Births, deaths & marriages guide

Historical information and sources for baptisms, deaths and marriages.

Are you looking for BDM certificates?

For copies of birth, death and marriage certificates registered in NSW and NSW historical BDM indexes you need to visit the NSW Registry of Births, Deaths and Marriages website.

The website provides access to online historical indexes: NSW Births that are over 100 years old, NSW Deaths that are over 30 years old, and NSW Marriages that are over 50 years old. More complete Family History Certificates can be purchased from the Registry.

Historical overview

The practice of recording baptisms, burials and marriages in church registers was established in England during the sixteenth century. This practice was continued in New South Wales when the following Acts, aimed at validating and regularising practices, were passed:

  • 1825 Church of England
  • 1834 Roman Catholic (then Church of Rome)
  • 1834 Presbyterian Church (then Church of Scotland)
  • 1839 Wesleyan Methodist Society
  • 1840 Congregational or Independent and Baptist denominations

Births & baptisms records

Tip for researchers

In the earliest years of the colony records of baptisms rather than births were kept. If a child was not baptised there might be no record of its birth.

A general order from 1810 states

It being essentially necessary that regular Returns should be transmitted annually to England of the Exact state of the Population of the Colony

Indexes to BDMs

Microfiche copies of the following NSW Registry of BDM indexes are available in our Reading Room, the Society of Australian Genealogists, the Mitchell Library and in many libraries throughout Australia:

  • Pioneer series of Indexes to Births, Deaths and Marriages, 1788-1888
  • Federation series of Indexes to Births, Deaths and Marriages, 1889-1918

NSW Between the war series of Indexes to Deaths and Marriages, 1919-1945 (NOTE: there are no births listed on this index)

After checking the NSW Registry of BDMs above the following indexes may assist in mapping out your family tree.

The Mutch Index

Another useful source, especially for the early years of the Colony, is the Thomas Davies Mutch Card index to births, deaths and marriages, 1787-1957 (known as the Mutch Index). We have a microfilm copy (Reels 2125-2129) of the original index which is held by the Mitchell Library.

The Index is believed to cover all relevant extant records relating to New South Wales from 1788-1828, except for the Newcastle Register and the Methodist Church records, and selected records to 1957. Later entries are from tombstone inscriptions and the most recent from news-cuttings and relate only to comparatively few families. A list of the records included is at the beginning of the index, and further information is available from the Mitchell Library.

Abbott - Youngston
Abbott - Curtin
Curtis - Jurd
Kable - Roper
Rose - Zillman

Registers of BDMs

NRS 12937
(Reels 5001-5048)
Microfilm copies of Registers of Baptisms, Burials and Marriages *ARK
This series is a set of 48 rolls of microfilm published by NSW State Archives in co-operation with the Genealogical Society of Utah and the Registry of Births, Deaths and Marriages, Sydney.
Copies also available at the Society of Australian Genealogists; the Mitchell Library and in a number of other libraries.

Early BDM records

Colonial Secretary: Special Bundles
-Norfolk Island: Annual return of births, deaths and marriages, 10 April 1810-10 April 1811 [4/1169 p.287a]; Reel 763
Colonial Secretary: Main series of letters received
-Church of England: Returns of baptisms, marriages and burials, 1835-1838
The returns are listed in the Mutch Index. See item list

Other records to check

  • NRS 5314 Entitlement certificates of persons on bounty ships, 1832-1834 (Reels 1286-1349). Each certificate records the name of the ship, native place, calling, age, health, religion and name of the immigrant. Each is endorsed with a character reference and a certificate of baptism
  • Naturalization records usually contain information relating to a person's age and native place.

Births, deaths & marriages registers, 1787-1856

A list of the Registers of Births, Deaths and Marriages, 1787-1856 which can be viewed on microfilm

Naturalization & citizenship guide

Naturalization records are a good source of information for tracing details of an immigrant's arrival and native place. This guide lists the key records in our collection relating to naturalization, 1834-1903

Portrait of an unidentified family

Family history guide

Tracing your family history is always easier working from the present to the past

Marriage records

Reverend Samuel Marsden writes c1806:

The total number of women in the Colony is about one thousand four hundred and thirty, including Officers and free Settlers wives

Marriage by licence or banns

In the early colony, marriages were of two kinds, either by licence or by the publication of banns. As the fees were comparatively high, £4.4.0, only the more affluent members of the community married by licence. The licence was granted by the Governor as there was no Bishop of the Church of England in the colony.

