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Expert Q&A :: Researching land records with Carole Riley

For our Expert Q&A Thursday, March 14 we had Carole Riley to discuss how to get the most from land records. Thanks again to Carole for giving us all the benefit of her time and expertise.

Please find the transcript of the Q&A and links below.

Don’t forget our Expert Q&As happen every Thursday night on the Inside History Magazine facebook page

When: NSW – ACT – VIC – TAS: 8:30-9:30pm AEDT | QLD: 7:30-8:30pm | WA: 5:30-6:30pm | NT: 7:00-8:00pm | SA: 8:00-9:00pm | Weekly on Thursdays nights!

Carole’s top tips for researching land records:

  1. Find out as much as you can about residence and occupations from the children’s birth certificates, directories, electoral rolls, newspapers, and so on, before you try to tackle rates assessments and land titles – it will make it easier.
  2. Ask the state archives if they have the land and property records you need first, before going to the lands department. Most land records are NOT online, so in the end you may have to go the lands office yourself, but do as much as you can elsewhere before you go there. They are not set up to help family historians, and will be less helpful if you don’t have much information.
  3. Some state lands offices have good guides to their records – in NSW have a look at

Tamworth 1920 Map 11856401 Sec 58

Tamworth 1920 Map 11856401 Sec 58

Summary of links from the Q&A:


Transcript of Expert Q&A – Carole Riley

Our Expert Q&A with Carole Riley starts in 30 minutes at 8:30pm AEDT on this page. Tonight we’ll be discussing land records including title deeds, council rate books, directories, farm conditional purchase, electoral rolls and assessments.

Please ask your questions in a comment below, and Carole will answer in a following comment.

Comment: IHM: Welcome everyone, thanks for joining us. Please welcome Carole to tonight’s Q&A!
A. IHM: Questions received earlier this week will be repeated in a comment on this post, for Carole to answer in a following comment.
A. Carole: Hello everyone!
A. Patrice: Hi all hello Carole
A. Michelle: G’day
A. Lesley: hi there!

Q. From Michelle: Haven’t heard of Farm Conditional Purchase records before Carole, are they State or National or Local records and what time frame do they cover?
A. Carole: In NSW they were called Conditional Purchases or Conditional Leases. They were a way to get small farmers on to the land – they could pay it off over perhaps 30-40 years. The files can be quite thick and have everything from the original application form, to excuses for why they hadn’t fulfilled the conditions yet.
A. Carole: Conditions were residence, improvements (clearing, fencing, etc) and so on. Every state had them but called them different things.
A. IHM: Here’s the link to the State Records NSW Archives In Brief 94 – Using conditional purchase records ::

Q. From Lesley: how accessible are land records etc for NSW? Are they indexed and available online to search? And what period are the records accessible for (ie is it like BDM records that are locked for a certain period of time?)
A. Carole: Lesley they are getting better. Torrens titles can be purchased online but you have to know the reference. The name indexes have been digitised and will be online “soon”.
A. Carole: Conditional purchases, primary applications, soldier settlements, etc, are at State Records NSW
A. Carole: Parish maps and town plans are also available online.
Q (b): Lesley: re purchasing Torrens titles online – do you just need the street address or is there another number required? Never done this type of research but I am considering trying my hand at a house history in the near future so this is all new to me!
A. Carole: Lesley, you need the volume and folio to order the title. You can find the most recent title on the parish/town plan and then work backwards.
A. Lesley: thanks for the link to the Lands Dept viewer, that’s brilliant!
A. IHM: Here’s the link for the NSW Torrens title online :: and all the other states require a visit to the Lands authority in your state.
A. Lesley: thanks for the info Carole, you have given me lots to read and learn about tonight!

