A legacy of Australia’s penal colonies and immigration schemes is a genealogical and historical treasure trove of archival and biographical records. They are being transcribed, indexed and linked to create the Biographical Database of Australia (BDA), a unique resource for historians and genealogists made up of profiles of deceased persons born in Australia, including Aboriginal people, and people who arrived as convicts or immigrants.
This not-for-profit project, the product of years of work by volunteer genealogists, historians and contractors, aims to gather biographical data from original manuscripts, beginning with the meticulous government and church records of the early penal colonies designed to track and identify free and convict residents.
BDA also aims to gather data from government and private sources in the post-convict era in all Australian colonies, ranging from early published biographical dictionaries, newspapers, diaries and letters to the work of modern genealogical and historical researchers. Contributed biographies are identified as secondary sources, distinct from transcribed original sources. The only restriction is that biographical subjects must be deceased.
The database is designed to help researchers find one individual among thousands, to avoid confusing persons of the same name and to track individuals and extended families through time, as well as diverse local communities, occupations, genders and ethnicities. BDA includes the full content of parish register entries, including names of marriage witnesses. Many early Catholic and Protestant records have been fully transcribed and indexed for the first time, their content otherwise only accessible in scrawled manuscripts on microfilm.
BDA was launched on 8 September 2013 with 500,000 records comprising transcripts of convict, shipping, census, muster, birth, marriage, death and other records for most of the New South Wales population 1788-1828, for Norfolk Island and Tasmania 1802-1811, details of 36,000 free immigrants to NSW 1826-1837 and the 1837 muster of all serving convicts in NSW, along with full text short biographies of 11,000+ residents of most colonies/states published 1881-1907.
In March 2015 the database almost doubled in size to 900,000 with the addition of twenty new datasets containing 400,000 entries from all states. The new records include 15,000+ full text mini-biographies published 1879-1905 of professionals, farmers and small businessmen in town and rural communities in all states (nearly 10,000 of them in Victoria) as well as persons mentioned within the biographies and profiles of well-known historical figures. BDA now contains 26,000 of these profiles of middle class Australians of the Victorian era.
For the first time members of the colonial garrisons, exempted from muster and census records, are listed alongside other free and convict colonists. From 2013 BDA listed all members of the NSW Corps 1790-1810. They were joined in 2015 by records of the First Fleet marines of 1788 and the 73rd Regiment serving in NSW and Tasmania 1809-1815.
Also included are 160,000 Colonial Secretary records 1788-1825 from State Records New South Wales and a further 7,000 colonial biographies from all states contributed by modern descendants to the Australian Biographical and Genealogical Record (checked and edited), 2,000+ brief biographies of Australian and NZ clergy published in 1878 and biographical summaries for 1,440+ people embarked on the First Fleet in 1787 compiled by Michael Flynn from Mollie Gillen’s book The Founders of Australia (1989).
New transcripts of original sources include Commissariat ration records (1812-1822) for 1,400 people in the Windsor/Hawkesbury district (NSW) listing the military as well as free people and convicts, details of many free passengers arriving and departing NSW 1788-1825, NSW inquests 1796-1824, convict pardons and tickets of leave 1810-1848, a list of convicts’ wives 1822, indents and a remarkable collection of more than 5,000 transcribed Christian and Jewish epitaphs and licences to bury for the former Sydney Burial Ground in Elizabeth and Devonshire Streets, Sydney 1819-1888 as well as details of burials and family members who paid for removal of remains and memorials when the cemetery was dismantled in 1901.
The Database is a work in progress and will expand towards the present to include all Australian states as new records are regularly fed into the Database.
Each record identifies a single person or group at a place and point in time. An initial free name search throws up a list of index entries with brief summary details of the individual.
Subscribers can open any index entry, which may be:
• the transcript of a single unlinked record for an individual, or
• a series of linked records forming a Biographical Report for an individual.
A unique feature of BDA is its aim of linking records to form a fully referenced timeline for each individual called a Biographical Report. Many thousands of these have already been woven together, each representing a life story forming part of a national tapestry.
An individual’s timeline will often be linked to others in a complex web of relationships: to a legal or de facto spouse, a parent or child, an employer or employee, a marriage witness or godparent at a baptism who might be a friend or relative. Problematic spelling variants of names are linked and marriage transcripts indicate whether a person was able to write their name or not.
