Introducing The Ryerson Index 9

My new blog series focuses on some of my favourite free Australasian family history research websites, and this month’s focus is on The Ryerson Index. Newspapers are a wonderful resource for genealogy and family history research but not all newspapers are digitised and available online. The Ryerson Index mainly covers more recent (20th-21st century) newspapers and can be very useful for locating information on people who are within the closed access period for civil registration records.

Behind The Ryerson Index is a not for profit incorporated association whose members willingly give their time to indexing and supporting the project. Donations are always welcome as well as new volunteers. As at 11 November 2017, the site statistics were 326 newspapers indexed with 6,319,547 entries. All totally free.

History of The Ryerson Index

The Ryerson index is an index to primarily death notices in Australian newspapers but also includes some funeral and probate notices and obituaries. The date range covered is from 1803 to almost the present as volunteers work on current newspapers and the database is added to regularly.

The Index was started by the Sydney Dead Persons Society in 1998 and it is therefore best for New South Wales newspapers, but all the other Australian states and territories are covered for varying time periods and newspapers including regional areas. It is named after Joyce Ryerson, an enthusiastic contributor, who died in 2012 aged 95 years.

Joyce Ryerson donated her collection of Sydney Morning Herald notices to the Index, image courtesy The Ryerson Index


Newspaper Coverage

The national and capital city daily newspapers are all represented and all categories were updated during October and November 2017. Sydney suburban newspapers are listed and a long list of regional newspapers in New South Wales, including newspapers that are no longer published. Each newspaper title has the number of records and the date it was last updated. The same format is used for the other states and territories.

The indexing is done by volunteers and coverage varies depending on where volunteers live and how much time they have for this enormous ongoing project.

How to Search

There are three primary search fields and you must enter a search term in at least one:

  • Surname
  • Any given name/s
  • Any location.

This can be very useful if you are not sure of a married woman’s surname and she has an unusual given name, or you are wanting to find people from a locality. For example, my ancestors were in Charters Towers, Queensland but many people left after the mining boom and this is often reflected in funeral notices with the inclusion of ‘late of Charters Towers’. A search on Charters Towers returned 3553 notices and while some of the notices referred to people who died there, other notices were for people who had moved away but still identified as being from Charters Towers.

Funeral notice Dorcas White, late of Charters Towers, The Courier Mail, 22 Aug 1935 via Trove


There is a ‘sounds like’ feature on Surname and four optional secondary search fields:

  • Year – earliest and latest
  • Newspaper
  • State
  • Updated since.

These fields can help to narrow down a search which is useful for common names in the larger cities. Results include:

  • Surname
  • Given names
  • Notice type – death, funeral, probate
  • Date – death, funeral, cremation
  • Type – cremation, death, funeral, memorial service,
  • Age – not always given
  • Other details – where from, where died, not always given
  • Publication – name of newspaper
  • Published – date.

The Index does not provide access to the newspaper notice but if it is before 1954, the newspaper may be digitised and available via Trove. Copies of more recent newspapers may be available through the National or State libraries or a regional or local library. Also check what may be accessible through your library’s e-resources.

Dorcas White nee Trevaskis with three of her daughters – Dorcas always saw herself as from Charters Towers as that is where she married her husband Herbert William White and raised their family of eight children.

As you can see, The Ryerson Index is a wonderful resource that is online and free to access. It is especially useful for the last few decades when we do not have open access to death records. It can be used in conjunction with online Australian death indexes, digitised newspapers in Trove and cemetery records. Remember that the index is being added to continually and if you have access to a newspaper not currently covered, why not volunteer to do some indexing. Good luck!

Shauna Hicks

About Shauna Hicks

Shauna Hicks has been tracing her own family history since 1977 and worked in government for over 35 years in libraries and archives in Brisbane, Canberra and Melbourne. Since retiring, she has written a number of family history guides and is a regular speaker at genealogy cruises, conferences and seminars. She now operates her own business at and is the author of the blog, Diary of an Australian Genealogist.

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9 thoughts on “Introducing The Ryerson Index

    • Jennifer Mack

      I use Ryerson Index all the time. As soon as I open up Ancestry on my computer, I open Ryerson also. I have found so much information, either death dates and places as well as correcting some wrong information that has been recorded. An absolutely fantastic site.

    • Karen Thompson

      Hi Shauna,
      Just wanted to add that I find the death notices really useful for finding the younger relatives, such as children of the deceased. These are not easily found through other documents, and can often lead to living contacts. Also, some of the more recent newspapers are available on googlenewsarchives, which I’m sure you’re aware of, for a follow-up from Ryerson. And then, they do offer a Look-Up service.
      PS I’ve been a volunteer indexer for them for a few years, and encourage anyone else to give this a go if the least bit interested. It all helps. Thanks for your BLOG. Karen

    • Bill SHUTE

      Dear Shirley,

      I have been associated with the the Ryerson Index almost since it began and the site is not contaminated in any way.

      Due to the problems you have I suggest you log on, go to the items on the left and select the ‘Contact’ one. That mail will go to the Secretary who I can guarantee will discuss it with both the President and Vice President, both computer savvy people, and one of them will reply to you.

      Sincerely, Bill Shute

  • Pauline Kettle

    Shauna – Our sincere thanks for your very informative blog regarding The Ryerson Index. I have been involved with indexing and also a committee member since its inception and find It most rewarding to volunteer to help others locate families not only those in Australia but from countries worldwide who may have lost touch with families over the years. Visiting the Ryerson Index front page will also lead to many other links designed to assist in locating such notices. As Bill Shute points go to ‘Contact Us’ – yes on that front page – and we will try to point you in the right direction. Offers to index are always welcome.
    Kind Regards,
    Pauline Kettle

  • Wayne Hill

    The Ryerson index! Number one in its field. I always check Ryerson before a more in-depth search at the State Library of New South Wales, where if you have a readers card. ( available online) you can get the original newspapers on screen. Thanks for such a fabulous database RYERSON!

  • Helen Gulson

    If I recall, the index was started when it was discovered that Joyce had, stashed in her garage, decades worth of old Sydney Morning Heralds and the DPS started to index the deaths. Great article Shauna, and the Ryerson Index is such an asset to family historians – or for anyone who just wants to find out if someone has died and when!