04 July 2012

F is for Fires

Here is my contribution to 'F' in the 'Family History Through the Alphabet' series.

F is for... Fires.
  • Fires are usually reported in newspapers. For Australia, start by checking the National Library's digitised newspapers on Trove. Similar sites exist for other countries. Some of the overseas pay-to-view sites can be used free of charge at State Libraries, local Council libraries or family history society libraries.

  • A fire often resulted in financial difficulty for the business or individuals involved. There may be references to insolvency in newspapers or Government Gazettes, but the best information for family history purposes would be in insolvency files held by State Government archives.

  • The Australasian Insurance and Banking Record Fire Index 1886-1921 (at the John Oxley Library, Brisbane, Queensland) gives town, year, brief details of the fire, and the volume, year and page reference for the Australasian Insurance and Banking Record.

  • State Archives in Queensland, and presumably elsewhere, hold files for 'fire inquests', which are indexed by the name of the town. These files are about enquiries into fires that caused damage to a home, business, woolshed, barn, haystack etc. Hotels seem to have been particularly at risk. Fire inquest files usually give the place, date and supposed cause of the fire; details of damage (and injuries, if any); names of any suspected persons; and witness statements about the circumstances of the fire. Perhaps your ancestor was a neighbour or bystander who gave evidence at the enquiry!

  • The book Brisbane on Fire: a History of Firefighting 1860-1925 is a hardcover publication of 239 pages, with an index, bibliography, photographs and appendices. At a Lifeline Bookfest I bought a copy signed by the author (Ken Capell). I no longer need it, so I am willing to sell it and donate the proceeds to charity.

You will find more tips for family history in my other articles in this series. If the information and advice is useful, have a look at this page.


  1. There's an insurance and Banking Record Fire Index? Wow ... how cool. I knew I was going to learn from your posts. :D

    1. I discovered this index by accident when I was at the John Oxley Library many years ago. I also found out about lots of other weird and wonderful indexes when I was writing Specialist Indexes in Australia: a Genealogist's Guide. Titles of the indexes described in that book are listed on my Web site.


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