Local history

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House History

Explore the basics of home and land research. Learn what records to search and what they offer. Researching land history can be very helpful in studying the history of your family or of a property or locality. It can require patience but may be very rewarding. Please note, however, that property records can be complex and may be confusing for those without conveyancing training.

Background Reading

Books with information about the general Shoalhaven area are filed on the shelves in Dewey Decimal order with the call number ending in the first three letters of the author’s last name or book title. (As standard for other non-fiction collections).

  • Historic Shoalhaven calendars 1908-1983 / John Sharman – LH728/SHA
  • Bushfires and bushfire brigades of the Shoalhaven – LH634.94/BUS

Books with information about a specific town or village are stored together under that town or villages name.

  • Nowra, Yalwal, Shoalhaven River
  • Some of the smaller villages may be grouped together.

If searching for a book from this category the books are filed in Dewey Decimal order within the location, the location being indicated by the first three letters of the town or village.

  • Berry Silver Band: look in the Berry section under LH784.909/BER
  • Nowra Public School: look in the Nowra section under LH371.01/NOW

The catalogue of the South Coast Cooperative Library Service allows users to search the many resources available to our members.

View the catalogue

To refine your search to the Local Heritage collection, take the following steps:

  1. Type your search term into the box – click 'Okay'.
  2. Under ‘Refine results’ on the right-hand side of the screen click ‘Local Studies’ under ‘collection’ option. 

Useful Questions

  • When was the house built?
  • Who designed the house?
  • Who built the house?
  • Who was the house built for?
  • Who were the earlier owners and occupiers?
  • Has the house been altered over the years?

Look closely at the building itself – its style, shape and building materials. These should all give some indication of the likely age of the house.

It is also important to look at the building in context – is it similar to or quite different from its neighbours? What is the history of the area?

It is important to work back one step at a time and verify all information if possible. Create a timeline of everyone who has lived in your house. This is a great way to organise research, and it helps to chart what can sometimes be a substantial list of names and dates.

Visiting a Property

Before undertaking any further research, often visiting the site of a property can itself be a highly useful source of information. Even if the original building was demolished long ago, clues to its history may still be apparent in the surrounding environment.

For instance, since the addresses of properties sometimes varied over time, it can be worth noting whether a property is on a corner site, whether the associated land extends to another street or may have in the past, and if it seems that a site may have been subdivided from a neighbouring property.

It can also be useful to note the age and architectural style of nearby buildings, as well as the proximity of fixed reference points such as intersections, parks or prominent buildings.

House numbers change so it is crucial to have the correct Lot and Deposited Plan number.

Land title deeds are essential documents that list the previous owners of a property. It is possible to work backwards from the present certificate of title to gain information about previous owners, mortgagees, etc.

Take note of the current volume and folio number of the title and then contact the Land Information Centre for further information. Some offices allow searching online; others may require a visit to search through archives. Please note that in some cases there may be a fee for accessing these records.

Land Office Titles

NSW Land Registry Services, formerly ‘Land Titles Office’ and ‘Land and Property Information’.


NSW LRS maintain current and historic title records in a number of public registers.

The largest register is the Torrens Title register, introduced in 1863. Torrens titles are protected by State Government Guarantee and contain information in relation to current ownership and encumbrances on the land such as mortgages, leases and easements.

The General Register of Deeds was the first land registry in NSW established on 16 November 1825 under the Registration of Deeds Act 1825. It contains common law (old system) deeds for land transactions and incorporates the register of Causes Writs and Orders, Bills of Sale, Register of Resumptions, Powers of Attorney and all other miscellaneous deeds registered in the LPMA.

Access is electronic for all items entered in the General Register of Deeds since November 1992. The NSW LRS website has a number of publications, which researchers may find helpful.

"Old System" Records

Until 1802, there were no official records of land transactions. Once established, official recording of transactions was not compulsory. The first land transactions recorded in the "Old Register" at the LPI are often so vague as to make it impossible to now identify the land involved. From 1825, the system became more formal - registered deeds took priority over unregistered deeds, regardless of date, and this led to most transactions being registered. However, it was still not compulsory, and still is not. From 1825, an index of vendors was also established, but it was not until 1896 that a purchaser’s index was established. 