BDA can be used by historians to research:
- well known or ordinary people from the past,
- the economic and social histories of local communities,
- the history of agriculture and grazing,
- classes of people such as convicts, soldiers, immigrants or particular occupations or residents of specific areas (particularly when advanced search functions are added).
- contains a transcript of the content of a document (an advantage over other websites which contain numerous scanned manuscripts in scrawled handwriting that many find difficult or impossible to read).
- provides source references which students, historians and genealogists can all use to find and check sources for footnotes,
- uses experts to link the sources and carefully weigh the dangers of confusing persons of the same name,
- does not allow wiki style links to be made directly by amateur users – they must be submitted for vetting,
- has a system of regular updates to correct errors made in transcripts or links spotted by BDA or its subscribers.
The Database strives for quality, not quantity and can be used by to trace ancestors and solve genealogical brick walls, or by local historians and by school, university and library communities, or anyone interested in the past.
BDA will be a work in progress for many years and much linking remains to be done. Subscribers are encouraged to email suggestions for links and corrections. The Database contains a myriad of brainteasing problems yet to be solved, many as challenging as any jigsaw or crossword puzzle.
Viewing source and information pages is free, as is the online shop which offers over 1000 secondhand books for sale.
To view a Biographical Report, users are asked to subscribe for just $30 per year.
The Database allows the user to click on any item in a report which then lists any other person mentioned in that record and allows the user to hyperlink to that person’s Biographical Report, and then jump from one to another.
This also will allow subscribers to become contributors to the Database and to advise us where links and corrections can be made and to support the expansion of the Database.
Subscribers can view the Biographical Reports now.
2.1 Historical Background 1982-1993
In 1982 Keith Johnson and Malcolm Sainty set up the Australian Biographical & Genealogical Record (ABGR) with John Wilson joining as Honorary Treasurer. The name Australian Biographical & Genealogical Record was registered by them as an independent non-profit association.
The principal aim of the project was to build a Biographical Database of every person born in or arriving in Australia from 1788 to about 1900, including Aboriginal people and also pre-1788 explorers and seafarers who visited Australia. It was initially established as an Australian Bicentennial project, however, because of the complete absence of funding from the NSW State Government and Australian Bicentennial Authority, the project then concentrated on independently publishing the material it was collecting. This included primary source material in the form of population musters, and four volumes of biographies submitted and sponsored by ABGR Associate members. The income from sales, along with sponsorship from Messrs Johnson and Sainty of approximately $50,000, kept the project alive for ten years, which allowed the project to continue despite lack of outside funding.
While the ABGR was, legally, a separate entity from the Society of Australian Genealogists (SAG), its publications were billed as being “in association with” the SAG. A majority of the ABGR associate members were also SAG members.
The project effectively lapsed in 1993 following the publication of the fourth biographical register. The stock of remaining books and Biographical Detail Forms submitted by ABGR members were donated by Messrs. Johnson, Sainty and Wilson to SAG. The ABGR Bank account was closed with the balance being given to SAG (approximately $17,000). The PO Box 1788 North Sydney was closed. The ABGR published volumes continued to be sold by SAG and some are still available for purchase. The Biographical Detail Forms have been accessioned into the primary records collection of the SAG and an index to them is housed in the SAG library. The 1823-1825 Muster of NSW was published in 1999 under the ABGR imprint with SAG as publisher. Its preparation and publication was supervised by Messrs Johnson & Sainty in an honorary capacity.
2.2 Re-Activation in 2000
In 2000 Johnson & Sainty proposed to the SAG Council that the ABGR project be re-activated to publish on CD-ROM some of the original source material collected by the project. This resulted in the publication on CD-ROM of Convicts to NSW 1788-1812 in 2001 and Free Passengers to NSW 1826-1837 in 2009. The 1811 & 1814 Musters were edited by Carol Baxter into a format suitable for publication on CD-ROM and given to SAG. Messrs Johnson & Sainty also continued the day-to-day administration of the project and funded further editorial work from 2000 onwards.
