jno = Jonathon, Wm = William, Hny = Henry, Cth = Catherine.


  • Always write the year in full, so that for example 1912 does not become confused with 1812 or 2012.
  • Double-check that you have recorded the dates correctly, as numbers are easily transcribed mistakenly.
  • Clearly note whether a date is a burial date and not a death date, or a baptism date and not a birth date.
  • Dates that are approximate should be shown as 'about' or 'before' or 'c' (circa).


  • There may be multiple places with the same name, so it is a good idea to write the city or town followed by county/state and country.
  • Background information on locations in South Australia can be found in the Manning Index of South Australia .
  • Background for locations in Britain can be found in the Chapman country and county codes.


  • Proof-read carefully to ensure accuracy.
  • Copy information exactly as it is in the original. Unfortunately some originals can be difficult to read due to old handwriting styles or faded print. (See 'Deciphering Documents' under Videos and Tutorials.)
  • Where there is conflicting information, record all versions.
  • It is a good idea to verify information with two original sources if possible.
  • Verify family stories with written documents where possible.

Family history top 10 guides

            New top 10 guides of resources and websites for family history research

What is a First Cousin Once Removed?

Family Tree/Genealogy charts

The State Library has created a 'Genealogy Chart' and a 'Drop Line Chart' to assist customers researching family history:

There are other free family tree charts, pedigree charts, and research logs to keep your research organised:

(A young family c. 1900. Moore family album B 70245/7)


(Unknown soldier and family c. 1916. Chamberlain Collection B 46130/185) 

Always label and date photographs. Your descendants will thank you for it.‚Äč