Q. From Linda: Good evening Carole. What you are describing as Conditional Leases in NSW sounds like selection in Victoria. In Victoria we have brilliant parish maps and selection files – is it the same for the other states, or do they vary a lot between states?
A. Carole: Hi Linda, yes, selections in Victoria are much the same thing. Each colony had its own version.
A. Carole: NSW have brilliant maps and files as well. I imagine other states do too. Any government scheme where people had to apply and be inspected generated lots of paperwork!
A. IHM: Here’s the link to the Lands Department viewer for Parish maps & town plans ::
A. Linda: The wonderful thing about Victoria is that the parish maps were printed and for sale – most farmers had the one for their area. Many historical societies have good library of them. For Victoria:
A. Carole: Parish maps were printed everywhere – state and local libraries often have good collections.
A. Linda: One of my more fun activities was blowing up the local parish map and getting it put up in the bar of the local pub – caused lots of fun discussion!
A. Carole: Linda, what a brilliant idea!

Q. From Marty: do you know exactly what The Lands Dept in Sydney has in their archives please?
A. Carole: Hi Marty, the Lands Department in Sydney has all the ‘Old System’ deeds, the common law deeds that were registered with the Registrar General. They also have the office copies of the original grants. They have sent most of their primary applications (the conversion from Old System to Torrens Title) to State Records NSW. They have put their maps online so you can’t see the originals any more.
A. Carole: Old System deeds include wills, registrations of businesses, marriage settlements, all sorts of things!
A. IHM: Here’s a link to more info on the NSW ‘Old System’ deeds ::
A. Carole: Primary applications required that all the preceding deeds that proved your title to the land were produced before a Torrens title could be issued. The packets can include death certificates, stat decs; all sorts of good stuff. Most of these are now at the state archives in most states (not SA).
A. Carole: Always ask the archives if they have the primary application (or conversion application or title application) packet first. You need the number – it will be on the Torrens title and on the parish map.
A. IHM: Here’s a link to the State Records NSW Archives In Brief 108 – Primary application packets :: and Landgate in Western Australia has more info on WA historical records ::

Q. From Anne: Where is the best place to find information on farms that were being rented (tenanted) for NSW in the late 1800s early 1900s.
A. Carole: Anne – For people renting/leasing property, urban or rural, look at the council rate books and/or the Valuer General’s assessment books. These are two different things and it’s good to be able to check both. Both have sections for the owner and lessee, although they may not be filled in. The VGs records are likely to be at State Records NSW; the council rate books may have been microfilmed and may be at State Records or the local council – the local library may have copies.

