Aboriginal History Research Services

Helping Aboriginal families with ancestral information through professional researchers, advice for native title and general research.

Aboriginal History Research Services (AHRS) provides an invaluable and critical family history research service to the Western Australian Aboriginal community assisting families to identify important ancestral information and links. AHRU also provides expert research and advice to Native Title and general researchers.

The AHRS is a specialist service that provides access to restricted records and historical research related to Western Australian Aboriginal history.

We connect Aboriginal applicants with archives and historical information related to family history in WA. This research is completed with the highest level of cultural sensitivity and safety. We engage applicants in the research process and where applicable, link up with other community and government organisations to address further questions that may arise.

Apply for information

You can apply for information through an application. Applications are divided into three categories:

  1. Information related to you or your family can apply for a Family History Research application.
  2. If you are a general researcher seeking records related to Aboriginal history in WA, you can apply through a general researcher application.
  3. Native title researchers (as described under the Native Title Act 1993)seeking historical records related to a WA Native Title Claim, can apply through a Native title researcher application.

Available records

Archived State Government files held at the State Records Office WA

The Aboriginal History Research Services manages access to approximately 16,000 archived files created by the various government departments that managed Aboriginal Affairs from 1886 to 1972.

State Records Office WA
Department Years

Aborigines Protection Board

1886 to 1897

Aborigines Department

1897 to 1909

Aborigines and Fisheries Department

1909 to 1920

Department of the North West (Aboriginal affairs above the 26th parallel)

1920 to 1926

Department of Aborigines and Fisheries (Aboriginal affairs below the 26th parallel)

1920 to 1926

Aborigines Department (re-established)

1926 to 1936

Department of Native Affairs

1936 to 1954

Department of Native Welfare

1954 to 1972

Personal files (Archived State government held at AHRS)

The AHRS provides Aboriginal families with access to personal and family history information through the custodianship of the Personal Files created by variously named Aboriginal welfare departments. From the period from 1921 to 1972, the Native Welfare Department and its predecessor departments compiled a collection of personal files with information about Aboriginal people and their families.

Departments holding personal files
Department Years

Department of Aborigines and Fisheries (Aboriginal Affairs below the 26th parallel)

1920 to 1926

Aborigines Department

1926 to 1936

Department of Native Affairs

1936 to 1954

Department of Native Welfare

1954 to 1972

The information contained in these files was often highly intrusive, referencing applications for citizenship or exemption certificates, birth and death information, family history data, movement of individuals around the State, and general correspondence. The personal files are therefore significant in meaning to the Aboriginal community, and an important asset in Aboriginal family history research and information.

In 1972 approximately 17,000 of these personal files were moved from the State Records of Western Australia, where they were archived, to the Department of Community Welfare, which became the Department of Child Protection, to provide information on the adoption of Aboriginal children. In 2017 the custodianship of over 16000 personal files was transferred from the Department of Child Protection to AHRS.

Personal history cards

The Personal History Cards were created by the various state government departments responsible for Aboriginal people’s welfare in the period between 1918- 1972.

Departments holding personal history cards
Department Years

Aborigines Department

1926 to 1936

Department of Native Affairs

1936 to 1954

Department of Native Welfare

1954 to 1972

Each personal history card corresponds to an individual’s personal file, also created by the various state government departments. The information contained in these cards was often highly intrusive, referencing applications for citizenship or exemption certificates, birth and death information, family history data, movement of individuals around the State, and general correspondence. They may contain material and observations on Aboriginal people, particularly your ancestors that are considered offensive today.

Norman Tindale and Joseph Birdsell Genealogies

Norman Tindale and Joseph Birdsell were anthropologists who conducted fieldwork in various parts of Australia. During the 1930s and 1950s they compiled a number of genealogies of Aboriginal families in Western Australia.  These genealogies are now owned by the South Australian Museum. The AHRS manages access to copies of the Western Australian genealogies. They are provided to Aboriginal families through the Family History application process.

Under copyright laws these items cannot be used for publication or duplicated without permission from the South Australian Museum.

