He was a Wild Colonial Boy – When Your Ancestor was an Australian
Australia has a rich history, and it tells the stories of both its indigenous peoples and the immigrants who settled on its shores. Australia was initially merely a penal colony for the British government, and most of its early, colonial settles were criminals or convicts who had been imprisoned in spite of their innocence. It is quite fashionable to have a convict in ones ancestral lineage these days, in fact the Australians consider having more convicts in your lineage makes you more Australian. The probability of you having an Australian ancestor who was either a convict or a member of the military force that guarded them is directly proportional to the time they arrived “Down Under”.
Being sent to a penal colony in Australia or elsewhere during colonial times was actually considered to be a humane form of punishment by the British government. Convicts were originally were sent to the American colonies, most being debtors who were housed in debtors colonies or criminal settlement, regardless of the term of sentence. The American Revolutionary War brought an end to penal colonies in America, and the British government was forced to look for alternative locations when their prisons began to become overcrowded. Initially convicts were placed on old, unseaworthy ships known as hulks along the English coast, and soon became overcrowded and riddled with disease themselves. The first convicts were subsequently shipped to Australia in 1787, and over the next seventy years many penal colonies were established.
Because of its past, researching Australian ancestors can be a fun-filled adventure, but there are of course certain strategies one can use to find their ancestor more efficiently. One thing I found helpful when researching early Australian records was to have a basic understanding of the judicial system of the United Kingdom at the time in question. Knowing where to find your ancestors criminal records is tantamount to a successful search, as they will inform you as to which penal colony he was sent to. Most of theses records are held at a state level in Australia in their respectful archives, and most penal colonies were located in Victoria, Queensland, New South Wales, Western Australia and Tasmania.
It is important to understand that the Australian National Archives date mostly from the forming of the Australian Federation in 1901. They have no records of convicts or colonial period immigrations, or even of any type of colonial period government administration. What they do have are twentieth century Immigration Records and a few older ones dating back to 1850. The most valuable records for those searching colonial period ancestors are those found in the individual state archives. The major source of genealogical value that the National Archives of Australia offers however is their Fact Sheets Page. Here you can find all of the addresses, contact info, and website addresses for all of the repositories that hold specific Australian records. The great thing is that you can search by record type, and it will display every facility in Australia that has those records, and how to access them.
Other important Australian records can be found as follows:
Civil Registration Records of births, deaths, and marriages were initially the responsibility of the colonies in Australia and later fell to the states and territories. They can now be acquired by contacting the registrar in the state in the state where the event occurred. Australian Census reports have been taken every year since 1901, but unfortunately for genealogists they have all been destroyed according to Australian law. Other records such as convict musters and returns and post office directories can be used as substitutes, and these also can be found in the individual state archives.