2.3 New Name and Administration 2006
In 2006 Johnson & Sainty decided to formalise the administration and funding of the biographical project. They registered a new organisation called the Biographical Database of Australia Library Inc. on 14 March 2006 with a formal set of Associations Incorporation Act Rules registered by the NSW Office of Fair Trading. These rules provide for an independent long-term administration. In August 2007, SAG agreed to share any material they held which was created under the old ABGR project, while Johnson & Sainty, along with John Wilson and editor Carol Baxter agreed to hand over any rights they held in the original project to the new project. As a result the present BDA project was formally established. Johnson & Sainty led a team of volunteers and contractors working on transcription and data entry of BDA sources. Carol Baxter served as editor until 2012, overseeing pilot versions of the website and offline Database in collaboration with Malcolm Sainty. She was succeeded by Garry Wilson in December of that year. Following Garry Wilson’s sudden and untimely death in July 2013, Malcolm Sainty stepped in as acting editor. Since 2006 Michael Flynn has assisted the editors as honorary research officer and website text editor.
- To build a Biographical Database of Australia beginning with identifiable indigenous people, early explorers and the first European settlement of 1788 and continuing towards the present, collecting information about all arrivals and native born, where records survive.
- To bring together information on a single individual from a number of source records so that a Biographical Report can be generated.
- To make the information available on the internet.
- To allow hyperlinking from one biography to another.
- To allow searching by names, places, some subjects and by keywords.
- To compile datasets of records relating to birth, marriage and death and to allow these to be searched.
- To allow family groups to be viewed.
- To allow contributors to add information to an existing biography or submit new biographies (subject to editorial checking by BDA).
- To create a Database which is a continuously evolving work in progress. New biographies will be added as well as additional data to current biographies. Its only restriction is that the subject person of a biography must be deceased.
The BDA project is administered by the Biographical Database of Australia Library Inc., a non-profit organisation comprising a Board of five (5) directors (see below). Relevant information is as follows:
- Certificate of Incorporation as an association in NSW – INC9885251 – 14 March 2006.
- ABN Registration 92 200 827 253 – 24 March 2006.
- Registered with the Australian Taxation Office for tax deductible financial donations.
- Registered as a Deductible Gift Recipient as a public library 14 March 2006.
- Registered for Charity Tax Concessions 14 March 2006.
- Webpage domain name: www.bda-online.org.au and www.bdal-online.org
BDAL Inc. is run by a board of five persons:
- President: Dr Carol Ann Liston, BA, PhD, DipFHS, FRAHS, Associate Professor of the School of Humanities and Languages at the University of Western Sydney
- Vice President: Keith Arthur Johnson, AM, FRAHS, FSAG, FSG, JP
- Treasurer: Michael Cornelius Flynn, MA, Dip.FHS
- Secretary & Public Officer: Malcolm Rex Sainty, AM, FSAG, FSG
- Dr Perry Catherine McIntyre, BSc, DipEd, MLitt, DipLAH, PhD, FSAG, Adjunct Lecturer, Irish Studies Centre UNSW
6.1 Mission Statement
- To collect books, manuscripts and any material in an electronic format which can be used or consulted for purposes of creating a Biographical Database of Australia (BDA) on the internet, and to retain those items permanently as a cultural, historical, biographical and genealogical resource.
- Biographical Database of Australia Library (BDAL) aims to create a database to be known as the Biographical Database of Australia (BDA) containing biographical information about each individual known to have lived in Australia in the past who is now deceased (including indigenous and non-indigenous, native born persons, immigrants or convicts).
- The Database is derived from the Biographical Database of Australia Library’s collection of mainly primary (original) sources referring to named individuals (manuscript and published).
- Before data is entered onto the database it should be subjected to careful checking by suitably qualified BDA committee members, employees and volunteers.
- The Database will also include references to individuals in clearly identified secondary sources of biographical information from the Biographical Database of Australia Library’s collection.
- BDAL is based on a collation of biographical records from the early decades of the colony of New South Wales which form the first stage of the project. Later records from other Australian colonies, later States and Territories will be added to the Database progressively.
- The Database will allow a basic index search to be free
- Full details of entries in the BDA database will be made accessible to the public on payment of a reasonable fee.
- The database is to be configured in a form compatible with conversion to future technological formats.
6.3 Acquisitions Policy
6.3.1 General policy statement on acquisitions
The primary aim of the Biographical Database of Australia Library (BDAL) is to purchase or receive as a donation, any primary or secondary historical or biographical source appropriate for the purposes described in the Mission Statement.
