Last updated:

June 19, 2020

Welcome to archival research! Below you will find a list of basic information to help you navigate our collection and conduct archival research. You will also find links at the bottom of the page to our most popular topics and digitised collections. Enjoy your archival research journey!

The below video shows you how to create an account with so that you can order records for viewing in our North Melbourne Reading Room at the Victorian Archives Centre.



No. Every year the Victorian Government creates thousands of records. Not all of these records are of value to retain permanently as archives. So a relatively small amount of records actually end up at Public Record Office Victoria as state archives. Many records remain with the agency or are destroyed after a period of time.

Our most commonly requested records to assist people researching family history are listed on our Topic page called Family History. The way to research those records is explained on specific pages for each of the types of records. e.g. ship passenger lists or wills etc.

We have compiled information pages for some of our most popular research topics including Family History, Land and Property and Adoption and Wardship. Visit our Topics page to view them all. If the topic you’re interested in isn’t listed on the topic page, refer to instructions below on other ways to search our collection.



There are many ways to search our collection.


Simple search

Screen shot of a simple search

Search by keyword: At the top of the website you will see a tool bar that says ‘Enter collection search terms here’. Give this a go first. Simply type in your area of research and see what comes up. Click on the thumbnail to the left to see how it's done. And if you happen to know the item number or citation of the record you want, simply type it directly into the search toolbar and hit enter. 


Interpreting your search results

Interpreting your search results video

Interpreting your search results: Once you've entered your area of research into the toolbar and clicked the magnifying glass icon (or the enter button on your keyboard) you'll be taken to the search results page, but your search doesn't have to end there!  Click on the thumbnail to the left to find out what information will be provided on the results page and how you can use our search tools to narrow down your results even further.


Advanced search

Screen shot of an advanced search

Advanced search by Series: Do you know the name of the series the record came from? 
If you want to narrow down your search results, click on the ‘Advanced Search’ option and fill in as many sections as you can. For instance, if you know the series that your research subject will appear in, you can use Advanced search to search by series. Click on the thumbnail to the left to see how it's done. Other ways you can use Advanced search are detailed below.

Screen shot of an advanced search

Advanced search by Agency: Are you looking for records from a specific government agency? 
This is the handiest way to locate records if you are searching on a broad subject. If you know the name of the agency (government department, court, council, school etc.) that created the records you’re looking for select ‘Agency’ and begin typing the name of the agency and a drop down list of government agencies will appear. Click on the search result to see a list of the records we hold.  

Screen shot of an advanced search

Advanced search by Agency with a keyword: Do you know the type of record created by the government agency? 
You can also use Advanced search of an Agency and a keyword at the same time. Click on the thumbnail to the left to see how it's done. 

We can retrieve records for you and guide you on the research process for certain record types, but we cannot do your research for you. See our useful links for a list of private research companies. 

Some popular records like family or property records are digitised but most records are still physical. See our topics page for popular research areas and what’s online page for digitised records. Most individual records are not online but the series of records (boxes of similar records) are listed by their title and description in our digital catalogue e.g.  You can order those records to view and then photograph them in the reading room on request.

When you do a search, you will discover that the records that show up in your list of results will all look different. Some records will have a complete description, some records may only have a number.

To learn more about what may be in the record, click on the underlined heading. This will take you to another page where you will see a line that says ‘Series number: VPRS’ followed by a set of numbers. Click on the underlined VPRS number to take you to another page. Now click on the line that says ‘Description of this Series’ and you should get some more detailed information about what is in the record.   

Are you having trouble understanding some of the archival terminology used throughout our site? Common terms are underlined throughout our website so all you have to do is click on the word and you should be able to see the definition.  

Some of the key terms you should know include:

What is an index?
Indexes are important for archival research as it may include the name or file number you need. An index is often an alphabetised, or other sequential list, which refers the reader to a final set of records which are arranged in a different (often numerical) sequence. They are your key to finding a record. Often an index is a separate archival record and lists simple details like the last name, the subject, or the date, and then next to that listing will be a file number pointing you to the item. Some are digitised but many need to be requested and viewed in a reading room.

