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Passenger and Shipping Records

If you're researching your family history, you’ll find our online guides are a great place for research tips and resources. To help you get the ball rolling, this month we’re shining a spotlight on some of the resources in each of these guides.

Getting Started

You’re likely to hit a wall with what you can find through Births, deaths and marriages records eventually. Most Australians researching their family tree will reach a point where they want to find out more about when and how their ancestors arrived.

A good starting point for this is our Shipping records and Passenger records guides. These list resources for finding out more about shipping movements and passengers coming to and going from Australia. Many of these resources are for use in the library only. But there are also links to online indexes from NSW State Records and Archives.

In these guides our family history librarians have shared some of the best resources for working out where to start looking for information about your ancestors’ journey to Australia

Build on what you know

To get started it helps to know a bit about how, why and when your ancestors arrived. Were they assisted passengers or unassisted passengers? Did they arrive as part of a ship’s crew? Or were t

hey in 

the military? Did you ancestor arrive alone or with other family members? Do you have any dates to look for?

Your births, deaths and marriages research should give you some idea of when they might have arrived. Gravestones or news articles might give you information about when and how your ancestor arrived in NSW. 

Where should you start?

In preparing this post I’ve been looking up my own ancestry to test some of the tips. I found my great grandmother Susan’s death notice, which tells me her maiden name (Monahan) and that she was from County Cavan in Ireland.

From grave and marriage records I know she was born in about 1865 and was married in Sydney in 1892.

Also, I searched in Trove for the address listed in her death and found the death notice for her sister, Anne, who must have lived with Susan’s family. This find gives me a spelling variant for Susa

n’s last name and tells me Susan had at least two sisters in Sydney, and perhaps they travelled together.

So my starting point is to look for two or more women or girls named Monahan from Cavan travelling together earlier than 1892. 

Finding passenger records

Until this point everything I’ve discovered about Susan has been freely available online. But now I’ll need to use some in-library resources.

Coming from Ireland in the 1880s I’ll start with the assumption that Susan was an assisted passenger. So I’ll use the first resource in the Assisted passengers guide, the Assisted I

mmigrant Passenger Lists, 1828–1896 —

 Ancestry Library Edition, to look for Susan. I quite quickly found my great grandmother and her sister – Susan and Ann Monaghan from Cavan, aged 20 and 18, who arrived on the Nineveh on the 22nd September 1881, to work in Sydney as servants. I was also able to find from the NSW - Immigration Deposit Journals 1853 - 1900 on Ancestry Library that a Mary Monaghan, aged 23 and likely to be their older sister, sponsored both women to come to Australia. 

Imagining the journey 

If you want to get a feel for what the trip was like for your ancestors, you can look for photographs of the ship they travelled in. This is an area where the armchair researcher can benefit from the many, many hours of work serious collectors and enthusiasts have already put into finding, keeping and digitising photographs and postcards. I looked for photos of the Nineveh in some of the online collections listed on the Ships pictures research guide, and found several digitised photographs of this ship online from the State Libraries of Victoria and South Australia. These can also be found by searching Trove pictures

I can’t imagine it was the most comfortable of journeys travelling as single women with cheap tickets. Families travelling in saloon class had more comfortable accommodation, but I still think I’d choose a plane. 

Thornbury family on deck of ship, City of Adelaide, 1881

Not all pictures are “Pictures“

The ship you’re interested in might be in a book rather than a picture collection. We have a catalogue of images in printed books which you can use to find pictures of ships in books and journals relating to or published within Australia. This resource is an old-school card catalogue that has been painstakingly prepared and lovingly kept, ready for keen researchers like you. Visit the Special Collections Area in the Mitchell Library Reading Room and ask staff at the desk how to search the catalogue.

Are you ready to piece together more about how your ancestors arrived in Australia? Visit our Shipping records and Passenger records guides to help you find out more.