6.3.2 Policy for the Acceptance of Data
BDAL is a non-profit entity and encourages the donation of relevant material, free of any cost to BDAL. The information contributed must relate to named individuals who were born in Australia or who resided there on a temporary or permanent basis or who visited Australia. Some examples of the types of information suitable for contribution to the BDAL would include the following:
- biographical dictionaries
- baptism, marriage and burial entries and other records held by religious institutions
- birth, death and marriage certificates
- obituaries, death and funeral notices
- memorial inscription transcripts
- manuscripts and other archival records held by governments, including census, muster, convict and shipping records
- manuscripts and other archival records held by individuals or institutions
- centenary and local histories
- indexes of persons mentioned in archival records
- indexes of persons mentioned in newspapers and cemeteries
- newspaper articles and extracts
- extracts from books and other published works
- pictorial images and captions.
6.4 Collection management
Principles for collection management:
- To house any book or manuscript in a proper manner on shelving as a reference resource for the BDA.
- To duplicate any relevant electronic data as a reference source for the BDA and store that data in a safe place.
- To progressively enter biographical data from all parts of Australia onto the BDA as resources allow.
- To maintain the BDA in a form which is linked to the internet, allowing a free basic index search to members of the public and to make full details of entries in the BDA database accessible to the public on payment of a fee which has been determined at the BDAL annual general meeting.
- To maintain the electronic data held on the BDA in a form which is capable of conversion to forms of data storage and display which may be developed in the future.
- To ensure that any data entered onto the BDA has been subjected to careful checking for accuracy by suitably qualified BDA committee members, employees and volunteers.To ensure that the biographical data displayed on the internet relates only to deceased persons.
6.5.1 General policy statement on de-accessioning
To de-accession any material no longer required for permanent retention, or unable to be housed in a proper manner.
6.5.2 Criteria for de-accession
- Material has been copied electronically onto the BDA database or elsewhere.
- Material is available elsewhere or is duplicated in some other way.
If any item is de-accessioned or no longer required to be retained, it should be offered to the Society of Australian Genealogists for their retention. If not required by them for retention, the item should be sold.
BDA will strive to transcribe all data, not just a selection of data, from each source record and, where more than one version of a record exists, to note variations. The following list details the major type of records that will be transcribed or accessed:
7.1 Group A: Arrival Records (principally from original sources)
- Births/Baptisms (including some recorded in official lists e.g. Governor P.G. King’s List 1800-1801).
- Shipping Inwards Records (passengers/crew arrivals/convict indents).
7.2 Group B: Official records (principally from original sources)
- Records relating to Aboriginal people where a birth record has not been found (for example, 18-19th century diaries & lists, etc.). While, technically, diaries are not Group B sources, the difficulty in identifying Aboriginal people is so great that references to Aboriginal people in these sources have been given a higher categorisation than the sources generally will be given.
- muster & census returns
- official lists & some private lists such as Rev. Samuel Marsden’s 1806 List of Females in NSW
- marriages/marriage licences/banns (including those not granted)
- pardons/tickets of leave/lists of absconders
- official archival MSS (including Institutional records)
- Shipping departures.
7.3 Group C: Other contemporary sources
- newspaper notices (eg. birth, marriage and death/funeral notices)
- newspaper reports (contemporary)
- monumental Inscriptions
- transcripts of class 1 or 2 records (where original is not available).
7.4 Group D: Principally published works including:
- Australian Men of Mark
- Aldine Centennial History of New South Wales, Qld & SA
- Cyclopedia of Tasmania 1900; Victoria 1903-5; NSW 1907-9; SA 1907-9; WA 1912-13
- similar biographical reference volumes e.g. Heaton (1879); Mennell (1892) etc.
- local histories
- family histories
- newspaper reports (memoirs/anecdotes)
The Biographical Database of Australia holds exclusive Copyright in the Biographical Reports which may not be transmitted in full by any means to another person or reproduced on another website.
BDAL Inc. claims copyright to some of the actual data in the BDA and also claims copyright on the layout and format of the Biographies. Anyone wishing to reproduce this material should contact BDA.
Individual items may be reproduced or reconfigured by a BDA subscriber for purposes of research, citation or for adding the data to an online family history and should be acknowledged thus:
This item has been copied from a Biographical Report produced by the Biographical Database of Australia and is reproduced here with their permission : www.bda-online.org.au