Politics in the Blood? Family History at the Australian Prime Ministers Centre
Probably the most common type of enquiry received by the research staff at the Australian Prime Ministers Centre are family history enquiries. If there is a parliamentarian in your family tree, we can help you find out about their political career.
The resources we have available can help build a picture of the life and work of former parliamentarians. Usually, we can put together a “package” which will give some of the important information about a member of the House of Representatives or the Senate.
The first place we usually go is to the Parliamentary Handbooks. These are published during the life of each parliament and contain a complete listing of members and senators, their personal details, career summaries and, importantly, a photograph; if a relative served in the Commonwealth Parliament, even if only briefly, there will be a photograph of them. Some people have found these photographs having never before seen what their relative looked like; others have compared themselves to the photo and commented on the family resemblance!
Particularly noteworthy politicians who died prior to 1980 often have their own entries in the Australian Dictionary of Biography, which will contain biographical information. All Senators who served prior to 1982 have entries in the Biographical Dictionary of the Australian Senate. We have access to both these works and the information contained in them has often helped family members track the careers of their famous relatives.
Perhaps, however, the most important contribution we can make to tracing family history is our complete run of Hansard, the official record of parliamentary proceedings. These contain all speeches by parliamentarians made in the chambers. When we put together a family history package, we always check Hansard to find the member or senator’s maiden speech. The first speech by a politician often gives important details about their life, their values and their ambitions. So too do valedictory speeches, made when members retire.
One of the most poignant experiences in family history can be reading obituaries. In Hansard, condolence motions are often made when a former member of parliament dies. Sometimes, these are followed by speeches from other members, sometimes including the Prime Minister or Leader of the Opposition, which can be very moving. Several times, we have had relatives moved to tears by the things said about their relatives in the pages of Hansard.
In addition to all of this, our collection contains books and ephemera relating to Australia’s parliamentary history, which can and often does contain references to the lives and achievements of individual members of parliament.
If you have a relative who served in the Commonwealth Parliament and would like to know more about them, we have the resources to help you learn about their life. Drop in and visit us or contact us on 6270 8270. You might also have material possessions of your relative which you would like to offer for donation, or alternatively, memories to share with us via our oral history program
You never know what secrets your family history holds. We can help you uncover them!