12 Problem-Solving Tips when Researching your Family History

1. When searching online databases less is always more. Enter as few details as possible, perhaps using the surname or forename. Try different combinations of name, age & birthplace.

2. Use wildcards. * stands for any number of characters (including no Characters) ? stands for a single character.

3. Avoid precise birthplaces where possible. People were not always consistent when it came to stating where they were born. People tend to be less precise the further they are from their birthplace.

4. Consider alternative spellings. Standardised spelling of personal & place names is a relatively modern concept, so Brown and Browne can be the same name!

Where can I get help with my Family History Research?

As NSW BDM Transcription agents, we get a lot of requests for assistance with many aspects of family history research that are beyond the scope of the service we provide transcribing NSW Birth, Death and Marriage certificates. Unfortunately, we don’t have the resources to take on research commissions, as our time is fully committed doing transcription work. Whilst we try to be helpful, we do need to focus on our main functions – transcribing and obtaining the documents you identify in your research.

So, the question remains: where can you go to get help with Family History research?

Investigating the Index

Being able conduct a search for a name is probably the most important time-saver for any  family history researcher. Whether it’s for newspaper articles, divorces or BDM records, searching for a name is made much easier when the entries have been indexed.


Many indexes have undergone re-incarnations and updates over the years, with most starting as handwritten card or book indexes, graduating to microfiche, and then to databases which are searchable on computer and on-line.

Late in June 2014 the NSW Registry of Births Deaths and Marriages upgraded its computer systems. As part of that upgrade, a new index search page was launched on their website.

Sharing your Research using Researcher Connect

I received a lovely email a few weeks ago from a client who told me that as a result of his research he had discovered who he really was. He was the “Letter of the Month” in the  Australian Family Tree Connections magazine, and he kindly mentioned how our Researcher Connect service had helped him.

Here is part of his letter:

Hunting for Headstones

Have you been searching for NSW deaths but can’t find them in NSW BDM? The next best thing is to search for a cemetery record.  There are two types of websites that record cemetery records on the internet: ones that hold official records of every death in a particular cemetery and ones that transcribe the actual headstones.  The limitation of the latter is that, if there was no headstone, or if the headstone has deteriorated to the point where it can’t be read (or it has gone altogether!), then there won’t be a record.