Finding your family history in photographs, objects, maps and documents: share your stories with us!

A dramatic influence on the uncovering of family history for some researchers has been the digitisation of so much vivid original material and the awareness that there is so much more yet to reach the wider public view. State Library would like to hear your stories of discovery and share them as an inspiration for others during Family History Month 2022.

Below are some examples of stories uncovered from our collections to get you started.

Family photographs

Photographs can convey a wealth of detail about family relationships as well as capturing people in the time and place in which the photo was taken. When families migrated, some had a portrait taken as a memento for family members who might never see them again, and as a keepsake for them to take to their new home. Many of these ended up in second-hand shops, valuable only for the frames which contained images of anonymous families. Others were kept by descendants.

The weekend the Munro family arrived on the Torilla in 1911 the parents drowned in an unfortunate accident. Money was raised to return the children to their grandparents in Scotland. More than 80 years later, the young boy in the photo wrote to the family they were to join in Queensland and asked them to find the story of what happened. This photo poignantly showed the family on the cusp of their hopeful, pioneering passage to a new life.


Diaries are an excellent resource for family history research. They can provide insight into the daily life of individuals or families through time, which can lead to surprising/unexpected discoveries about an ancestor or relative.

Sketches from Richard Watt’s diary on Young Australia 1864. In Sea Breezes, August 1956 pp 88, 91

William Smith and Richard Watt recorded their experiences on the Young Australia in 1864 in diaries with illustrations. Onboard they also produced Etches and sketches as a record of life on the Young Australia which Fairfax published in Brisbane as Sketches at Sea but without the pictures. The National Maritime Museum Greenwich has written about this publication in The Young Australia: Sketches at Sea. It was these pictures in Watt’s diary, of all these immigrant ships in Moreton Bay and the cottage in the very rough, tree stump-filled streets of Spring Hill, that peaked a researcher’s interest and caused her to pursue the story of the Blackball line with which the Queensland government had a contract in the 1860s. She discovered a few of her ancestors had come on this line of ships and had difficulties with accommodation in the early days of Queensland immigration.

Find shipboard diaries in State Library’s catalogue One Search. Discover more about immigrant writing in the blog Five memorable sea voyage diaries.


State Library maps come in different styles with different content and over a range of times.

Estate maps showing the land at the stage where it was being subdivided for residential development can mark a significant time for a family when they were part of the development of a suburb. The estate map (or lithograph) and newspaper advertising were significant promotional tools. Free transport to the site and lunch at the auction were added inducements to a celebratory atmosphere. The Christmas theme, sketch and colours build the attraction. The maps emphasised different aspects of an estate but chief among the attractions were proximity to transport when few had private means, and a breezy position. In the smarter suburbs the names of prominent people and their homes might generously decorate the map. They are a window into aspects of life at the time. These usually attractive maps have set at least one researcher on a quest to explore the changes in his suburb, along with newspaper articles and photographs, as he discovered his family were early pioneers.

How do I find real estate maps?

Search Real estate maps of Queensland which covers downloadable digitised maps  Use State Library’s catalogue, OneSearch:  select ‘advanced search’. In the search box put the name of the suburb and ‘estate’. In ‘material type’ select maps and search. Un-digitised estate maps will also be listed, but a hidden treasure of hundreds of digitised estate maps is [Estate maps : scrapbooks] Blocksidge & Ferguson.  This allowed our researcher of the suburb of West End to pursue her research into the family’s spread in the area. There is an index of contents and 6 volumes of maps. The index is sometimes alphabetical by suburb but often alphabetical by estate name. The book and page number are provided in the index but as the cover and first few text pages have been digitised and appear before the map, in many cases the page reference is a few pages off. For example, the map for the West End Properties Estate is in Book (Volume) 2, on p.57, not p.54 as cited in the index. You can access the index and the individual scrapbooks online.

Your story

These are just some examples of how these rich resources have helped uncover untold family stories. Tell us about your significant turning point in your family research, be it an image, map or other document, which excited your imagination or helped you break down a barrier to your research.

Send your contribution of how you have used digitised images, documents or maps to, or add a comment to this blog.

Do you need some ideas? Explore

There is new material available on a regular basis. Ask us for more sources to help you uncover your family history.

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A friend found the funeral notices re my maternal great grandfather, John Stewart who passed away in 1915 at home. That was how I learned he had been a veteran of the Crimean war and had been part of the British army envolved in the Indian uprising. Sadly I haven't pursued my family history since then however I may get back to it. Oh I have just remembered I believe Sister Kenny adopted a girl from a broken home, that's how it was worded, surname was Stewart, pretty sure she is a very close relative of John.