Most marriages followed the publication of the banns in a church on three successive Sundays. Convicts were married by banns having first obtained the Governor's permission.

You appear to be sensible of the Importance of promoting the Increase of Marriages in the Colony; and, undoubtedly, the very great proportion which appears to exist of illegitimate in comparison with Legitimate Children, leads to the conclusion that a proper System for advancing this grand object has not been adopted.

For early records

For the early period of the colony, see the Index to the Colonial Secretary's Papers, 1788-1825. It is arranged alphabetically by surname and subject. Convicts had to obtain permission to marry from the Colonial Secretary. There are also instances where correspondence relating to the marriage of free people was kept by the Colonial Secretary. Records relating to marriages are listed under the names of the parties.

NRS-898 Colonial Secretary: Special Bundles, 1794-1825

  • Applications to marry by special licence, 1819-36

We have prepared a card index and typescript copies are located at 2/8304A & B and a microfilm copy at Reel 2278. The applications for 1819-25 [2/8305 and 2/8305A] are also indexed in the published Index to the Papers of the New South Wales Colonial Secretary, 1788-1825.

NRS-905 Colonial Secretary: Main series of letters received​, 1826-1982

  • Returns of applications for the publication of banns, 1828-41

The returns show name, age, status (widower, widow, bachelor, or spinster), ship and year of arrival, sentence, free or bond, present service, character and result of application.

Please note that most returns are grouped together by denomination and then by clergyman/district within each year. A small number of other returns have been located in various other bundles in the main series of Colonial Secretary: Letters received. They have not been listed here, but individual entries may be located by using the microfiche index.

Index list
An index to these returns has been compiled by Joan Reese and Norma Tuck and published on 8 microfiche. The first three fiche give name, ship and year of application. It is then necessary to look at one of the other five fiche under the year. At the beginning of the entries for a particular year is an additional index which provides a page reference. From there one turns to the main entry which records, for both parties, name, age, ship and year of arrival, and status. It also provides reference to the original record in the collection, and microfilm or other copy.

A more detailed description of the index is provided in the Introduction at the beginning of the first fiche.
As convicts were often applying to marry free persons, the information in the index is not restricted to convicts still under sentence.


  • Fiche 5270 - A-Foy, Edward
  • Fiche 5271 - Foy, John-Mulligan, Edward
  • Fiche 5272 - Mulligan, Edward-Z

Yearly Index:

  • Fiche 5273 - 1826-29
  • Fiche 5274 - 1830-32
  • Fiche 5275 - 1833-35, Page 25
  • Fiche 5276 - 1835, Page 26-1838, Page 20
  • Fiche 5277 - 1838, Page 21-1841

Item list
The returns were microfilmed in the order that they were found in the boxes at the date of filming. Unfortunately the extent to which the arrangement of the returns had been disturbed in use was not realised and hence the order in which they appear on the films is not always logical. The item list is designed to reflect the order of the returns on the films, without going into excessive detail. Researchers may have to search for a particular reference on a film but the return should be there.

NRS-937 Returns of persons whose marriages had been authorised by the Governor following the publication of banns *ARK (1814-25), 1814-1827

These returns are included in the series Colonial Secretary: Copies of letters sent within the Colony. The names of the parties do not appear in the indexes to the volumes.

This series is indexed for the years 1814-25 in the Index to the Colonial Secretary's papers, 1788-1825.

NRS-1037 Abstract of all licences for marriages granted to free persons, 17 Mar 1813-26 Dec 1827

  • [4/1710 pp.151-222]; Reel 2281, Fiche 836, COD10 *ARK

Information given includes: the number and date of the licence; parties' names; and where, when and by whom the marriage was solemnised. In many cases name of parent (father or mother), name of previous spouse (for women only), occupation, and place of residence are also recorded.