"Torrens Title" Records

The big advantage of Torrens title was that title was guaranteed by the Government and did not depend upon the validity of each deed in the chain since the land was first alienated (granted or sold) by Government. Applications to bring old title land under the Torrens system are known as "primary applications", and require the furnishing of all deeds, documents and evidence necessary to establish the validity of ownership, generally right back to the original grant. This often requires furnishing previously unregistered deeds, as well as birth, baptism, death and marriage certificates, statutory declarations and other documentation supporting claims to ownership. Certificates from other countries are often included. Primary application numbers for a particular property are generally annotated on the original grant of the land.

Old Form Torrens Registers

Old Form titles were issued from 1863 to 1961. "Old Form" refers to the large paper format used for the creation of these records. Under the Torrens Title System, land transactions were registered on one title document called The Register. The Register shows a chain of ownership, including transactions affecting the title over a period of time and a description of the land parcel. 

Primary Applications

A Primary Application is made to convert land title from what is known as Old System title to registration under the provisions of the Real Property Acts (commonly referred to as Torrens Title).

Primary Application packets can contain:

• the survey plan

• correspondence, including Lands Department working papers and memos 3

• reports from the Title Examiner's and the Survey Draftsman

• the draft Certificate of Title

• caveats against the Application by adjoining owners or others claiming an interest in the land

• deeds, possibly including mortgages, and other dealings with the land.

Even if a packet contains documents relating to a primary application in respect of land in which you interested, it may not contain all the documents referred to in the application, particularly if the land was the result of one or more subdivisions. Primary Application packets have been transferred to NSW State Archives, for more information visit: https://mhnsw.au/guides/primary-application-packets-guide/

Land Registry Services

Land Registry Services maintain current and historic title records in a number of public registers.

The largest register is the Torrens Title register, introduced in 1863. Torrens titles are protected by State Government Guarantee and contain information in relation to current ownership and encumbrances on the land such as mortgages, leases and easements.

The General Register of Deeds was the first land registry in NSW established on 16 November 1825 under the Registration of Deeds Act 1825. It contains common law (old system) deeds for land transactions and incorporates the register of Causes Writs and Orders, Bills of Sale, Register of Resumptions, Powers of Attorney and all other miscellaneous deeds registered in the LPMA. http://www.nswlrs.com.au/

Access is electronic for all items entered in the General Register of Deeds since November 1992. The (LRS) Online Shop provides access to paid searches and free index searches. The website has a number of publications that researchers may find helpful relating to:

LRS Historical Land Records Viewer (HLRV)

 Digital copies of many key LRS records are available including historical parish maps, Crown plans, Old Form Torrens Title Registers and Plan Lodgement Books.

Access HLRV

State Archives

NSW State Archives (NSWSA)

The nature of land transactions has laid a good paper trail, commencing with the correspondence ('memorials') requesting land grants. The following series can be consulted:

  • Colonial Secretary's Correspondence, 1788-1825
  • Colonial Secretary: Letters received relating to land, 1826-1856 

Spotlight on Land Grants

From the beginning of European settlement, all land was taken to be the property of the Crown. In his instructions of 1787, Governor Phillip was empowered to grant land to emancipists. Males were entitled to 30 acres, an additional 20 acres if they were married and a further 10 acres for each child with them at the time of the grant. Women were also entitled to receive grants of land.

In 1789, Phillip was also instructed to grant land to free settlers. For example, commissioned Marine Officers were entitled to 100 acres and privates to 50 acres over and above the land allowed for convicts. Phillip insisted that the land he granted should have a particular use. As a result, he only granted 4000 acres during five years. In 1792, larger grants of land began to be issued. Often these were the subject of land speculation and exploitation.

Land grants issued during the Rum Rebellion (1808–09) were cancelled by Governor Macquarie. However, Macquarie renewed grants, which had been made to ‘deserving and meritorious persons’. Until 1825, grants of land were free, with an annual quit rent (similar to rates) payable in perpetuity.

In 1825, a system of sale of land by private tender was introduced. Even after this date the government was empowered to make free grants of land for areas less than 2560 acres or more than 320 acres, unless in the immediate vicinity of a town or village.In 1826, the limits of location were introduced. Settlers were permitted only to take up land within this area. In 1829, the area of approved settlement was extended to the boundary of the Nineteen Counties.

For anyone researching early land an essential place to check is NSW State Archives. The Online Index to Registers of Land Grants and Leases, 1792-1865, was compiled by University students on work placements. Editing was completed by State Records' Volunteers. The index covers the first six volumes of the Surveyor General’s Registers of Land Grants and Leases (NRS 13836). They contain a record of all land grants made (both free and by purchase) to 1843. From 1843, there are separate registers for land purchases and town purchases. These volumes also include grants and leases made at Norfolk Island and Van Diemen’s Land prior to 1816. Search the names of owners for wills and other property information.

