Author: Leonie Marshall

A little celebrated anniversary passed through our Volunteers’ Room last week. This marked the 22nd year of transcription of the Passenger Lists and other volunteer activities at the Public Record Office. The volunteer program has seen changes of venue from Casselden Place CBD to Sheil Street North Melbourne, with comings and goings of personnel over the many years, but the continuity of the shipping program has seen continued publication of the volunteers work over the 22 years.

We do not have to dig too deep into most of our family history to find the arrival of our ancestors in Australian ports. Personally my research started with a family rumour that my grandfather had arrived in Melbourne about 2 years before he sent for his wife and children. I was fortunate in that the start of my research coincided with the early indexing of the inward passenger lists, so I directly benefitted from the work that the early volunteers had done. I now work alongside some of the people who were responsible for making my search easier. Among the volunteers, we have some who started at the beginning of the program and who are still attending regularly to continue the work, which is now published online for the benefit of researchers not only in this country, but overseas as well. 

Up to 60 volunteers each week meticulously transcribe names and other personal details from original documents. These transcriptions are data entered and checked, ensuring the new archive provides the highest possible quality of information.  The Index currently holds over one million passenger names, and has been an immensely popular tool among researchers and curious family history seekers. The stories emerging from these passenger lists continue to give volunteers a great deal of personal satisfaction and enjoyment.  Immigration came in waves, from the first colonists to the later gold prospectors and settlers. Others left gradually due to economic or social reasons. Where were they going and why?

Those leaving Melbourne after the influx of the gold rush days were trying their hand at gold prospecting in New Zealand and later in Western Australia. One volunteer spotted engineers sailing to Gabo Island to build the lighthouse there. Another spotted engineers travelling to Darwin to establish the telegraph line. Other passengers were travelling back to ‘more civilised’ climates in Europe, having established families which they wanted to introduce to the ‘folks back home’. All of history is here. Being able to handle the original records brings history to life in a way that we are privileged to experience. Find out more about Public Record Office Victoria’s volunteers program today!