Making the family skeleton dance

If you cannot get rid of the family skeleton, you may as well make it dance. — George Bernard Shaw   


The State Library of NSW holds over 3000 published family histories, often written by their subjects’ descendants. The shape of this collection is as varied as the contents within, ranging from modestly-bound booklets to multi-volume publications.

The Library doesn’t discriminate - we collect them all!

As a Legal Deposit Library the State Library of NSW is required to be given a copy of any material published in NSW. This 1879 legislation has had a lasting benefit for genealogy, with family histories from as early as 1912 housed in the Library collection. The collection compiles the histories of families ordinary and extraordinary - maybe even yours!

The family history shelves in the State Library of NSW stack, July 2018.

The family history shelves in the State Library of NSW stack, July 2018.

Why write?

Researching family history is an immensely rewarding endeavour. At a certain point however, many researchers arrive at an important question: What next? Putting all this hard work into book form is one solution which offers untold benefits:

Recording your work

A family history book provides its author a permanent record of the countless hours spent digging into the past, and a neat way of arranging those bulging file folders and USB drives.

Telling your story

With many divulging strands on a family tree, it is easy to lose focus and get lost in a sea of names and records. Writing the story down provides an opportunity to put your work into an order that you and other readers can understand and enjoy.

A lasting legacy

The importance of having a tangible record to hand down to children and grandchildren goes without saying. But adding your story to our collection also enriches our collective historical knowledge and provides an important resource for distant family members you’ve never met and those yet to be born.

The published family history of the Jerrard family and its Chideock branch.

Writing your family history

The possession of writing skills is a handy but not essential requirement for writing your family story. It is the information inside rather than the quality of the prose which gives this work its inherent value. Some important things to consider:

Show your work

Wouldn’t it have made your search easier to have found a book detailing part of your family’s story, thoroughly referenced with reproductions of records, index numbers, images and more? By creating such a work you are ensuring that nobody else has to work as hard as you did.

Flesh out your story

While the official records of your ancestors are a necessity for any genealogical research, they don’t tell the whole story. Trove’s digitised newspapers have uncovered a wealth of long-forgotten family stories and can also help to connect those frustrating loose ends. Family reminiscences, photographs and oral histories are another great way of adding colour to your book.  

Collage of family history collections

An example of family history collections at the Library.

Next Steps

Attend an event at the Library

During Family History Month, we have a series of hands-on workshops and events. Family History Librarians will talk about unique collections held at the Library and how to take your research to the next level.

Get Inspired

Visit the Library and browse our extensive collection of family histories, available for viewing with a State Library of NSW library card.

Complete your research

In addition to providing access to Ancestry and Find My Past, the Library has a huge array of family history resources to help you clear those roadblocks. We have also created some specialised family history research guides to further aid your search.

Start Writing!

If there’s a book that you want to read, but it hasn’t been written yet, then you must write it. – Toni Morrison