Mapping Your Ancestors: An expert Guide to Historic Property Records

7 Posted by - 2 June 2015 - Feature stories

Where, oh where, could your ancestor be? In the May-June issue of Inside History magazine, genealogist Carole Riley – an expert in New South Wales land research – outlines where to find, and how to use, land and property records, parish maps and plans to pinpoint your ancestor. Here, we share a preview of her expert guide on historic property records, surveying the wealth of information they can reveal.

Courtesy State Library Victoria, ID H2001.318/1.

Courtesy State Library Victoria, ID H2001.318/1.

Property and land records are an enormously rich source of information about our ancestors. They can tell us so much about how they passed on their wealth — or their debts — to their children, even revealing increasing economic prosperity.

The parish maps or plans created by various state lands departments are a gateway into these land and property records. If we can find the property on a parish map there is much we can learn about both the property and the people who owned it. Parish maps or plans were drawn up by the lands departments of each colony to record the ownership of land. They were corrected and updated as changes were made, and eventually a new map would be drawn up and the old one cancelled. The changes from one map to the next can also tell us about changes in ownership, and in their communities.

The Australian states are divided into counties, and the counties into parishes, or ‘hundreds’ in South Australia and parts of New Zealand. There are thousands of parishes and the names were often repeated across counties, so you need to know both the county name and parish name. For example, there are 53 parishes within the county of Cumberland, which takes in most of greater Sydney.

Detail  of a historical  parish map, depicting Graham Parish, Bathurst County, in 1884. Courtesy NSW Land and Property Information and Carole Riley.

Detail of a historical parish map, depicting Graham Parish, Bathurst County, in 1884. Courtesy NSW Land and Property Information and Carole Riley.

What is Torrens title?
Torrens title was developed in South Australia as a centralised system to track and guarantee land ownership, and was quickly adopted by the other colonies. A Torrens title looks much the same everywhere, with references to previous and subsequent titles, the conditions under which the land was first purchased, and a plan to show the boundaries.

It then records every transaction: transfers of ownership (purchases), inheritances, mortgages and discharges of mortgages, caveats, and so on. This history can be very interesting, adding to your picture of your ancestor’s economic success, and the relationships between family members.

Example of a Torrens title, Volume 2690, Folio 121, 1941. Courtesy NSW Land and Property Information and Carole Riley.

Example of a Torrens title, Volume 2690, Folio 121, 1941. Courtesy NSW Land and Property Information and Carole Riley.

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2 Comments

  • avatar
    Mona Finley 31 May 2017 - 3:17 pm Reply

    Land records are an invaluable resource to the researcher, and I was delighted to learn the ropes some years ago with Dr Lesley Muir.
    But what can we expect now the former LPI has been privatised? Will the lone researcher have access, and at what cost? Where can we find information about this new set-up, how it will work, etc.
    Importantly, is there any guarantee that any part of the information held will not be discarded at some time as ‘excess to requirements’, or sold off to another company, now that it is just another ‘commodity’, rather than an irreplaceable part of the nation’s heritage.

    • avatar
      Sarah Trevor 1 June 2017 - 7:49 am Reply

      Very good questions, Mona, we’ve wondered about the implications of the recent decision ourselves.

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