Ryerson Index: free, growing and invaluable for the family history researcher
What is The Ryerson Index?
It’s a free online index to death, funeral, probate and obituary notices appearing in newspapers throughout Australia. This valuable genealogical resource is named after Joyce Ryerson, who inadvertently created it when she started compiling death, funeral and obituary notices from the Sydney Morning Herald on a daily basis. Her aim was to develop a register of former pupils of her old school. After 14 consecutive years she mentioned the content of her stored treasures to a fellow member of the Dead Persons Society, and there was jubilation!
The newspaper death notices were converted into indexed data, and more newspapers were added to the project, a goldmine to web savvy family historians around the world for generations to come. Joyce Ryerson became an instant internet celebrity, and she kept contributing to her index until her death in 2012 at the age of 95. She is now listed in the Ryerson Index.
Why is it a gem?
The value of the Ryerson Index keeps growing, thanks to the dedication of an increasing number of family history volunteers.
The Sydney Morning Herald has been indexed back to its beginning in 1831. Other newspapers throughout Australia are similarly covered, but the emphasis is on contemporary notices. This is a major benefit, as it is this period that neither Trove newspapers nor the Registry indexes include.
Another advantage is that notices may not be in the expected newspapers, but may pop up in the index and lead to records in other newspapers. As it is Australia-wide, it is also possible to find someone who grew up in one part of the country but lived and died in another.
Also, anyone may access it. It’s free, easy to search and intuitive to navigate. Find it on State Library’s Useful websites for family historians under Australia, then listed alphabetically by website title, Ryerson Index.
What is the coverage?
The date range covered extends from 1803 (The Sydney Gazette, Australia’s first newspaper) up to newspapers published within the last week or so, but the priority is on collecting and indexing contemporary newspapers. What is covered also depends on the availability of volunteers in the areas where newspapers need to be indexed, so there are gaps.
Ivy White was born and grew up in Brisbane. Her maiden name was Packer. Entries in Victoria and Queensland use the most familiar name for that state, so searching for Ivy Packer will give further results.
Note the plea for volunteers on the home page.
A team of volunteers gives freely of their time to ensure the index grows. Site updates generally occur weekly.
Some Queensland indexers
This year Ryerson volunteers have been boosted with a group of indexers (above) who meet weekly at State Library of Queensland. They are currently indexing the Courier Mail 1999. They have taken on the challenge of the indexing guidelines and learning additional computer skills to provide extra records. The Courier Mail, apart from an occasional record, had not been indexed earlier than 2000. The volunteers liaise with Dawn Montgomery by exchanging tips and records.
Dawn Montgomery has been doing Ryerson indexing since 2011, when she started on her local papers. When a fellow family history society member gave her some clippings of personal notices from country newspapers, she found that there were many gaps in rural notices. She learnt that State Library of Queensland could give her access to a year of many newspapers via PressDisplay (PressReader) at home if she was a member. News Corp papers were removed from PressDisplay in January 2016, but some regional community newspapers extend back to 2011. Dawn indexes current and missing issues of 20 newspapers. She also indexes from hard copies, and scans of microfilm at State Library that she saves to a USB to work from later. She does lookups of newspapers and gives presentations to interested family history groups.
Do you want to be an indexer?
Check the left sidebar of the Ryerson Index homepage for hints and other help. You can make this valuable index grow more.
State Library of Queensland’s newspaper collection
There is no direct link to the notices themselves on the index. It is necessary, once the indexed record is located, to source the newspaper item. At State Library you can search not only all available Queensland newspapers, from the historical to the current, in one format or another, but also many northern New South Wales papers and the major Australian dailies.
You can request notices and other research from State Library using our Ask us service.
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Library Technician, Visitor Services
Screenshot images from The Ryerson Index