A PDF index to these abstracts is available. We have prepared a card index and typescript copies are located at 2/8304A & B and a microfilm copy at Reel 2278.

NRS-1037 Butts of Special Marriage Licences, 1828-1836

The butts record licence number; date; the bridegroom's name, residence and designation (bachelor, widower); the bride's name, residence and designation; and the church, parish, county and Minister.

We have prepared a card index and typescript copies are located at 2/8304A & B and a microfilm copy at Reel 2278.

Church of England
24 Jan 1828-30 Jan 183
29 Jan 1832-18 May 1835
6 Aug 1835-2 Jun 1836
Church of Scotland
22 Apr 1828-25 Oct 1831
21 Jul 1832-8 Jun 1835

NRS-906 Colonial Secretary: Special Bundles, 1826-1982

  • List of Marriage Licences granted by Governor Darling, 23 December 1825-25 August 1828; [2/8036] Reel 2279

NRS-12212 Principal Superintendent of Convicts: Registers of convicts applications to marry *ARK (Fiche), 20 Dec 1825-26 Feb 1851

  • Reels 713-715, COD11-15, COD 377-381, Fiche 780-802

There are two sections-those granted permission to marry and those refused permission-which provide varying degrees of information, eg. name, age, date of permission, ship, sentence, free or bond, clergyman.

NRS-12939 Consents of the Governor and Declarations for Presbyterian marriages, 6 Feb 1826 - 21 Jan 1860

  • [5/7691]; Reel 741

Original letters from the Colonial Secretary and later the Principal Superintendent of Convicts, to Presbyterian ministers granting, or not, permission for the publication of the banns of marriage 1826-4186. From 1850-1860 the volume consists mostly of declarations that parties are free to marry. There is an index in front of the volume.

Divorce records

New South Wales was the last Australian colony to implement divorce legislation with the Matrimonial Causes Act, 1873. Initially only men could petition for divorce on the grounds of adultery. For women requesting divorce adultery was an additional clause to causes such as bigamy, cruelty or desertion.

Sources for marriage in NSW

This webinar examines marriage and divorce records in the NSW State Archives Collection

Page from the Divorce file of William George Dunbar and Marie Dunbar

Divorce records guide

Divorce files contain evidence for each divorce case including Judicial Separations. They can include petitions for the dissolution of marriage, affidavits, petitions for maintenance, marriage certificates, and sometimes the decree nisi and decree absolute.

Death records

55. With Respect to the Departures and Deaths of Convicts and Settlers, I have to Inform Your Lordship that no regular Account of these Circumstances has been ever deemed necessary to be kept here in a Separate or distinct Form…

