Guidelines for research beyond Australia

The material on these pages is presented as background information for family historians researching their family name.

It is a work in progress—so please call back.

Family names

Check out Proformat News article:What's in a name? for material on seeking the origins of family names.

Proformat News also features an article on name variants entitled, Surname variants.


When seeking information about ancestors, a knowledge of where they lived is paramount to locating records. When researching regions before the start of civil registration (see Proformat News: Civil Registration records across Europe) this becomes even more significant as the records were generated at the local level. Knowing where the family lived will point you towards the appropriate repositories. A surprising number of boundaries and borders have changed over the generations and the region the particular place is located in today could be entirely different. This may mean the records sought could be located in unexpected places and therefore a good understanding of borders and boundaries is important.

Place codes

Understanding the use of place codes is very important in family history documentation as the researcher must always be wary of allowing any form of ambiguity to creep into their recordings. Place codes are significant space savers in charts toobut those used should be unique. Consider: Adelaide South Australia and Berwick-on-Tweed Northumberland as opposed to Adelaide SA and Berwick-on-Tweed NBL. Colin Chapman designed a set of codes now known as Chapman Codes, for the UK and Ireland that are widely used and even though a couple are not unique they are preferred by many family historians.

For places outside the UNited KOngdom and Ireland region it is recommended that ISO 3166 codes be used. Ideally they should be presented in a form that includes the state/province/county and the country to ensure uniqueness. The writer favours the three letter country code followed by the two or three letter state code and thus New South Wales Australia is represented as AUS-NSW and Adelaide South Australia is Adelaide AUS-SA. The reason the writer opts for two and three letter state codes is that they are usually already well known and are often part of the postal address system. Using AUS-SA for South Australia demonstrates the problem faced when such a scheme is not employed. Most Australians would use just SA to represent South Australia but non-Australians often incorrectly confuse SA with South Africa. In fact the appropriate code for South Africa was RSA (still used by the Olympic Committee and FIFA) and is now ZA or ZAF.

A good listing of country codes is available online. A good listing of state codes can also be found online. This site favours two letter country codes and whether the researcher uses these or three letter is of no matter. The writer favours three letter country codes simply because for the most part they are far more recognisable without the need to look up a chart!

The problem with ISO codes is that they are current and do not cover former countries and their states. This is a significant problem for central Europe and particularly the former Germanic states that united in 1871 to form the German Empire.

To assist readers the following articles have been prepared:

   • Australia including external territories [Establishment of the states]
   • British Dependencies
   • British Territories
   • Cook Islands
   • England
   • France [post Revolution]
   • German Confederation 18151866
   • German Democratic Republic [Map only]
   • German Empire 1871-1918
   • Germany 1919 onwards
   • Ireland including Northern Ireland [Formation of the county system]
   • Italy from 1815
   • New Zealand from 1840
   • Nuie
   • Scotland
   • Sweden from 1810
   • United States of America [Colonial era before Independence]
   • Wales

Ecclesiastical authorities

Apart from boundaries created by civil jurisdictions, a knowledge of the boundaries of ecclesiastical authorities is also significant. This is particularly so in the era prior to the introduction of civil registration when the Established Church maintained what we today would consider a civil function. Even in regions without an established church, such knowledge can be important.

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