Norman Tindale and Joseph Birdsell Photographs

The photographs included in your information were taken by anthropologists Norman Tindale and Joseph Birdsell during fieldwork expeditions in Western Australia during the 1930s, 1950s, and 1960s.  The original photographs are now owned by the South Australian Museum. The AHRS manages access to copies of these photographs.

The number that the individual is holding corresponds to a set of data cards also completed by the anthropologists outlining basic details and a range of physical measurements and observations of the person. This number is also used to identify the person in the hand written genealogies by Tindale and Birdsell.

The Tindale and Birdsell photographs are provided under copyright from the South Australian Museum. Under copyright laws these items cannot be used for publication or duplicated without permission from the Museum.

Elkin Genealogies

The Elkin genealogies were created by anthropologist A.P. (Adolphus Peter) Elkin during fieldwork in the Kimberley region in 1928.  In 2009 the owners of the genealogies, the University of Sydney, provided copies to the AHRS for the purpose of family history research. Copies of the genealogies are available to family members through the family history application process.

The Jan Goodacre Collection

The Jan Goodacre collection includes more than 70,000 individual records, information about more than 20,000 Aboriginal families and 7600 photographs compiled by Jan Goodacre (now Jan James) over 33 years. In 2005, the Commonwealth Government purchased the collection through the Department of Health and Ageing for the primary purpose of helping Aboriginal people to connect to family members lost during the period of government policies that separated Aboriginal families. The collection is held by the Western Australian State Government through the AHRS.

Pension Receipt Cards

The Aboriginal Pension Recipient Profile Cards were created in the 1940's -1960's and record information about Aboriginal people living in the Mid-West region in receipt of a federal pension. The cards are an index to files that were presumably held by the Department of Social Security in Geraldton. The cards were created by the Commonwealth and it is not known how they came into the possession of the AHRS. Copies of the cards are available to family members through the Family History application process.

Most of these records relate to Aboriginal affairs and are State Administrative archives. They include mission, station and personal records created by various government departments dealing with Aboriginal affairs from 1886 to 1972. The online catalogue also includes some anthropological and ethnographic records from various private collections.

Please note that the accuracy of information within the records may not always be historically accurate. If you have information that may qualify the record we would like to hear from you. Simply submit an online general enquiry with the record details and upload any support documentation.

Policies

Family history research

The AHRS provides access to records for Personal and Family History Applicants under the Policy for Access to Restricted Information Managed by the Aboriginal History Research Unit (AHRU Policy). This policy is based on the legal requirements of the Freedom of Information Act 1992, the State Records Act 2000, the Adoption Act 1994 and further policies developed by AHRS. Past government policies and legislations such as the Aborigines 1905 Act (WA) subjected Aboriginal people to traumatic events. This legislation led to the large scale forced removal of Aboriginal children from their parents where they were placed in missions or other institutions (approximately 1905 -1972). This era is known as the Stolen Generations, a dark period of Australia’s history.

Native Title research

In May 1982, Eddie Mabo and four other Meriam people of the Murray Island (Mer) began action in the High Court of Australia to legally confirm their traditional Native Title rights. It was claimed that the they could prove continuous possession of the island. Although it was agreed that the Commonwealth government had settled the islands in 1879, the people of Mer argued that their rights to custodianship had not been erased by British sovereignty. On 3 June 1992, following a decade of litigation, six of the seven presiding judges found that the Meriam people were 'entitled as against the whole world to possession, occupation, use and enjoyment of (most of) the lands of the Murray Islands’. This judgement is colloquially referred to as ‘The Mabo Case.’ The Native Title Act 1993 is the legislation enacted as part of the Commonwealth Government's response to the decision. AHRS manages access to records for Native Title Applicants under AHRS’ Native Title Access Policy (NTAP).

General research

Applicants who do not fall under the above mentioned categories requesting access to restricted historical material for research purposes are governed by the AHRU Policy.

Native Title Access Policy

Access to information that is culturally sensitive to Aboriginal people can only do so with permission.

Policy for access to restricted State records

Access to Restricted State Records and other Historical Material Managed by the Aboriginal History Research Unit

Page reviewed 15 May 2019