Records to check

(Fiche 5016-5182, 5266-269)
Probate Index
Set of 171 microfiche published by the Probate Division of the Supreme Court. The index provides the following information: number, series number, name, residence, date of death and instrument.
NRS 366
[2/848]; Reel 690
Auditor General: Statements of the proceeds from the sale of the effects of convicts who died during the voyage to the colony or after their arrival
NRS 2145
(COD 184)
Corrective Services: Death register [Darlinghurst Gaol]Original retained by Department of Corrective Services.
NRS 4206
(Reel 712)
Establishments (Military): Copies of returns sent by the CommandantReturns of deaths at King George's Sound
3 Dec 1829-10 Sep 1830
NRS 10978
[4/4552]; Reel 694
Police: Annual returns of convicts who died
p.157 1867, p.196 1868, p.237 1869, p.250 1870, p.273 1871, p.290 1872, p.310 1873, p.341 1874, p.367 1875, p.386 1876, p.397 1877, p.411 1878, p.420 1879, p.432 1880, p.441 1881, p.451 1882, p.460 1883, p.468 1884, p.477 1885, p.485 1886, p.492 1887, p.500 1888, p.510 1889 (nil), p.518 1890, p.525 1891.
NRS 12213
[4/4549]; Reel 690, Fiche 749-751
Principal Superintendent of Convicts: Convict death register *ARK (Fiche)
The volume is arranged chronologically under the letters of the alphabet and shows name, ship of arrival, age, date of burial, parish and occasionally other details.
Item list
Fiche 749 - A to H (to 1842)
Fiche 750 - H (from 1842) to S
Fiche 751 - T to Y
Colonial Secretary: Main series of Letters received
Papers re the sale of the effects of deceased convicts, 1826-41 [4/2526.3], Reel 690
The papers relate to convicts who died on the voyage out as well as those who died after arriving.
List of 107 Prisoners who died at Norfolk Island, 1 October 1836-22 April 1842 [CSIL with 42/5520 in 4/2583.1], Reel 693; COD226
The return shows name, ship, age, county, date of decease, disease, and remarks as to character and conduct.Returns of Burials at Moreton Bay, 1837-38 [CSIL with 41/5332 in 4/2539.2], Reel 751; COD225The returns show name; if free or convict; if convict, by what ship; age; when deceased and when interred.
NRS 1024
(Reels 6021, 2928)
Proceedings of Coroners Inquests *ARK
Reports of some of the inquests held in the colony, arranged alphabetically by the names of the deceased. They provide details of the names of the coroner, the deceased, the jury and a record of depositions and the jury's finding. The proceedings of inquests which returned a finding of murder by a named person are not here. From 1826 on they are in the series Clerk of the Peace: Depositions and proceedings in Criminal Cases, 1826-1922.
This volume is included in the Index to the Colonial Secretary's Papers, 1788-1825.

Other records

  • Reports of vessels arrived (or Shipping reports), 1826-59, NRS 1291, Reels 1263-85 and 2851. Includes date and cause of death during the voyage.
  • Persons on bounty ships (Agent's Immigrants Lists), 1838-96, NRS 5316, Reels 2134-2143. Shows if a person died during the voyage but not necessarily the date of death.

Cemeteries & burials guide

Where to find burial records

Page from the inquest file Douglas Perryman

Inquests & coronial records guide

Inquests are conducted by coroners and are held to investigate the manner and cause of a death or a fire. Not all deaths resulted in an inquest

Page from the Probate file of George Barr

Probate packets & wills guide

These records include the last will & testament. A grant of probate is the authority given by the Supreme Court of NSW to the executor(s) to deal with a deceased person's estate

List of possessions from a deceased estate file From the deceased estate file of Ralph Greig. State Archives Collection AF00190047  INX-15-155710

Deceased estates guide

Deceased estate files are a financial record of the person's estate when they die and frequently have very detailed information about a person's possessions

Where else to check

Around Australia

The State Library of New South Wales holds microfiche and CD-Rom versions of many state and territory birth, death and marriage records.

ACT - Births, Deaths and Marriages

Northern Territory - Registry of Births, Deaths and Marriages

Queensland - Registry of Births, Deaths and Marriages

South Australia - Births, Deaths and Marriages Registration Office

Victoria - Registry of Births Deaths and Marriages

Western Australia - Department of the Attorney General


England and Wales - General Register Office

Ireland - Registrars of Births, Deaths and Marriages

New Zealand - Births, Deaths and Marriages

Northern Ireland - General Register Office Northern Ireland

Scotland - General Register Office for Scotland

*ARK signifies that a copy of the record or guide is part of the Archives Resources Kit and is held by the community access points.

Family history guides

Ocean liners Strathnaver and Mariposa in Sydney Harbour, 1932

Immigration & shipping guide

Key records and indexes for passengers arriving in New South Wales 1788-1922

Liverpool State Hospital & Home guide

Patient records in our collection for Liverpool Asylum for the Infirm and Destitute (1862-1933) and Liverpool State Hospital and Home (1933-1961)

Naturalization & citizenship guide

Naturalization records are a good source of information for tracing details of an immigrant's arrival and native place. This guide lists the key records in our collection relating to naturalization, 1834-1903

Aboriginal resources: a guide to NSW State archives

A listing and description of records in our collection which relate to Aboriginal people