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Local Government Records for Family History

Local Authorities in Queensland

Records created by local authorities are useful for genealogy and local history. Local government began in Queensland in the 19th century with the establishment of Divisional Boards. These have since been replaced by Shire Councils, Town Councils and City Councils. Boundaries have changed from time to time, and maps showing those changes are available at Queensland State Archives, and in Queensland Year Books.

A finding aid that I found very useful was the 'local authorities card index' at Qld State Archives. Arranged alphabetically by name of local authority, it shows dates of establishment of divisions, shires, towns etc., thus making it easy to ascertain the correct title at any given time. For example, Tabragalba Division was established in 1879; in 1890 Tambourine Division was established from part of Tabragalba Division; and in 1903 it became Tambourine Shire. Local authority details should also be available under 'agencies' in the Archives' online catalogue.

The resources described below are frequently used for family history, but the list is not exhaustive. Before attempting to locate records of local authorities, read the Qld State Archives Brief Guide to Local History Sources. If you can't find it on their new Web site (opens in a new window), ask them for a copy. See also Brisbane City Archives.

Rate Books and Valuation Registers

Many such records are at Qld State Archives, and others may be held locally by the Council. If rate books and valuation registers exist, use both, because one often gives information that is not in the other. Details shown may include the situation of the land (parish/portion), name and residence of owner, name and occupation of occupier, annual value, and rates due and received. They may also provide information about dates of erection of buildings, or transfer of ownership. A quick way to find local authority records for a particular district is to consult the relevant Qld State Archives Signposts booklet.

A case study that illustrates the use of Council records is the search for the death of Scott SMITH, who owned portion 245, parish of Albert, county of Ward. Beenleigh Shire Council valuation registers listed his residence for several years as Goodna Asylum. I therefore looked for asylum records, which revealed that his true name was John Scott SMITH. His death was registered as 'John SMITH', and I may never have found it without the clue provided by valuation registers.

My Web site lists names from Paroo Divisional Board valuation registers and rate books 1887-1890.

Cemetery records

Many cemetery burial registers (though not all) are held by local Councils. Sometimes they are indexed only by first letter of surname. Registers vary in content, but may include date of burial, age, occupation, religion, and occasionally other details such as birthplace, person who arranged the burial, or names of others buried in the same plot. When using these registers, remember that some entries may be missing, or may have been incorrectly copied from an earlier register. (A basic rule of family history is to verify each fact using multiple independent sources.)

Qld State Archives hold a few cemetery records, which are listed in their Brief Guide to Cemetery Records and their online catalogue. Some Councils have allowed their burial registers to be transcribed, so consult the book Cemeteries in Australia: a Register of Transcripts (Martyn Killion and Heather Garnsey, AFFHO, 1994). There may be more than one such transcription in existence. It is essential to check them all because one may be more accurate than another, or may cover a longer time period.

Many burial register indexes are held by the Qld Family History Society, Genealogical Society of Qld, Society of Australian Genealogists, and family or local history groups in regional areas. Some are on Findmypast and Ancestry. Only a small proportion of the available indexes will ever be on the Internet, but public and genealogical libraries hold vast collections of such material in manuscript, book, microfiche or CD format.

My 'Genealogy Basics' page includes links to some burial registers that are on the Internet.

Local Council libraries

The free public library system in based on local government areas, and a number of Council libraries have established local history reference collections. A few are listed in the book Specialist Indexes in Australia: a Genealogist's Guide, but others also exist.

Published local histories

Such publications are often commissioned by local Councils, and although they vary in quality and reliability they generally provide a useful overview of a district's development. Look for them in the State Library, John Oxley Library, family history society libraries, the public library in the relevant district, or (for Brisbane) in Brisbane City Archives; or write direct to the relevant Council, who may still have copies for sale. See also the Directory of Queensland Local Histories (M. Jenner, Qld Association of Local and Family History Societies, Greenslopes, 1998).

Other Council records

Qld State Archives hold many types of local government records, such as voters lists; inwards and outwards correspondence; assessment and cash books for water rates and health rates; wages books; and minutes of Council meetings. Few of these records are accompanied by indexes, but if a local history reference collection exists elsewhere, it may include indexes to sources at the Archives. Such reference collections may be held by Council libraries, family history groups, historical societies or individual local historians. Specialist Indexes in Australia lists some such collections.

Although some material relating to licenses for slaughterhouses, publicans, hawkers etc may be in Council records, it is more likely to be listed in the State Archives catalogue under the heading 'Court of Petty Sessions' or 'Clerk of Petty Sessions'.

Information about local government authorities, including names of members of Divisional Boards, appeared in Qld Government Gazettes. Search for 'Queensland Government Gazette' (use the singular 'Gazette', not 'Gazettes') in the A to Z list on Findmypast. You should find two record sets. Search them both, and read 'Learn more' and 'Search tips'.

Brisbane City Archives

Material held by Brisbane City Archives includes photographs, Council minutes, annual reports, plans, survey maps, building registers, staff leave cards, and various other records.

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