How to use the Archives

Researchers can use the Archives in a number of ways – by making an appointment and visiting, sending in an enquiry or hiring a professional to help. While our archivists can assist with formal enquiries, they are generally not able to answer questions asked over the telephone or during unannounced visits.

Visit the Archives

To visit the Archives on weekdays make an appointment first. Simply telephone us, send an email or pop in to arrange it. During your visit an archivist will show you how to locate the records you're looking for. Archivists won't do your research for you, though.

Facilities to read the records and take notes are available; you can also bring your own laptop. Digital cameras may be used (with permission) to photograph documents. Tape recorders are generally not allowed because you may have to share the reading room with other researchers.

Most archival records are stored offsite, as the Archives has limited storage space. This means the records you need may not always be immediately available. When you contact us to make your appointment we will ask about the records you need and tell you whether delays in retrieving documents are likely.

Photocopies of archival documents can be supplied on request (unless a document is too fragile to copy). Photographic copies take a week to process and plan print copies may take a few days.

Before your visit, check the conditions of access. Note that fees and charges may apply to visiting researchers in certain circumstances.

Write to the Archives

If you need information or records retrieved from the Archives and are unable to visit, use the online search tools to compile a list of the material and send us an enquiry by letter, fax or e-mail.

If you can't locate the relevant records using the catalogues and search tools, send us the details of your enquiry anyway – we may be able to help.

Hire a professional researcher

The Archives does not offer an in-depth research service. Those who can't visit the Archives or don't have the skills to do complex research may like to consider hiring a professional researcher. To find out more about professional research assistance, contact the Professional Historians Association of NSW.

Before you start

Before you get started on your research, it is important to clarify:

  • whether your research topic is linked to a current or former City of Sydney responsibility
  • which council controlled the part of Sydney you are interested in during the years you wish to focus on. Check the jurisdictions covered by the City, which summarises local government boundary changes affecting Sydney.

If you're still uncertain, please contact the Archives for assistance.

Jurisdictions covered by the Archives

Since the 1800s the City has absorbed other municipalities as Sydney has grown and developed. The Archives contains the surviving records from these councils:

  • Camperdown (1862 to 1908)
  • Alexandria (1868 to 1948)
  • Darlington (1864 to 1948)
  • Macdonaldtown/Erskineville (1872 to 1948)
  • Glebe (1859 to 1948)
  • Newtown (1862 to 1948)
  • Redfern (1859 to 1948)
  • Paddington (1860 to 1948)
  • Waterloo (1860 to 1948)
  • Northcott/South Sydney Municipal Council (1968 to 1981)
  • Leichhardt Municipal Council (for Glebe 1968 to 2003)
  • South Sydney City Council (1989 to 2004).

The changing boundaries of the City can be seen in the Historical Atlas of Sydney. For details of changes to ward boundaries over time, please consult the Assessment Books (1845-1948) database.

Very few Camperdown records have survived, possibly because the municipality was in serious financial difficulties when the City took control. The Town Hall had been sold off in a sheriff's sale and many records were in the hands of the official receiver.

When the records of the municipalities absorbed in 1949 were transferred to the City they were dumped in the Queen Victoria Building, which by then was being used largely for offices and storage space.

Eventually these records were transferred to the Mitchell Library's manuscripts department from where they were transferred back to the City's Archives in 1992 and 2003.

Some Glebe Municipal Council records also turned up in Leichhardt Council storage during the 2003 re-acquisition of Glebe.

The records that came to the City's Archives from the municipalities absorbed in 1949 were incomplete. We have very few subject and correspondence files.

The principal series of records that we do have are the minute books, and rate and valuation books. Even some of these are missing. 

For example, there are no Redfern rate or valuation books earlier than 1917. It is not known when the missing records were lost.

The records of the Northcott/South Sydney Municipal Council (1968 to 1982) by contrast are extensive and fairly complete.

The Archives is also responsible for records created by organisations that are linked to the City, such as Sydney Festival Ltd.

The City does not keep records on information outside its responsibility, such as births, deaths and marriages, or records for areas that have never been found within its boundaries.

Last updated: Tuesday, 24 January 2017