Family history

Need help with your Aboriginal family history research? We may hold information in our collections about you or your direct ancestors.

On this page

The Aboriginal History Research Services (AHRS) unit helps people to locate historical records about themselves and their direct ancestors. Due to the personal and sensitive nature of information contained in the records, many are restricted and not publicly available. To access our family history service, please submit a family history request form.

Submit a family history request form

If you have a parent(s) or grandparent(s) who is living on the family side that you are researching then the oldest living relative will need to be the applicant for the records.

To access our family history research service, please complete the family history form provided below and return to, along with a copy of identification.


If you are intending to release your family history records to a third party, you will need to complete the below family history consent form:

Aboriginal family history research service

What you receive

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.

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.

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 3 working criteria as confirmation of Aboriginal heritage:

  1. being of Aboriginal descent
  2. identifying as an Aboriginal person
  3. 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.

Available records

In Western Australia, successive State Government agencies controlled the lives of Aboriginal people from 1905 until citizenship rights were granted in the late 1960s. The official records that document this control are of vital significance for those interested in tracing their family history, particularly for those people who were removed from their families and resettled elsewhere in the State.

Most of the records held by the Aboriginal History Research Services (AHRS) were created by previous State Government departments. Due to the personal and sensitive nature of information contained in the records, many are restricted and not publicly available.

Personal files

The AHRS provides Aboriginal families with access to personal and family history information through the custodianship of the personal files created by variously named Aboriginal welfare departments (listed below). From the period from 1920 to 1972, the Native Welfare Department and its predecessor departments compiled a collection of personal files with information about Aboriginal people and their families.

The information recorded in these files was often highly intrusive, referencing applications for citizenship or exemption certificates, birth and death information, family history data, movement of individuals around the State, and general correspondence. The personal files are therefore significant in meaning to the Aboriginal community, and an important asset in Aboriginal family history research and information. 

  • 1920 to 1926 Department of Aborigines and Fisheries (Aboriginal Affairs below the 26th parallel)
  • 1926 to 1936 Aborigines Department
  • 1936 to 1954 Department of Native Affairs
  • 1954 to 1972 Department of Native Welfare.

Personal history cards

The personal history cards provide a summary of the personal files listed above and were created by the various State Government departments responsible for Aboriginal people’s welfare in the period between 1918 and 1972. An index to the personal history cards is available at the Aboriginal History Research Unit or via the Western Australian State Records Office online catalogue.

Archived State Government files held at the State Records Office WA

The AHRS manages access to approximately 16,000 archived files created by the various government departments that managed Aboriginal Affairs from 1886 to 1972. Under the State Records Act 2000 these records are now held at the State Records Office of Western Australia, with the AHWA providing access to eligible applicants.

  • 1886 to 1897 Aborigines Protection Board
  • 1886 to 1897 Aborigines Department 
  • 1909 to 1920 Aborigines and Fisheries Department
  • 1920 to 1926 Department of the North West (Aboriginal affairs above the 26th parallel)
  • 1920 to 1926 Department of Aborigines and Fisheries (Aboriginal affairs below the 26th parallel)
  • 1926 to 1936 Aborigines Department (re-established)
  • 1936 to 1954 Department of Native Affairs
  • 1954 to 1972 Department of Native Welfare.

Norman Tindale and Joseph Birdsell Genealogies, data cards and photographs

Norman Tindale and Joseph Birdsell were anthropologists who conducted fieldwork in various parts of Australia. During the 1930s, 1950s and 1960s they compiled thousands of genealogies of Aboriginal families in Western Australia, as well as collecting hundreds of photographic portraits and sociological data cards along the way. Child crayon drawings were also collected from the Mount Margaret Mission, the Moore River Native Settlement and Gnowangerup. The original is held at the South Australian Museum, with the AHWA holding copies for family history applicants to access. A name index to the Norman Tindale Collection is available on this website.

Pension receipt cards

The Aboriginal Pension Recipient Profile Cards were created in the 1940s to 1960s and record information about Aboriginal people living in the Mid West region in receipt of a federal pension.

The cards are an index to files that were presumably held by the Department of Social Security in Geraldton. The cards were created by the Commonwealth, and it is not known how they came into the possession of the AHRS. Copies of the cards are available to family members through the family history application process.

Elkin genealogies

The Elkin genealogies were created by anthropologist A.P. (Adolphus Peter) Elkin during fieldwork in the Kimberley region in 1928. In 2009 the owners of the genealogies, the University of Sydney, provided copies to the AHRS for family history research. Copies of the genealogies are available to family members through the family history application process.

Further research assistance

A list of resources to assist applicants in locating family history information and other research.

Family history sessions

Aboriginal History Research Services has partnered with the Storylines project to hold monthly family history sessions at the State Library of WA.

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 29 February 2024