Archives and Libraries, Genealogy Websites

National Library of Australia

When conducting genealogy research, knowing where to find relevant information can sometimes be difficult.  This is where a library can be of great assistance.  The National Library of Australia (NLA), Canberra is operated by the Library Council as per the National Library Act (1960).  In 1901 the National Library of Australia first opened and was relocated to Canberra in 1927 when Federal Parliament relocated.1  In 1960 it was formally separated from the Parliamentary Library and the foundation stone laid in March 1966.1 Prime Minister Harold Holt on opening the library stated:

We cannot understand the present or plan for the future without the knowledge of the past.1


National Library of Australia, Canberra
National Library of Australia, image courtesy of National Library of Australia.




The National Library of Australia’s collection contains a range of resources pertaining to the history of Australia and its people.2 It includes archived websites, ephemera, manuscripts, maps, music, newspapers, oral history, folklore, pictures and much more.2  Their major focus is the preservation and digitisation of records to ensure these resources are available for future generations.3   There are so many interesting items, It is easy to become sidetracked whilst looking for your information.


The National Library of Australia Catalogue
National Library of Australia Catalogue, Image courtesy of NLA.

You can search the catalogue by keyword or by simply browsing the collections. They have a range of eResources including online journals and databases, including Trove.  Trove contains digitised newspapers, government gazettes, journals, articles, books, pictures, objects, photos, music, sound, video, maps, diaries, letters, archives, archived websites 1996-now, people and organisations, lists.4





Family History

There is a wealth of information to be gathered on this site for genealogists.5 The getting started guide helps you plan a visit or utilise their online collections.5  They have a comprehensive list of all the family history resources they hold.6 These can be found in their Newspapers and Family History in the Main Reading Room.6  This document outlines every record you can find in their collection.6 It also provides links to websites that can be accessed from home.6

Organise Your Genealogy Research, National Library of AustraliaMany of the genealogy resources are now digitised which you can find in eResources under the subject of Genealogy.7  Some of the eResources require you to have a membership card.8 This can easily be attained by completing the online registration form and they will post a card to you.8  You must live in Australia to obtain a card.8 Use eReources to locate links to other sites, indexes,  guides, and other family history resources available on the site.8  Many of the resources can be accessed online. However, some resources, for example, the library editions of Ancestry and Findmypast can only be accessed in their reading room.7

The following are items of particular interest to family historians and guides are provided to help you use these records.6


The following collections may also be of interest, however, there are no guides provided for these collections:

  • General Register Office: indexes to English and Welsh births, deaths, marriages
  • The Griffith Valuation and index to the Tithe Applotment books (Ireland)
  • Indexes to inquests and probate records
  • Australian censuses and musters
  • Australian parish records on microfilm (Society of Australian Genealogists collection)
  • Directories and almanacs


You may also discover material relating to your family history in other collections of the library including:




Robert Hilton Matheson, Trove, National Library of Australia
‘In Memorium’ Robert Hilton Matheson, Image courtesy of Trove, National Library of Australia.

Trove is a free service and is a real treasure trove of information for any genealogist with Australian links.  It contains over 500 million resources: digitised newspapers, government gazettes, journals, articles, books, pictures, objects, photos, music, sound, video, maps, diaries, letters, archives, archived websites 1996-now, people and organisations, lists.9  The picture to the left is a screenshot of a quick search I conducted to show you its power.  My great-uncle Robert Hilton Matheson was K.I.A. in WWI on 23 May 1918. This is just a sample of the memorial notices I found dedicated to him.10 If you need assistance with navigating Trove, head over to their help page. The have some great guides to help you find what you are looking for.11




CJ Matheson Grocers Ltd, Trove, National Library of Australia
Search for Matheson Grocers, Image courtesy of Trove, National Library of Australia
Trove, National Library of Australia
CJ Matheson Grocer, Image courtesy of City of Vincent

I then conducted a search under Pictures, Photos, and Objects for Matheson Grocers. This was a store owned by Robert’s brother Charles Jardine Matheson, in Perth, Western Australia.  Trove gave me a number of images as a result so I clicked on this image.12  Clicking on the image I was taken to the full information regarding this image on the City of Vincent website.13  In just a couple of minutes, I had pulled up so much information about my family.