Parish Maps

Parish maps can often provide the original owner of the land on which the house was built, the size of the original block, the date that it was granted by or purchased from the Crown.

View Parish Maps

Charting Maps

Charting Maps are a cadastral land boundary index that may be used to help find plan and title information relating to a parcel of land being researched. The Charting Map collection consists of Regional Parish Maps, Status Branch Parish Maps and Land Titles Office Charting Maps.

Crown Plans

Crown plans are survey diagrams illustrating the state's land boundaries, natural features and may include references to early leasing and ownership of land.

Early Land Records

Prior to 1856, the main agencies responsible for the administration of land in the New South Wales were the Colonial Secretary, the Surveyor General and the Commissioners of Crown Lands

Surveyor General

The cartographic records of the Surveyor General provide some of the most detailed and comprehensive descriptions of the nature use, agricultural potential and occupancy of land in the colony. 

Conditional Purchase Records

A Conditional Purchase was a way of obtaining a Crown Grant for land before it was surveyed. Established in 1861, the grant was dependent on a set of conditions being met.

Soldier Settlement

The passage of the Returned Soldiers Settlement Act 1916, (Act No 21 1916) allowed the settlement of returned soldiers on Crown and Closer Settlement lands. When applying for land, an ex-serviceman was required to complete a Qualification Certificate, which was a declaration of his or her status as an ex-service person and eligibility for land.

Department of Valuer General

Valuation cards, 1916-27

These cards provide information on the valuation of properties in Sydney, Newcastle, Wollongong and many other urban areas. Most cards start in the 1920s. The cards can contain title details, descriptions of land, locality and improvements such as buildings and fences, owners' names and changes of ownership. The back of the card has information on the valuation.

The cards are arranged alphabetically by valuation district (local government area) and then by wards or localities. Details are arranged by street name or valuation number.

Valuation rolls, c.1928+

This series covers most areas in the State. Information contained in these rolls may include owner's name, address and occupation; lessee's name; address of property to be valued; description of improvements such as buildings; lot; area; value and remarks. The rolls are arranged by valuation district, (local government area) and within that by wards or ridings and then alphabetically by street. Field books relating to property valuations (and cancelled Field book entries), c.1920-1978 The Field books contain entries for property valuations which give the original and subsequent valuations of a particular property. 

Related property and asset records

For most of the related records listed here, you will need the name of the owner in order to locate the records.

Probate Packets 1817+

 Probate packets can include details of property owned by the deceased. Land or building information may be found within the packets, either in the will itself or from 1880 in the Affidavit for Stamp Duty.

Deceased Estate files, 1880-1958 These files can contain a detailed examination of a deceased person's estate and possessions. The files can show occupants, relatives, land and buildings owned at death and inheritors of the land. Information relating to house or property may include:

  • place of residence, the final balance of the estate, a list of assets and their value at the date of death
  • certificates of Valuation of Property which indicate the exact location of land owned by the deceased and what improvements have been made
  • schedules of furniture and possessions
  • Inquest Records 1788-1963

If a death or fire occurred in a house, information relating to the property may have been included in an inquest file. The files might list the address, description of the structure, value, amount of damage and circumstances of what happened.

Insolvency Records 1842-1928

 If the owner of the property was made insolvent or bankrupt there may be a file. This usually provides a list of assets including their value.

Police Records

If a murder or crime occurred in a house or property the Police Gazettes 1862-c.1982 or related records may describe the house or property, as well as circumstances of the murder or crime. The police gazettes are indexed and can be searched by name of offender, house/property owner’s name, or location.

Government Property Records

 If a house or property was part of a government structure, e.g. railway gatehouse, school building or police station, there may be relevant maps and plans, photographs or files. Search Archives Investigator under the name of station or school for associated records.

Electoral rolls, 1842-63

 Electoral rolls can be useful for establishing where a person lived over a period of time.

Local Government

Local councils are often a good source of knowledge, but they may not always hold archives on site. Call or enquire online first.

Shoalhaven District Rate Books are located at the NSW State Archives, which houses a growing collection of rate books and other related documents from 43 local government areas.

The addition of these records to the NSWSA collection is a means of ensuring the records can be better preserved in appropriate, secure and climate-controlled conditions. It also means the records will be available to the whole community for current and future research.

