Biographical Database of Australia

Help : BDA conventions

Date Conventions


Dates are naturally very important in genealogical and historical research, but they can often be difficult to interpret in original handwritten records, and many records may not be specific about a date of interest, or may contain details of events which occurred on more than one date. For instance, a headstone on a grave can have the date of death and of birth but not the date of burial, while the newspaper announcement may have the funeral date but not the date of death. Records for a specific event may contain incorrect dates for other events in the person’s life. For instance, the ship of arrival noted on a later muster record might be incorrect by a few years.


To assist with interpreting dates in BDA we have used a few terms to qualify years. BDA uses terms such as (eg for a birth) “before 1837” if there is internal evidence in a record that the person had been born before that year. Other terms used are “after”, “circa” meaning within approximately 2 years of the date given, or “approx” for within 5 years, the suffix “s” to mean a decade such as “1830s”, or a span of dates like “1823-1835”. If no birth or death date is available in the record then BDA attempts to at least give an approximate year or span of years for when the person was alive.


In BDA the date of each item in a Biographical Report is the date of the event, or the date when the information was recorded, with the following exceptions:

• Baptism records: Birth date for primary persons, baptism date for secondary persons.

• Burials records: Death date for primary persons, burial date for secondary persons.

• Muster records: Date of earliest muster for groups of musters.

• Published Biographies: Year of publication.




Name Conventions

Deciphering old handwriting can often be difficult, and, in the colonial period, spelling of names was not as fixed as we expect today. In Biographical Reports, BDA has attempted to retain the form of a person’s name as it appeared in the original record. However, in order to assist discovery of the searched person, the index includes all variations of a person’s name and title which were found in the records, and the names used for matching a user’s input include standardised versions of names, with all punctuation marks removed.


Please refer to the Help screen with searching tips for explanations on use of wildcards and soundex to assist in finding difficult names.



Click on the links below to view the Sets of Abbreviations used in BDA


States, provinces, counties


Arrival Status


Other Abbreviations used in BDA :


AdmAdmiralty (UK)
CO Colonial Office (UK)
CSIColonial Secretary’'s Index (SRNSW)
HOHome Office (UK)
HRAHistorical Records of Australia
HRNSWHistorical Records of New South Wales
MLMitchell Library, Sydney, NSW
NSWSANew South Wales State Archives and Records, Kingswood, NSW, formerly known as State Records NSW (1998) and Archives Office of NSW (1960)
off storesself-supporting, independent of public rations and clothing supplied from government stores
on stores supported by public rations and clothing supplied from government stores
PROPublic Record Office now TNA (see TNA)
SAGSociety of Australian Genealogists, Sydney, NSW
SHSydney Herald
SMHSydney Morning Herald
SRNSWState Records of New South Wales, Kingswood, NSW, now known as New South Wales State Archives (NSWSA)
TNAThe National Archives, Kew, London, England
WOWar Office (UK)

Source References


Source references appear on each entry in the Biographical Reports of BDA. Once the source references are viewed, there are links from these to the source description pages.

Source description pages are available to be viewed on screen and/or printed. They give details about the original source materials that were used to produce those details for the BDA.

See the sources page to gain access to the full list of source description documents available

Editorial Comments


Editorial comments are to advise of information about a person in the BDA records which was not transcribed directly from the source material. Editorial comments can appear in three areas in BDA:

  • within a biographical item
  • as a biographical item
  • within the header of a biographical report


Editorial comments within a biographical item


These are usually towards the end of a biographical item and are preceded by an identification tag such as “Editor’s Remarks:”  followed by the editorial advice note. They are usually to supplement or clarify a detail which was transcribed from the original source but which does not reflect the actual event which occurred. For instance, a convict may be listed in records for intended transport on one ship although they were actually transported on a different ship.



Editorial comments as a biographical item


A religious minister or other church functionary may appear in dozens or hundreds of records where they officiated or were the appointed witness at a baptism, a marriage or a burial. Including each of these records in a person’s biographical report would swamp records of the personal and family life of the minister or functionary. In BDA we have compiled an editorial biographical item which specifies the approximate number and range of years for services performed. The List All Persons link for these will display a complete listing of all the persons for whom the church services were conducted. A similar type of editorial biographical item has been compiled for employers listed in a muster who had a large number of assigned convicts.



Editorial comments within the header of a biographical report


To avoid an unwieldy list of names, where the number of persons listed are more than 100 for church events and 30 for assigned convicts/employees, the compiled editorial note has been moved to the header of their biographical report.


Other editorial additions in the header section are added where important information for the person is not noted in any of the items in their biographical report, and is not related to a particular chronological event in their report.