Research Service

The library offers a limited Research Service where librarians can assist you in locating resources and utilising their equipment.14  Their Ask a Librarian program allows you to call or complete the online form to ask questions.15 They can help with finding and accessing resources in their collection and to provide research tips.15  They cannot assist by conducting extensive research on your behalf and suggest you contact a professional genealogist.16





Visiting the Library

genealogy brick walls, review your research, go back a generation, National Library of AustraliaThe National Library of Australia is located in Parkes Place, Canberra ACT 2600.  It is open 7 days per week except for Good Friday and Christmas Day, however, the reading rooms are closed on all public holidays.17  For more information regarding opening hours look here.  I personally recommend researching online exactly what you would like to see at the library prior to attending. That way you don’t waste valuable time.  They have a number of different reading rooms and gallery’s. It would be wise to know where your content is located prior to your visit.


  • Main Reading Room
    • you can collect a membership card
    • access computers and the internet
    • access to their general collection of published materials
  • Special Collections Reading Room
    • access to computers and the internet
    • use audio equipment to listen to oral histories and folklore
    • access to the material contained in the picture, manuscripts, maps, oral history, music, ephemera, and rare printed collections.
  • Petherick Reading Room
    • this room is co-located with the Special Collections Reading Room
    • it is dedicated to advanced researchers only, who are required to apply for a special card to access this area for the duration of their research project.
  • The Asian Collections Reading Room
    • this collection includes Asian language books, journals, electronic resources and databases.
  • Treasures Gallery
    • Free tours are conducted daily at 11.30am
    • Highlights of this gallery include The Blaeu Map, Henry Lawson’s Fobwatch, 1967 Referendum, Minature Books, and Bligh’s notebooks, and so much more.
  • Exhibition Gallery
    • this is where special events are conducted by the library including, but not limited to, book launches, music performances, special exhibits.
  • National Library Bookshop
    • a collection of books and other merchandise published by the library as well as other items with Australian content with purchases going towards supporting the ongoing work of the library.
  • Bookplate Cafe
    • after your hours spent walking around the collections and researching you will require some refreshments.



Write down what you know, speak to older relatives, National Library of Australia

Contact Details

Phone:  +61 (0)2 6262 1111


Ask a Librarian





The National Library of Australia can be of great assistance to you in researching your Australian ancestors. Or just learning more about Australia as a nation.  If you have an ancestor who was in Australia you may find something related to them on this valuable site.  Trove is well worth looking at even just to explore what was making news at any given time around the country.  If you want to find your ancestors or brush up on your history have a look today.


So what have you got to lose?  Take a look through their vast collection today and you may just find some interesting stories about your family!  Come back and tell me what you find.




1. National Library of Australia, ‘History of the Library’,, Accessed 22 January 2018.
2. National Library of Australia, ‘Collections’,, Accessed 22 January 2018.
3. National Library of Australia, ‘Preserving Our Collections’,, Accessed 22 January 2018.
4. National Library of Australia, ‘Catalogue’,, Accessed 22 January 2018.
5. National Library of Australia, ‘Getting Started’,, Accessed 22 January 2018.
6. National Library of Australia, ‘Family History Sources’,, Accessed 22 January 2018.
7. National Library of Australia, ‘eResources’,, Accessed 22 January 2018.
8. National Library of Australia, ‘Get a library card’,, Accessed 22 January 2018.
9. National Library of Australia, ‘Trove’,, Accessed 22 January 2018.
10. “Family Notices”, Western Mail (Perth, WA : 1885 – 1954) 14 June 1918: 19. Web. 22 Jan 2018 <>.
11. National Library of Australia, ‘Trove Support Zone’,, Accessed 22 January 2018.
12. National Library of Australia, ‘Trove’,, Accessed 22 January 2018.
13. City of Vincent, ‘Charles Matheson, founder of CJ Matheson Grocer on his motorbike outside his shop at 298 Oxford Street’, Leederville’,, Accessed 22 January 2018.
14. National Library of Australia, ‘Reader Services Policy’,, Accessed 22 January 2018.
15. National Library of Australia, ‘Ask a Librarian’,, Accessed 22 January 2018.
16. National Library of Australia, ‘Research Services’,, Accessed 22 January 2018.
17. National Library of Australia, ‘Opening Hours’,, Accessed 22 January 2018.

