It isn’t always easy to trace your family tree in Australia back to their country of birth, so here are some tips to help!
Google the surname:
A quick google of your family surname instantly gives you an idea of where your family came from. Try to avoid websites like Wikipedia or others similar that may not be properly researched or sourced. The surname search on ancestry.com is great, but I’ve noticed that it often only shows countries where a particular family name migrated to, not necessarily the country they originally came from.
Check Ship Records:
Do a search on ancestry.com or a similar genealogy platform, and limit the results to only immigration or travel records, this will hopefully turn up an immigration record or two that can help pinpoint your ancestor’s home country. Keep in mind that many ships departed from popular ports like Liverpool; your ancestors may not actually come from that region but instead travelled to catch the ship.
Not everyone wants a convict in their family, but the unavoidable truth is that the Australia we know today is largely built on convicts transported from Britain to Australia for cheap labour. A good resource is convictrecords.com.au.
If your ancestors were Irish, they may have immigrated to Australia during the famine of the 1840s when they potato crops failed because of the blight. Many children were left orphaned and were put on ships to go to Australia, usually they would become servants until they were old enough to marry or pursue their own trade.
The Battle of Culloden in 1746 saw mass immigration of Scots to new colonies such as America and Canada to flee persecution as well as poverty. Since Australia was not “discovered” by white Europeans until 1770 (by the British James Cook), it took until the the late 1700s – mid 1800s for Scots to head to Australia as free settlers. The first free settler to embark for Australia was Thomas Rose, a farmer, his wife and four children plus seven others on the 16 January 1793. It is interesting to note that Rose is traditionally a Scottish name from Kilravock, in Nairn.
A note on names:
Some immigrants changed their names when they left their birth country, like my 3rd great grandfather, John Campbell Colquhoun. His mother’s maiden name was Campbell, and this was John’s middle name, a popular Scottish custom. Maybe John changed his name because Colquhoun was hard for non-Scots to pronounce, or perhaps he thought the Campbell name would make it easier to blend in. He was arriving in an unknown country, after all, he didn’t know what to expect, and any chance to slip under the radar must have been a welcome opportunity.
I hope these suggestions help, and as always, happy researching!