NSWSA are more than happy to assist with any enquiries and records can be pre-ordered online for viewing: https://mhnsw.au/collections/state-archives-collection/

Rate assessment and valuation of books: are not always easy to access and some are no longer available. Very old rate books may be fragile and some records have been lost or destroyed.

It is necessary to know the local government area in which a house was located as there have been many council amalgamations and changes over the year. Most rate books have not been indexed and are arranged by Ward or Riding, so it can often be a slow process to find the property searched for.

Listings of land parcels and ratepayers were compiled annually, and reveal much about the early pattern of land occupation, tenure and subdivision. The books provide a guide to the succession of ownership of individual properties, as well as a means of dating early building activity in the area. Information that may be contained includes description of the property, valuation, type of building material (timber, stone or brick), owner and/or occupier, occupations of owner and/or occupier.

If there are no street numbers at all, some educated guess work may be required. The house may be the fourth property after an intersection for example. Remember that the sizes of blocks of land may change over the years. Areas were often sub-divided, and what one year may have been a single rateable property, may become three properties in a subsequent year.

Council meeting minutes: may contain references to properties or streets, recording decisions made concerning subdivisions, large building projects and other developments.

Council meeting minutes can also provide insight into particularly controversial developments, particularly as issues of urban conservation become prominent from the 1960s onwards.

Real Estate

Auction plans: used to advertise land for sale. The State Library of New South Wales and the National Library of Australia have extensive collections, some of which may be viewed online via their catalogue or in person by arrangement with the library.


If a home is heritage listed, then the state or territory heritage organisation is a good place to start. There may be a conservation document, photos and other invaluable information about the property, including historical significance and architectural features.

Try searching the Australian Heritage Database

Heritage Studies: are very useful for house research. They contain information about the development of an area, a survey of streets and descriptions of estates and significant buildings. These studies involve assessing suburbs for buildings and other features that are of high conservation value, then recording and listing each of these sites along with descriptions of their architectural style and date of construction.

Published Suburb and House Histories: in some cases, particular houses may have already had histories published about them. In addition, many areas in the Shoalhaven have published suburb histories, which can provide useful background information when researching a property.

Archival Photographic Records: Making a photographic record of a heritage place or object documents it for the future, before it is lost or changed, either by progressive alterations or by the ravages of time. Photographic records are often required by authorities such the Heritage Council of NSW or local councils as part of a conditional approval for work to be carried out on a heritage place, or, in some instances, before demolition.

Shoalhaven Libraries holds a small collection of Archival Photographic Records. You may search for them using our library catalogue.

Post Office Directories

The equivalent of present-day phone books. These directories are useful for finding out who lived at the address, and assist in building up a picture of the street. The major publisher of post office directories was Sands and MacDougall.

The first rule for working with this kind of source material is to go backwards from what is known. Aim to find out when a house first appears on a particular site. To ascertain the location, information may need to be pieced together as street numbers are not always given, and the numbering may have changed. Street names themselves change too. However, the directories will often mention the change. Generally, the directories provide the names, residences and occupations of the inhabitants.

The Sands Directory has been fully digitised and is available via the City of Sydney Council website.


Newspapers and magazines can provide a glimpse of social period and local history. Check newspapers for 'calls for tender' for the construction of houses and auction notices. Look up suburbs, streets, full addresses and, once known, the names of the people who have owned the property. Search for the lot and plan number of the property. Narrow down the search by town and year.

In addition, contemporary newspaper articles would at times provide commentary about some building projects.

Shoalhaven Libraries holds early newspapers on microfilm. Historic newspapers may also be accessed online via Trove, the discovery platform of the National Library of Australia.

Need help with Trove? View this guide to get started.


By 1848, the state of New South Wales had been divided into 141 counties.

The counties were subsequently divided into Parishes and together they formed the basis of land administration in the state. Parish maps recorded the transfer of land from government to individuals. They did not show changes in ownership from individual to individual except when the original grantee had sold or mortgaged the land before the first surveyor reached the area. Different editions of each parish map were produced.

The types of information, which may be found on a parish map, vary between maps and may include:

  • The name of the original land grantee
  • The name of the estate located on a portion of land
  • The date of Crown Grants made prior to 1863
  • The area of each portion of land
  • The date when a portion of land was gazetted as being for a particular type of use
  • Place names
  • Municipal district boundaries and the date that municipal districts were proclaimed
  • Town areas (see town or village maps for more details relating to town and village areas). Town maps are not available for private towns. E.g. Berry, Terara, Milton.