Q. From Patrice: Where do I look for regional Victoria land sales for 1950s? Is it the PRO? Thanks
A. Carole: Patrice – Victorian land sales (I’m presuming Crown land) – yes, you should try the PRO first. They have an excellent Lands Guide to their holdings, published in book form and on CD by Gould Genealogy. There is also a downloadable PDF. It’s very comprehensive and well-illustrated.
A. Carole: If it wasn’t a Crown land sale and they bought the land from someone else, try the Lands Department.
A. IHM: Here’s the link the Public Record Office Victoria PROVguide 55: Land Records :: and the Lands Guide ::
A. Patrice: Yes me too! Thanks for the links as well Inside History. I have lots to learn.
A. Carole: If you’re in South Australia you can search the Torrens Title name indexes in the office in the city, and then see the digitised titles on the computers as well. If you want copies you go to the counter and they will email them to you. At least that’s how it worked last year! Old system deeds are at their repository in Netley, as are the name indexes.
A. Carole: Grants and deeds in Tasmania are at the state archives. Grants in Victoria are at the PRO, but the deeds are at the lands department.
A. IHM: Here’s the link for the South Australian historical land records ::
A. Linda: Meant to comment earlier, but caught up in domestic stuff. I’m afraid you won’t get anything from the Victorian Lands Department if they bought the land from someone else – they stop being involved as soon as it is made freehold. That is a difficult one, as you may be able to track change of ownership through rate books, but most aren’t easily accessible that late. Dare I suggest best start is the bar of the local pub, and ask what the oldies know?
A. Carole: Excellent idea! Also local libraries and councils who may have the rate books. As I said, most Lands departments are not interested in family historians.
A. Linda: Lands sales of rural land of the 1950s are mostly secret blokes local business. In one town there is an informal gathering of them every Saturday morning at the local stock and station agency. I would start there in that town. or ask a local stock and station agent. You may find him in the bar of the local pub …..
A. Maureen: Lots more land records were transferred to PROV late last year due to the phasing out of paper-based titles by electronic records. 
I think they were to start being available in Feb or March this year.
A. Carole: Thanks Linda, that’s good to know!
A. Carole: Which land records Maureen?
A. Maureen: Can’t find the details ATM. They announced it at the end of last year. I think they are the land titles from the last hundred years or so. I have had lots of success looking up land selection files from the early days – lots of details about how much fencing they had erected, size and construction of buildings and land usage. Some of the files are huge!
A. Maureen: You have to go to PROV to look up the microfiche to get the numbers of the files to order then probably back another day to look at them. Fortunately they have a camera set up ready to photograph and save the images so you can examine them again at home!
A. Carole: What sort of files are these Maureen? Selections?
A. IHM: Here’s a record update from the Public Record Office Victoria :: and we know that there’s lots more planned in 2013. And here’s a few more details on the services available in the PROV Reading Rooms – like that great digital camera ::
A. Linda: Just to add to the above – Victoria no longer has a Lands Department – has not for many years – it h all been incorporated into DSE – Department of Sustainability and Environment. Their role is manging public land, there is no role in tracking private land – apart from their arm that used to be the Department of Agriculture providing agricultural expertise. I was fortunate in the old days of the Lands Department that the local regional manger (an ex-surveyor) was a friend of mine with a passion for history, and so was his clerk I had full run of their working maps (now microfilmed) and he alerted me to all sorts of interesting files. The working maps, which have all sorts of notation on them, are now at the PRO. They are worth hunting down, as they are so much better than the ordinary published maps. I did link to this above, but here it is again – make sure you are looking at these, not ordinary parish plans.
A. Carole: It’s now called Land Victoria, part of the DSE. There has to be a government department tracking land ownership or title could not be guaranteed by the government. The website is Even if they don’t offer a service to find cancelled titles it still has them.
A. Carole: See also about land titles.
A. Linda: Oooops – I was slightly off-tangent – thank you. The Lands Department I used to deal with was definitely only public land management – maybe titles were dealt with elsewhere? Half the problem of finding government records in Victoria is to track which department dealt with what at the time. DSE was previously DCNR – Department of Conservation and Natural Resources. Which the wags re-named Department of Constant Name Review.

Q. From IHM: Hi Carole, what would be your top tips or golden rules for doing family history and researching land records?
A. Carole: My top tips are:

    1. Find out as much as you can about residence and occupations from the children’s birth certificates, directories, electoral rolls, newspapers, and so on, before you try to tackle rates assessments and land titles – it will make it easier.
    2. Ask the state archives if they have the land and property records you need first, before going to the lands department. Most land records are NOT online, so in the end you may have to go the lands office yourself, but do as much as you can elsewhere before you go there. They are not set up to help family historians, and will be less helpful if you don’t have much information.
    3. Some state lands offices have good guides to their records – in NSW have a look at

Q. From IHM: As always we can’t fit everything into 1 hour! Where can we find out more about your research into Land Records? Tell us your secrets .
A. Carole: I give seminars and hands-on workshops at the Society of Australian Genealogists regularly, see their website for details. I also have a book out through Unlock the Past on researching land which covers all states and New Zealand

Comment: IHM: Thanks again to Carole for joining us tonight! We’ll publish the questions, answers and links from tonight’s session in a blog post soon.
A. Linda: Thanks Carole, very much!
A. Anne: Thanks Carole for some new leads. Much appreciated.
A. Carole: Thank you Inside History Magazine, good night!


Land Research for family Historians in Australia and New Zealand

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