Family history

The Aboriginal History Research Service (AHRS) assists people to locate historical records about themselves and their Aboriginal ancestors. Due to the personal and sensitive nature of information contained in the records, many are restricted and not publicly available.

On this page

Application forms


What you receive when you apply for your family history

Applicants can receive copies of all existing records within the AHRS collection that relate to themselves and/or their direct ancestors. This includes their mother’s side of the family, their father’s side or both. You can also request records for a specific ancestor. A researched family tree will be provided to assist with navigating the records where possible.

What information the family history records contain

Most of the records held by the AHRS are state records created by previous ‘Native Welfare’ departments between 1886 and 1972. The records are administrative in nature, often containing information about birth dates, child endowments, employment and wages, parentage, marriage and partnerships, places of residence, travel permits, mission and station details and much more. The type of information varies between records. Some records exist for some Aboriginal people yet not for others. There are many reasons for this, for example, if someone was ‘exempt’ from the Aborigines Act then their information may not have been documented. Records have also been lost or destroyed overtime by successive State Government agencies.

The AHRS also holds copies of genealogies and photographs recorded by anthropologists Norman Tindale and Adolphus Peter Elkin in Western Australia between the 1920s and 1960s. A Name index to the Norman Tindale Collection is available on this website. For a complete list of records that the AHRS provides access to, please see the Aboriginal History Research Services page.

How to apply

Complete a family history application form and return to, along with a copy of identification.

Permission from family members

If you have a living ancestor [e.g.parent(s) or grandparent(s)] on the family side that you are researching, then

the oldest living ancestor will need to be the applicant for the records.

Redactions and restricted information

For privacy reasons and under the direction of the State Records Act 2000, highly confidential health information as well as any third-party details will need to be redacted from any records provided. The AHRS is unable to provide adoption-related records and applicants will need to contact the Department of Communities directly for this information.

Time to process applications

In most instances, applications are processed within 20 working days and the completed application will be forwarded by email where possible or by registered mail unless alternative arrangements are made.

If the AHRS does not hold your family history records

The AHRS collection is not exhaustive and often external collections will need to be referred to as well. For a list of key organisations that might hold records and information to you, please see our further research assistance page.

Acceptable identification

We accept any form of official identification, however the common ones provided are listed below:

  • driver's license
  • passport
  • Medicare card
  • Centrelink card
  • Health Care Card.

Accessing records for The National Redress Scheme

People who have experienced institutional child sexual abuse are eligible to apply for the National Redress Scheme, which has been set up by the Commonwealth Government. The scheme started on 1 July 2018 and will run to June 2027. If you are thinking of applying for redress, please see the National Redress Scheme website for information on how to apply. There are also a number of redress support services in Western Australia that can provide free and confidential help with your application.

Proof of Aboriginal heritage

Your Aboriginal heritage is something that is personal to you. You do not need a letter of confirmation to identify as an Aboriginal person. However, you may be asked to provide proof or confirmation of Aboriginal heritage when applying for Indigenous-specific services or programs. Government agencies and community organisations usually accept three ‘working criteria’ as confirmation of Aboriginal heritage:

  • being of Aboriginal descent
  • identifying as an Aboriginal person
  • being accepted as such by the community in which you live, or formerly lived.

Doing your family history may help you obtain proof of your heritage. However, in order to meet the full criteria, you will need to contact your relevant Recognised Aboriginal Representative Body, which may be one of the organisations listed below.

Who you contact will depend on where you family is from. An Aboriginal organisation in the area where you currently live may also be able to provide you with this confirmation.

Contact Aboriginal History Research Services

Telephone 1800 161 301
Level 2, State Library of WA, 25 Francis Street, Perth
PO Box 8349, Perth Business Centre WA 6849
Twitter @The_AHWA

Page reviewed 22 March 2023