10 thoughts on “National Library of Australia

  1. Reading this just makes me wish I lived in a country that valued history and its library system. In the US, libraries are heavily dependent on whether local taxes fund them. So, some places have fabulous ones, and others … may as well not exist.

    1. Hi Penelope

      I wish everywhere placed value on libraries and archives and heritage buildings. I am glad that we have this resource in Australia but it is 1200km from my home! I do enjoy looking through its online resources though but one day I hope to visit and see it in action. Unfortunately in my city we have lost so much heritage because the government is about development at the cost of heritage. We have a good state library, and some good local ones, however actual heritage is not appreciated as much as it should be!

  2. Hi, I never knew that we had such an extensive suite of resources available to us. I am blown away.

    I have been meaning to take another trip to Canberra because I’ve always wanted to take my kids to the War Memorial, and to Questacon, so we will now add this library to our list of places to see. I’m sure it is beautiful as well as it is historically significant.

    Thanks for your thorough information here.

    1. Hi Melissa

      I think we underestimate the resources we have in this vast land of ours. I am amazed that we have such a valuable resource available to us, not only in a physical sense but also as an online presence. I have never considered Canberra as a holiday destination but I think I will need to make this trip myself to see the library, and as you mention the War Memorial and Questacon. I never did the Year 7 in Queensland right of passage Canberra trip, however, my daughter did and loved it. My son hasn’t done it either so I will have to look into this sometime! Thanks for the idea.


  3. The amount of information you have shared on this one page is absolutely amazing! I, too, wish we had all these resources in the U.S. I really enjoyed reading “Visiting the Library” . I actually felt like I was there. You put an incredible amount of information into this work. You are to be commended. I can’t wait to see what you post next. Even though I can’t image there could be more information about resources to find history, is this an exhaustive list?

    Keep up the great work!


    1. Hi Yvette

      Thank you for your kind words. I am amazed that we have this resource in Australia. Unfortunately, it is over 1200 km from my home so I will need to plan a holiday to go check it out in person! Another holiday – sounds great – must stay focussed on this years one!


  4. We are due for a family holiday to Canberra this year to visit Questacon. I’ll be making a stop at the national library to dig in to these great resources available.
    I appreciate the share. This has been a very useful post.

    1. Hi Vince

      I am really glad this post has been of assistance! I will have to plan a trip myself at some point. I spent a couple of nights in Canberra back in the 1980’s sometime and certainly didn’t visit any of these things. Will be looking into a trip soon. You’ll have to let me know how your trip goes.


  5. It just amazes me how much that is available to the Australian public. There is just so much that it would be easy for anyone to be sidetracked.

    If I were to visit Canberra one day to check it out is there plenty of places that I can stay at? Would like to know as I would be travelling quite far away so would want to know that I can find accommodation.


    1. Hi Owain

      It is amazing that we have this resource available to us in Australia.

      I have not been to the National Library myself but do want to visit it one day. I have not been to Canberra since I was a teenager, however, given it is the capital of Australia I would think there would be numerous accommodation options available.

      If I get there before you, I will keep you updated as to what I discover.


Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *