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10 reasons to add Sydney City Council Archives to your genealogy toolkit

If you don't usually think of the Sydney City Council as a useful genealogical record repository then think again. Given the importance of Sydney as Australia's first European settlement, the Sydney City Council is a great resource to explore.

Picture of Sydney Harbour and the bridge in the distance across the rocks. Courtesy of

Here are ten good reasons to add the Sydney City Council's archives to your genealogy tool kit.

1. People and Positions (aka City of Sydney Employees) 1842–1900

The Council recently changed the name of its City of Sydney Employees database to People and Positions. It includes the Council's many employees between 1842 and 1900. This is a wonderful resource for genealogists and each entry includes some or all of the following information:

  • year

  • surname

  • first name

  • position

  • salary

  • notes

  • source reference number

  • further notes.

For further information and to search the People and Positions database click here.

2. Sydney's Councillors and Aldermen

Another people-related database at the Sydney City Council's website is their A-Z biographical guide of Sydney's Councils and Aldermen since 1842. It lists nearly 500 men and women who served on Sydney's Council. Where available, the database also includes photos of the individuals.

The database continues to grow as research continues into the councils absorbed over the years into greater Sydney, namely Glebe, Newtown and Paddington.

Above: sample of photos of former Councillors between 1842-1882.

3. House and Building Histories Guide

If you are researching the history of your house in the City of Sydney's local area, then this is an excellent starting point. The Council has a house history guide which lists the resources available for researching your house, apartment or even commercial building. For further information, click here.

4. Planning Street Cards

The Planning Street Cards provide information about historical buildings and development applications from about 1908 to the 1990s. The street cards show all the applications submitted to the City, whether or not the original files and plans still exist. To see if the full records referred to on the cards are still available you will have to check Archives Investigator (see below). For more information click here.

5. Sands Sydney, Suburban and Country Commercial Directory

The Sands directories are particularly useful for family history research thanks to the household and business information they contain from 1859 to 1932. As someone suggested, they are like a telephone book without the phone number. Generally, Sands directories contain:

  • The names of people who lived in the house;

  • The occupations of residents (sometimes);

  • The economic uses of the building – for example, the house/apartment may have previously been a shop or a factory:

  • Previous structures on the site – for example, in the case of a new apartment building;

  • House name (if any);

  • Approximate construction date of a house or buildings;

  • Changes in street numbering.

The only downside that I could determine is that it can be very slow to retrieve search results so you will need to be patient. If you haven't already, take a leaf out of my book and make it a key resource in your early Australian family history research toolkit. To search the Sands Directories on the Sydney City Council's website, click here.

6. Assessment Books

The Assessment Books are among my favourite records at the City of Sydney Archives. They detail ownership, occupation, construction and property values in the City of Sydney for over a century between 1845 and 1948. The Books provide valuable information for family and property history researchers. I particularly like these records because they often include a street number even in the 1800s - something you seldom see in records. The exact number lets you hone in on the exact location where our ancestors lived and/or worked. If you are lucky, a search in Google Maps will show if the original building still stands.

Assessment Books should not be confused with Rate Books. They contain more useful information than Rate books (in my opinion) and the Council has done an excellent job of providing colour images of each page in the books. They are accompanied by a corresponding transcript of the page in an easy to read tabular form.

City of Sydney Assesment Books - image of the keyword search page

Above: the basic search screen for the Assessment Books at the City of Sydney Archives

The website states that in order to use the Assessment Books, you need to know your ancestor's street name and suburb. However, I found I could often get a result just by searching for the name and then refining with the year if there were too many results.

One thing to remember: it will feel a little slow in returning your search results and there is no spinning egg timer or other indication that the database is thinking. So just be a little patient and wait the necessary few seconds for a result to appear.

For detailed information on how to use the City of Sydney Assessment Books click here.

Example of Assessment Books search results for the name Rogerson - courtesy of the City of Sydney

Above: example of the Assessment Books' search results for the name Rogerson

7. Historical Atlas of Sydney

The Historical Atlas of Sydney provides access to city maps from different historical periods. These interactive maps let you pan and zoom to pick up smaller areas and close-up details. The maps can also be downloaded as PDF files which I found were much easier to navigate the maps instead of struggling with the rather clunky on-screen controls.

8. ArchivePix

ArchivePix is the City of Sydney's online catalogue of photographs. More than 75,000 photographs have been digitised and more are being added. Some photographic collections are only selectively represented. If so, this is indicated in the captions. Click here to search for photographs.

9. Archives Investigator

The Council's Archives Investigator system provides information about:

  • archival records created by the City; and

  • councils absorbed by the City.

Most of the City's historical records up to 1979 are listed in Archives Investigator which continues to grow.

10. Online and free

Last but by no means least, access to the records is online and free.

Online and free picture. Image by <a href=";utm_medium=referral&amp;utm_campaign=image&amp;utm_content=1773954">Gerd Altmann</a> from <a href=";utm_medium=referral&amp;utm_campaign=image&amp;utm_content=1773954">Pixabay</a>


The Sydney City Council is an unexpected but very useful resource, particularly for any ancestors who were among the early colonists. Parts of the website are, frankly, not that easy to use and the Council's recent consolidation of some collections has, in my opinion, not delivered the promised improvements. Nevertheless, it is a treasure chest well worth delving into.

How did you go?

I love a good news story, so do let me know via the comments section below if you find any gems among the Council's records.

Happy ancestor hunting!


Your Family Genealogist

Pictures : courtesy of Pixbay

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