Beyond Ancestry and FindMyPast - Family History Month

Online family history databases such as Ancestry and Find My Past have made the task of genealogical research a more simple and accessible proposition than in earlier times.

Important as they are however, they are by no means where your search should begin and end. The State Library of NSW has a range of online resources that allow you to continue your journey of discovery from home.

The Library’s eresources collection is a sprawling and ever-expanding collection, and a historical goldmine for the dedicated family history researcher. The majority of our eresources are available from home with a Library card, meaning the next breakthrough in your genealogical search is available at the click of a button.

Newspaper extract from Northampton Mercury, Trial of Woodham and Ruglass, June 4 1781, p13

Trial of Woodham and Ruglass, Northampton Mercury, June 4 1781, e13, p3

Our first Convicts?

When Samuel Woodham and John Ruglass were sentenced to death in June 1781, they couldn’t have known the part their stories would play in shaping the history of Australia. Escaping the noose via transportation (two of their co-conspirators were not so fortunate), it would not be until the 1786 decision to establish a penal colony in New South Wales that their destination was decided.

This newspaper article (right) is perhaps the first record of First Fleet convicts being convicted of crimes that would lead them to Australia.

Historic newspapers at the State Library of NSW

The Northampton Mercury, the source of information regarding the Woodham-Ruglass trial, is just one of hundreds of British and Irish newspapers available through the Library’s Newspaper eResources. Gale’s British Library Newspapers is a collection of 18 databases with newspapers and periodicals dating back as far as 1600. With extensive coverage across the British Isles, newspapers can be an important way of tracing your family’s British roots- from family notices and shipping news to criminal trials and other family scandals.

Where to next?

Return of the convicts intended for Botany Bay on board the Scarborough, March 13, 1877 [CO 201/2.239]

Return of the convicts intended for Botany Bay on board the Scarborough, March 13, 1877 [CO 201/2.245]

Bound for Australia

The crimes of John Ruglass and Samuel Woodham saw them counted among the names on the passenger list of the Scarborough (left), which sailed for Port Jackson on May 13, 1787. This passenger list was sourced from Frontier Life: Borderlands, Settlements and Colonial Encounters 1650-1920, another invaluable database available through the Library’s eResources. A repository of primary sources relating to all aspects of life in colonial Australia, Frontier Life includes a number of documents not available anywhere else digitally. See our earlier blog post for more information about this important resource.

Using primary sources

Searching original documents presents a different challenge to user-friendly resources such as Ancestry and Find My Past. These records are rarely indexed and transcribed, and without knowing precisely what you are looking for, databases such as Frontier Life may appear intimidating and unwieldy. With a degree of patience and a basic understanding of the colonial system however, a family history researcher can find great reward. 

Where to next?


George Barrington drawn from the life during his trial at the old Bailey on Friday Sep. 17, 1790.
View collection item detail


As one of Australia’s most significant repositories of colonial history, some of the best information relating to the early years of the colony can be found right here at the State Library of NSW.

A simple catalogue search retrieves thousands of digitised books, journals, maps, artwork, objects and more, detailing everyday life in the colony as well as the people and events that shaped the future of the nation.

Browse through the collection, search for specific items like our State Library First Fleet Journals, or check out our Stories highlighting some of our most significant and unique collection items.