Missing ancestors

04 June, 2011

Group of miners at the Victoria Reef mine, Bendigo, Victoria, 1853.
Group of miners at the Victoria Reef mine, Bendigo, Victoria, 1853.
Source: Museum Victoria

Question: My ancestor arrived in Australia in the early 1850s, settled in Ballarat and worked on the goldfields. I know he was there by 1854 as his first child was born there that year. But I can’t find any record of him arriving in the Public Record Office of Victoria passenger lists. Why is he missing?

Answer: There may be several reasons why people who settled in Victoria are missing from the Victorian passenger lists. The two most likely explanations are that they actually didn’t arrive in Victoria or that the records are not held by PROV because they arrived before 1852.

Many immigrants landed at other ports in Australia and then made their way to Victoria. You may be able to find out on from their death certificate, as these often list how long the deceased lived in Australia and in which states.

Until 1851 Victoria did not exist as a state and was part of the colony of New South Wales. Many immigration lists to Port Phillip Bay prior to 1852 are actually held by State Records New South Wales (SRNSW). So even if they definitely came to Victoria, but before 1852, the records will be with SRNSW.

Some of the other states' archives have passenger lists and other immigration records online, while for others you will need to contact them directly with your request. A link with contact details of all states archives can be found at right.

There are a variety of other reasons that people are hard to find:

  • In some cases they were simply not recorded. This did happen with some unassisted passengers and those in steerage.
  • They might have jumped ship. Stowaways are known of and as the immigration lists were recorded on arrival they would not have been listed.
  • Were they crew members? Ships' crew usually weren’t recorded as incoming immigrant.

If you are having trouble finding your ancestor, some of these suggestions may be the reason and the links at right may help you in your search. The State Library of Victoria's research guide on immigration and emigration has particularly excellent information on passenger lists and where to go if you can't find someone on them. 

Comments (10)

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fred 21 June, 2011 16:38
thanks for helping
Gayle Kimmins 29 June, 2011 11:59
my ancestor Bridgette Mullihill born Shannon-Golden County Limerick Ireland, arrived in Melbourne in 1848 on the Almora. Are there any passenger lists or records of this vessel?
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mary freemantle 13 November, 2011 07:54
my husband has been trying to trace his biological father for many years, always failing. I have now found what i think is his definate entry into england in 1948. we have notbeen able to trace his departure but know it was to australia in 1949.i have searched some passenger lists but many dont seem available. please help as his father (if alive) will be 80 now, his name is ....Mieczyslaw Szewczyk, any help will be very welcome, thank you
Discovery Centre 13 November, 2011 14:31
Hi Mary please click on the link for our 'Quick guide to passenger lists' at right under 'Related resources'. This will explain that only about 25% of records for post 1923 migration are online and how you can access those that aren't.
Elizabeth Landry 2 January, 2014 14:16
I have spent countless hours looking for the arrival in Australia of Cunningham Stewart McWhinnie born around 1887 Renfrew, Scotland. Possible arrival 1907 to 1913. His wife Mary and their two daughters Janet and Jeannie joined him later?? They were living at Ladyacre, Inchinnan, Scotland.I guess Scotlands People sight has spoiled me as to easy access of records and great layout.
Nicola Waterfall 29 July, 2014 06:15
I am trying to find out what happened to William Morris Waterfall. He arrived in Port Phillip in 1852 on the Ballarat. After that he disappears. Can anyone advise me on where to search next?
Christine Day 24 October, 2014 13:54
We are looking for any information on William Schofield Fletcher's arrival in Australia late 19th century early 20th century. It would appear he didn't die here as no death record.
Emma 3 November, 2015 16:54
I have been searching for my Great Great Grandfather to no avail until I searched for him using the TROVE website... I suggest you try that. Through the Funerals section I have found he had two wives and two sets of children. I still can not track him back to ENgland BUT TROVE has been INVALUABLE for 'filling in the gaps'... I now wish he had been born in Australia as I know I'd have found his 'family' by now!I have been looking for five years now. Good luck with your searches.
Norma Stack 10 November, 2015 17:42
My family arrived in Australia in March 1951 on the ship SS New Australia and we disembarked on this date in Melbourne. The ship was going onto Brisbane. I have searched Assisted passenger lists for this ship, but our names do not appear. Family name, GILLESPIE. Father Robert Alexander Herd. Mother, Georgina Williamson Laing; 3 children Scott Robert Herd, Dawn Janet Ingram, and myself, Norma Georgina Laing. Can you please assist or point me in the right direction? regards Norma Stack (nee Gillespie).
Discovery Centre 11 November, 2015 10:39
Hi Norma - all passenger lists and records from 1923 onwards (including your arrival year) are held by the National Archives of Australia. Have a look at our guide to passenger lists, and remember that not all records have been indexed or digitised yet, so if your family doesn't appear, you will need to contact the NAA for further assistance.