Using Colonial Correspondence files at Queensland State Archives
By Janice Cooper.
This correspondence was the key to finding the Certificate of Exhumation for William Yung/Young Sing’s body. Detail about the return of his remains to his homeland added significant detail to his life story. William had died and been buried in the Jericho Cemetery within a year of moving to the railway terminus to establish a hotel there.
The letter was located at Queensland State Archives by using the Registers of letters received from 1859 to 1896, Series ID 11936 (COL/B), which provides an index to the inwards correspondence of the Colonial Secretary’s Office. You may find letters, telegrams, petitions, notes, completed forms, etc that include information about an ancestor. If your ancestors did not write their own letters, they were likely to have been a member of a community that asked questions or made demands of their government through a petition.
While some entries in the Register can be found under family names, others need to be found under other aspects of family life – where they lived, their occupation, or their involvement in public issues. They may also be found as a result of their misdeeds or as the victim of another’s misdeeds! Working for a state government department or local authority provides greater possibility of success.
A search takes some effort, but the rewards can be extremely worthwhile as any information you find will likely reveal details about your ancestor not found elsewhere.
Steps to take
While the Register covers the colonial period 1859 to 1896, only the period 1878 to 1896 is self-indexed through its division into sections. It is this section that is being covered in this blog. If you wish to search in the earlier period, seek guidance from the archivist on duty at the Archives.
- Before you begin, make a list of the places and occupations and think broadly about what you already know about your ancestor. Note a time frame to guide your search. For example, I have found ancestral family members listed:
- by name under sections such as ‘Benches’ (1890), ‘Judges’ (1887) and ‘Prisoners’ (1887)
- by location – Blackall (1886)
- At present, a printed copy of the Register (labelled COL/B) is located in the Archives Search Room. The Register is divided into the sections which help narrow your search to the most appropriate headings.
- Using Register pages which look like this, to find names, places etc. you are looking for, scan both the columns: ‘From Whom’ and ‘Subject of Letter’.
- When you find an entry of interest, the key to being able to find the actual correspondence is finding added hand-written notations in these photocopied pages of the Register (shown in the extract below, from the Register page).
In this instance, the first entry, registered on 5 January 1886, Letter No 46 does note that the correspondence will be found at COL/A453. We need to thank volunteers working at the State Archives for the addition of this information which indicates that the original correspondence exists and is accessible.
Unfortunately, not all correspondence has survived. If this is the case for any relevant Register entry, you, at least, will be able to note a date and what their correspondence was about from the Register entry.
(NB. A digitised copy of the Register is available online, but it does not include the added notations which make the search for the original correspondence immediately possible.)
- To find the correspondence referred to in an entry you must note the following:
- The year of the Index [eg. 1880]
- Numbers from the first three columns, that is, Numbers – Progressive, Previous, Subsequent (they identify the numbers of the current letter; a previous related letter and a letter that follows the current letter). They may also include a word identifying a related section in the Register. [Example: 46/no previous correspondence/552 Police]
- The dates the correspondence was registered and the date it was written. [eg. Jan 5 and Dec 30]
- The notation added to the file [eg. COL/A453]
To find the relevant correspondence
Available correspondence has been digitized, and available for download, but only in the Search Room at the Archives. To find the digitised file, use ArchivesSearch by typing the notated COL/A number and limiting your search to Item. The number to note is the ID/ITM number. [COL/A453 → ITM 847184]
At the Search Room computers, the digitised Correspondence files are found at ‘Selected QSA records’. Ask the Archivists for any assistance needed.
Although not accessible directly through names, the ‘Petitions’ section of the 1878-1896 registers is very useful to reveal the public personality of your family member. His name on several petitions reveal that William Young Sing was an integral member of his small community as well being supportive of his fellow countrymen. In November 1885, he supported Sing Noy’s efforts to establish a vegetable garden for the next terminus.
He joined 27 other Jericho residents in requesting relief for Commission Agent, William Real’s six-month gaol term and weeks before his death ‘signed’ a petition opposing the town’s operation under the Towns Police Act.
 Colonial Secretary’s Office, Inwards Correspondence, Young Doong, Exhumation Wm Young Sing 1890/12944, Item ID 847371, Queensland State Archives.
 Claire V Faulkner, Conquest. An inside story. Colonial Chinese-Australian family cluster, p. 31.
 Petitions: Barcaldine Run 1092, Item ID 27179; Colonial Secretary’s Office, Inwards Correspondence, re Remission of sentence – W Real 1886/3989, Item ID 847197; Colonial Secretary’s Office, Inwards Correspondence re Towns Police Act 10 April 1886/6839, Item ID 847210, Queensland State Archives.