All parish maps are divided into portions of land. Each portion of land is numbered and this number is shown on the map face. Every portion of land corresponds to a grant of crown land, either free grant, purchased grant or conversion of a conditional purchase or homestead selection. There are more portions of land in a closely settled area than in a sparsely occupied area. At the outer edge of the parish map tables link portion numbers to land titles records and gazetted notices for public use.

There are many maps which show the location of pastoral runs, stations and squatting ‘runs’. Most can be viewed online through the National Library of Australia. Many localities and pastoral stations are referred to and described in Bailliere’s gazetteers, published for each colony in the 1860s and 1870s.

Shoalhaven Maps: Our map collection can be accessed via our catalogue


Photographs can be accessed via our library catalogue.

Village News

Our collection includes local periodicals and newsletters published in the towns and villages around the Shoalhaven. Below is a selection of the titles you will find in the Local Heritage room at Nowra Library.

Bay and Basin

About….. is a monthly community magazine delivered to homes and businesses in Wandandian, Bewong, Tomerong, Falls Creek, Basin View, St Georges Basin, Sanctuary Point, Old Erowal Bay, Erowal Bay, Huskisson, Vincentia and Woollamia. The Local Heritage room holds physical copies from 2006-2021, and recent editions can be found online.

Go to Bay and Basin

Berry Town Crier

The Berry Town Crier is a community newspaper produced monthly by the Berry Alliance. Past issues from 2010 to the present can be searched online, and an incomplete back catalogue of 2000-2008 publications can be read in the Local Heritage room.

Go to the Berry Town Crier

The Kangaroo Valley Voice

The Kangaroo Valley Voice is a monthly local periodical which aims to support and develop Kangaroo Valley’s economic, social and communication infrastructure. The Local Heritage room holds physical copies from 1995-2021, and the latest edition can be found online.

Go to The Kangaroo Valley Voice

New Bush Telegraph

The New Bush Telegraph is an independent online newspaper publishing across the NSW South Coast, providing a progressive perspective on topical issues facing society and the environment. This community publication began as a quarterly print newspaper and moved online in 2020. A complete physical collection dating from the first edition in 1987 can be read in the Local Heritage room. Visit the New Bush Telegraph website for recent articles and a select back catalogue.

Go to the New Bush Telegraph

Shoalhaven Heads News

The Shoalhaven Heads News is a monthly community newsletter produced for local residents which features regular reports from community groups, businesses and local MPs. Physical copies from 2006-2015 are held in the Local Heritage room, with two current editions available online.

Go to the Shoalhaven Heads News

Sussex Inletter Weekly

The Sussex Inletter Weekly is a weekly publication for Sussex Inlet residents featuring local news. Physical copies are held from 2006-2009, and a current issue is available online.

Go to the Sussex Inletter Weekly

Ulladulla Local Express

The Ulladulla Local Express is a fortnightly magazine produced by the Milton Ulladulla ExServos Club featuring news about the local community. A substantial online archive of 2016-2019 editions can be accessed, along with physical copies from 2016-2020.

Go to the Ulladulla Local Express

Explore the Shoalhaven


The State Library of NSW explores life on the first European farming settlement in the Shoalhaven, Berry’s Coolangatta Estate:

First Farms (Berrys) - State Library NSW

Nowra Show

Alan Clark’s fascinating article on the history of the Nowra Show, published by the Royal Australian Historical Society

The Long History of the Nowra Show - Royal Australian Historical Society

Shoalhaven Cricket Research

From the time of Alan Clark’s first involvement with Shoalhaven cricket in 1975, he realised that its history had not been documented, and while in the position of association recorder and writing about the sport in the South Coast Register, he gradually started to research its earlier years.

During 36 years as recorder, he compiled detailed statistics and wrote up the highlights each summer, and by examining all available local newspapers and surviving club scorebooks, he gradually built up a database about the sport, and has written 18 books about Shoalhaven cricket.

Covering the period from the first known game in the district in 1855 until his retirement in 2012, Alan has compiled countless details about Shoalhaven cricket, which is now being shared with the wider community.

Head to our catalogue to read these documents online.


A detailed resource for Tomerong's local and social history by 'Bullocks to Bypass' author Margaret Blair. 

Tomerong Local History - Tomerong Past


NSW State Archives go behind the scenes with early school records from the town of Ulladulla

Ulladulla School Records - Museums of History NSW