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.
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:
- 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.
There is a ‘sounds like’ feature on Surname and four optional secondary search fields:
- Year – earliest and latest
- Updated since.
These fields can help to narrow down a search which is useful for common names in the larger cities. Results include:
- 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.
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!