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state library of queensland

Images and family history

By Stephanie Ryan | 1 February 2013

Pictures can be a powerful part of the family story. They may depict the place from where the migrant left, the immigrant ship, the ports where the ship embarked and disembarked passengers, scenes onboard and the place of arrival.

Immigrant departures and arrivals

Drawing of women disembarking from a ship circa 1885

The scenes at the wharves were hectic as so many people and much luggage were loaded or unloaded. The Illustrated London News sent someone onboard the Artemisia to sketch the ship and this scene before the ship left for Moreton Bay. The vessel brought much awaited letters, newspapers, basic goods, workers, friends and family to Queensland. The fashions and manners of the time as well as the eagerness of those caught up in the scenes are captured here.

Black and white photo of 3 masted vessel 'Indus' on Brisbane river with rooftops in foreground and bridge in background, ca.1874

The arrival of this ship is shown in the context of Brisbane’s development.
Family photographs
Family snapshots may capture a range of details which tell us about the family’s life: the way the celebrate Christmas and other significant events, where they live; the style of their home; their hobbies and other activities and how the family members relate to each other.

These more natural images show the family relaxing in an earlier era. The houses, bicycle and watermelon eating were and are a familiar part of family life for many.

Family mementos
Photographs were often taken as mementos to mark important events: a family leaving the home country, a soldier soon to leave his home to go to war; a marriage or a family Christmas.


Distinctive details about people, places and events may be captured in ways which defy words and tempt or satisfy our curiosity to know more about our family.

Here are a few many ways to find these images:

Trove: Images, Maps & Artefacts
Find contributions from all the Australian state and many regional libraries as well as from major repositories such as the Australian National Library, National Archives, Australian War Memorial and the Australian National Maritime Museum. Picture Queensland is part of this site and may be accessed here. The State Library of Queensland is a major participant and welcomes contributions from the public to its collection. All the images used here may be found at Picture Australia.

Pictures of ships in the Australian trade
The Australian National Maritime Museum provides a very useful Index to ship pictures at this site. The index covers the images in their extensive library. As many ships shared the same name, the information about tonnage, type of vessel and date of construction is helpful in identifying a specific ship. In addition there are lots of links to other sites with shipping pictures.

Australian newspapers
Many major Australian newspapers have been digitised for the period up to 1954. The papers are searchable by title, date, keyword and image. Optical character recognition is not always correct but many items are found more easily and quickly than ever before. Photographs of soldiers enlisted for overseas duty during the Boer War 1899-1901 and World War 1 1914-1918 were published in The Queenslander, a weekend version of the Brisbane Courier particularly noted for its illustrations. Find the soldiers’ photographs here.

Most family history software programs allow you to scan and incorporate images into the story. Read the copyright conditions and make the most of this resource. There are many more pictures at the State Library of Queensland on Level 4 than have been digitised. The Library offers a copy service.

Check out the possibilities for interesting stories!

This post was written by Stephanie Ryan Senior Librarian, Family History


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