My new blog series focuses on some of my favourite free Australasian family history research websites, and this month's focus is on The Australian Cemeteries Index. Cemeteries are a wonderful resource for genealogy and family history research and there are many free cemetery resources for Australia.
The Australian Cemeteries Index has, as at January 2018, over two million inscriptions and over half a million images online and freely available. The site was established in 2004 by Reg and Jean McDonell and was based on thousands of their own cemetery photographs. Since then other volunteers have added to the site.
What’s in the Index?
Volunteers have photographed some or all headstones in a cemetery and then transcribed the information including names, relationships and dates. Sometimes information is added from other reliable sources such as birth, death and marriage online indexes. Anyone can add a cemetery.
State Cemeteries (as at Jan 2018)
There is an interactive map, so you can zoom in to see what cemeteries are included for a specific area of a state or territory. As a resident of Bribie Island, I was surprised to see that someone has photographed all 1775 plaques in the Bribie Island Memorial Gardens and knowing that the Moreton Bay Regional Council cemeteries information is freely available online, this is a fantastic resource for anyone with an interest in Bribie Island, Queensland.
Remember that not all tombstones may have been photographed and it is only current to the date that it was recorded. While like other cemetery sites, the Australian Cemeteries Index may include cemeteries not found elsewhere and should be consulted.
How to Search
There are four primary search fields and you must enter a search term in at least one:
- Given name/s
- Family name
- Cemetery name
Results can be narrowed by using the following filters:
- Earliest birth year or latest birth year
- Earliest death year or latest death year.
- There are additional search options to really narrow results including:
- Birth place
- Military service number
- Cemetery portion, row or plot
- Father’s name
- Mother’s name including maiden name
- Spouse’s name including maiden name
- Photographer’s name
- Transcriber’s name.
Some of these search options can help looking for other family members much easier. For example, who else is buried nearby or if you do not know the married name of a daughter, you can search by maiden name.
My great great grandfather John Finn died on 11 July 1921 aged 63 years and was buried in the South Brisbane cemetery. A search finds him easily and the results indicate that he was the husband of Sarah, instantly confirming that I have the right John Finn. There is also a little camera image and by simply clicking on the link, I can see a photograph of their tombstone. I originally found their grave back in the late 1970s when the tombstone was still upright, now it is lying down.
Sadly, many of our cemeteries are in disrepair from natural elements and on occasion, vandals. John and Sarah Finn’s four-year-old son Thomas Ambrose Finn died in 1899 in Tumbulgum, northern New South Wales. Tumbulgum is a very small place and we visited, not only to see if Thomas had a tombstone, but also to record any other tombstones. Although an historic cemetery, the rainforest has been steadily claiming back the land and the mosquitoes were not very friendly.
Another search of the Australian Cemetery Index, on the surname Gunderson, revealed only 14 results for all of Queensland (remember not every cemetery is included in the Index yet). All entries are from the South Brisbane Cemetery and all are related to my Gunderson family. Only two have a camera icon and they share a tombstone. If your families were poor, the chances are there will not be a tombstone, but burial information may also be included, and remarks may indicate family relationships.
As you can see, The Australian Cemeteries Index is a wonderful resource that is online and free to access. It can be used in conjunction with online Australian death indexes, digitised newspapers in Trove and other cemetery records. Remember that the index is added to from time to time. Good luck!