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Find Your Ancestors in Church Publications Part 2

Most of our ancestors would have gone to a church and usually, we know what denomination. So how can we find out what religious publications were published for a denomination and more critically, what has survived and where is it held?

Overview of Church Publications

Below is a list of the main information categories relating to churches and religious organisations. Over the next few months I will be exploring these categories in more depth.

  • Directories
  • Indexes and Bibliographies
  • Records and Guides to Records
  • Histories
  • Biographical Information
  • Newspapers and Journals
  • Photographs and Newspaper Clippings
  • Women
  • Education
  • Ephemera
  • Missions and Reserves

What Church and Where?

Anglican Church, Richmond, Tasmania

To first gain an idea of what churches were in your ancestor’s community, have a look at directories and almanacs. These were annual lists of people, businesses, organisations and so on, which were published in every Australian State (very similar to telephone books today). Each directory or almanac would usually have a subject listing, alphabetical listing and a geographical listing and it is important to check each section as there may be different information in each. There were a number of different publishers and they are often referred to as ‘post office directories’.

Directories and almanacs are held by libraries, archives, genealogical and historical societies and may be in print, microform or CD as many of them have been digitised by Archive Digital Books Australasia and are sold by Gould Genealogy and History. There is also a selection of directories and almanacs online at World Vital Records Australasia. If you are unfamiliar with directories and almanacs, there is a useful article on Unlock the Past. The advantage of looking at digital copies is that you can keyword search rather than using the directory’s own contents list or section listings.

They usually have a section called Ecclesiastical Directory and a subsection on each religion listing names of clergy, ministers, churches and so on. For example, the 1915 Pugh’s Almanac for Queensland (page 454) has an entry for the Church of England diocese for Rockhampton. A brief history states it was established in 1892 and it gives the names of the Bishop and other members of the Diocese, Synod members and a list of the clergy in the Diocese. There were clergy at Barcaldine, Blackall, Clermont, Emerald, Gladstone, Longreach, Many Peaks, Mount Morgan, Muttaburra, North Rockhampton, Rockhampton, Springsure and Winton. From this you can determine what would have been the closest Church of England church if your ancestors lived in Central Queensland.

A listing of the individual religions listed in 1915 is also interesting.

  • Church of England
  • Roman Catholic Church
  • Presbyterian Church, State of Queensland
  • Baptist Association of Queensland
  • Methodist Church of Australasia
  • Queensland Congregational Union
  • Evangelical Lutheran Church of Australasia
  • Lutheran Synod of Queensland
  • Catholic Apostolic
  • Brisbane Hebrew Congregation
  • Salvation Army
  • Seventh Day Adventists Queensland
  • Associated Churches of Christ, Queensland
  • Modernism
  • Christian Scientists
  • Theosophical
  • Christadelphian

By looking at the entry for a particular town, for example, Gympie, Pugh’s Almanac for 1915 (page 624) reveals that there were the following churches in Gympie:

  • Methodist - Rev JJ Gee and Rev J Prowse
  • Church of England - Rev T Craswell
  • Presbyterian - Rev A Bardwell
  • Roman Catholic - Rev M Horan and Rev Father Murphy
  • Disciples of Christ - Crescent Road
  • Welsh Church - Crown Road
  • Plymouth Brethren - Red Hill
  • Baptist - Caledonian Hill, Rev R Collin Davis
  • Congregational
  • Salvation Army

As you can see, some of these religions were not listed in the general entry so it is necessary to look in both the Ecclesiastical section as well as the Geographical section. The entry for Halifax, just north of Townsville in 1915 (page 630) simply lists Church of England, Methodist and Roman Catholic, visited from Ingham. In this particular example, there are only three churches in the town and no permanent Catholic priest located there.

Library Catalogues

As a preliminary introduction to searching for church publications, I will briefly mention the National Library of Australia’s (NLA) new TROVE online search catalogue <http://trove.nla.gov.au> and be aware that it is still in development.

Last month I wrote about The Queensland Freeman, a Baptist publication. Using it as an example, I put Queensland and Baptist into TROVE as Keywords, selecting Online and Australian content. TROVE turned up 15 items in Books, Journals, Magazines etc, 184 Pictures and Photos, 17,430 results in Australian newspapers, 692 archived websites, 10 results in People and Organisations, current website of the Gateway Baptist Church, 20 entries in the Australian Society of Archivists Directory of Archives, 1 Music, Sound and Video and no results in Maps or Diaries, Letters, and Manuscripts. As you can see, this is an enormous amount of information from just two keywords and it is only what is online.

If I delete the ‘only online’ selection, the results for Books etc increases from 15 to 178, Music etc increases from 1 to 6 and Diaries etc increases from 0 to 12. The other categories stay the same, as they are only online and will turn up in an Australian content search. Of course, if I had added Freeman to the Keyword search, it would have taken me straight to it but then I would have missed out on all the other references that I wasn’t aware of and which might be even more relevant. So don’t limit your searches too much.

The results returned are huge for a simple keyword search on Queensland Baptists; so expect even more results with the more common religions. To make it easier, the search is automatically broken down into subcategories on the left hand side of the page (features which will be very familiar to anyone using the NLA’s Australian Newspapers website <http://newspapers.nla.gov.au>.

I would encourage you to explore TROVE but you can also search your own State Library online catalogue if you are more familiar with that.

The next instalment of this article will examine where records are located in more detail with further tips on searching library catalogues and using other finding aids and guides. Until next issue, try doing some online searching of a library catalogue and look at post office directories and almanacs to get basic details and background information.


Pugh’s Almanac, 1915


Australian History www.australian-history.com.au

Gould Genealogy and History www.gould.com.au

National Library of Australia www.nla.gov.au; http://newspapers.nla.gov.au; http://trove.nla.gov.au

World Vital Records Australasia www.worldvitalrecords.com.au

© Shauna Hicks, 2009 www.shaunahicks.com.au

First published in Australian Family Tree Connections January 2010