Where, oh where, could your ancestor be? In the May-June issue of Inside History magazine, genealogist Carole Riley – an expert in New South Wales land research – outlines where to find, and how to use, land and property records, parish maps and plans to pinpoint your ancestor. Here, we share a preview of her expert guide on historic property records, surveying the wealth of information they can reveal.
Property and land records are an enormously rich source of information about our ancestors. They can tell us so much about how they passed on their wealth — or their debts — to their children, even revealing increasing economic prosperity.
The parish maps or plans created by various state lands departments are a gateway into these land and property records. If we can find the property on a parish map there is much we can learn about both the property and the people who owned it. Parish maps or plans were drawn up by the lands departments of each colony to record the ownership of land. They were corrected and updated as changes were made, and eventually a new map would be drawn up and the old one cancelled. The changes from one map to the next can also tell us about changes in ownership, and in their communities.
The Australian states are divided into counties, and the counties into parishes, or ‘hundreds’ in South Australia and parts of New Zealand. There are thousands of parishes and the names were often repeated across counties, so you need to know both the county name and parish name. For example, there are 53 parishes within the county of Cumberland, which takes in most of greater Sydney.
What is Torrens title?
Torrens title was developed in South Australia as a centralised system to track and guarantee land ownership, and was quickly adopted by the other colonies. A Torrens title looks much the same everywhere, with references to previous and subsequent titles, the conditions under which the land was first purchased, and a plan to show the boundaries.
It then records every transaction: transfers of ownership (purchases), inheritances, mortgages and discharges of mortgages, caveats, and so on. This history can be very interesting, adding to your picture of your ancestor’s economic success, and the relationships between family members.