What is a series? 
Record Series: A group of records which are recorded or maintained by the same agency (or agencies) and which are in the same numerical, alphabetical, chronological or another identifiable sequence, or result from the same accumulation or filing process, e.g. Admission Register of Patients.
Each Records Series is allocated a Victorian Public Records Series number (VPRS). PROV provides descriptions for each record series to help you understand the context of records, how to find records within the records series, why, when and by whom they were created.


Viewing public records is free. Requesting copies of public records comes with a small charge.
You can view and download digitised records without an account. If you wish to view the original physical record:

  • search for popular records directly on the home page, using advanced search (top of screen) or directly on each Topic Page. You can search by government agency, by record type (e.g. rate books), series title, or simply search using keywords 
  • once you have identified the record or records you wish to order an order button will appear and you will be prompted to login or create an account
  • once you have ordered the records they are available in our Reading Rooms the next day
  • you can photograph them in the Reading Room and save the image to a USB stick (you must bring the USB yourself)

Copy requests can be placed in person at our Reading Rooms, or online.

  • Step 1: Search for the record and then you will be prompted to order the record via your online account (note: you will be asked to create an account if you don't have one).
  • Step 2: Write down the citation details (e.g. PROV, VPRS 1163/P1, Unit 744, 1883/291)
  • Step 3: Submit a Photocopy Order Form (Mailed to you)
  • OR submit a Digital Image Order Form (PDF digital copy emailed to you).

There is a fee for this service. The prices are listed on our copying services page. 

There is no simple answer to this question. Processes exist to request access to closed records under the Public Records Act 1973 and the Freedom of Information Act 1982 but the approach to take will vary according to a number of factors. These factors include why the record is closed, who is making the request for access and the reason for seeking access. Obtaining access to the closed records cannot be guaranteed and can, in some instances, be extremely time intensive and require PROV to consult with two government Ministers. Pathways also exist for obtaining access to information from closed records via other processes operated by agencies. Click here for more information about seeking access to closed records.

About us and our collection

Unlike libraries which hold published material (books, journals, cds etc.), archives hold primary sources--original records and documents – which have been generated during the course of doing government business. Records take a variety of forms – files, handwritten volumes, cards, maps and digital files - and are generally unique and irreplaceable. Archival records are described and arranged according to the order determined and used by the government body from which the records originate, unlike library material which is typically arranged by subject or author.

PROV provides descriptive guides to the records and the government bodies that created them so that you can find, discover and interpret records in our Collection. Our descriptive guides are the archival equivalent of a library catalogue. Archival material cannot be borrowed by the public. However the government bodies that created the records may retrieve records if required for current government administration.

Public Record Office Victoria is Victoria's State Government archive. We preserve less than 5% of government records, often those records that are of significant value to individuals or the State of Victoria. Our records date from the mid-1830s, the early period of European settlement of the Port Phillip District, up until recently. The collection includes memories of events and decisions great and small, records of immigration and shipping, criminal trials and prisons, premiers and governors, royal commissions, boards of inquiry, wills and probates and more. Watch this video for more information on how we assess records for long term preservation. 

We use an archive control model (ACM) to arrange and describe records in our collection. The ACM is the foundation for documenting information about records and their context, helping researchers to locate and understand government records, who created them and for what purpose. 

PROV's ACM has three main entities:

  • Records (digital or physical series and items)
  • Agents (the government organisations that create and manage records)
  • Functions (major responsibilities of government organisations)

Each of these entities can be searched across in our catalogue. 

Visit the ACM Topic Page for more detailed information. 

Our online research team are here to help, but try the website section Explore the Collection first. Due to the hundreds of requests we receive each month the average response time may be two weeks. Visit our contact us page for more information. 

Explore archives by topic

Black and white photo of kids on a school bus

Search the collection via these simple topic guides

Photographic collections

Black and white photo of a ship on the ocean

Digitised and non-digitised photographic collections

Online galleries and exhibitions

Sepia photograph of the official party from the visit of Lord Hopetoun

PROV's free online exhibitions

Online collections

Black and white photo of crew unloading a ship

Digitised records