The following news release is from prwire.com.au:

Online collection of criminal and convict records FREE to search on Australia Day from January 25 – 28, 2013

Sydney, Australia, 25 January 2013To celebrate the 225th anniversary of the arrival of the first fleet, Ancestry.com.au, Australia’s largest online family history resource[i], will be making its collection of almost 2.6 million convict records free to search from January 25-28, 2013 inclusive. This extensive collection offers all Australians the opportunity to explore their country’s convict roots.

One in five Aussies[ii] can claim convict heritage and will likely have an ancestor included in the collection. The breadth of the convict collections available on Ancestry.com.au allows those researching their convict forbears to paint a vivid picture not just of the convicts themselves, but also of their journey and their experiences in the fledgling colony of New South Wales.

James Walsh is a great example of the level of detail that can be gleaned from the convict records. A 26-year-old shoemaker when he arrived in Australia on board the Edward in February, 1831, the Ireland native was convicted of receiving stolen goods and given seven years’ transportation. His Convict Indent (an official list of convicts being transported aboard a particular ship) describes James as just shy of 5’6” (172 cm) with a ruddy ‘pock-pitted’ complexion, brown hair and hazel eyes. The indent goes on to describe James as having a crooked right arm with a mermaid and fish tattoo on his left arm, and a tattoo of an anchor between the left thumb and forefinger.

Ancestry.com.au’s convict collection includes records from the England and Wales Criminal Registers, the Convict Transportation Registers, Convict Muster Rolls, Convict Applications to Marry, Convict Death Registers, UK Royal Naval Medical Journals, and a variety of other record sets documenting the trial, journey, working life, release and death of the majority of convicts transported.

These records offer a unique peek into the window of early Australian history, providing researchers with invaluable information including clues to their ancestors’ place of birth and country of origin, allowing them to investigate even earlier family history.

Notable Australians who can proudly claim convict history include:

  • John Howard, Former Prime Minister: His family contains convict ancestors on both sides of the tree. His 3x great grandfather William Tooley was convicted of complicity in the theft of a tortoiseshell watch and was transported for life in 1816. On his maternal side, his great grandfather Thomas Barker was transported for life after being convicted of two counts of robbery, arriving in 1835.
  • Kevin Rudd, Former Prime Minister: His 4x great grandfather, Thomas Rudd, was transported to Australia in 1801 for unlawfully acquiring a bag of sugar.
  • Rod Marsh, Cricketer: His great-grandfather (by adoption) was transported to Australia after being charged with manslaughter following a late night brawl, which resulted in a man being shot.
  • Maggie Beer, Celebrity Chef and 2010 Senior Australian of the Year: Her 3x great-grandmother was a convict thief and her 3x great-grandfather a bigamist who was convicted after three simultaneous marriages. They met after both were transported to Australia.
  • Tony Windsor, MP, Independent Federal Minister for New England:: His 2x great-grandfather was transported to NSW on the ship Midas in 1827 after stealing wet bedding from a clothes line – he eventually died in Darlinghurst Gaol after being convicted of horse stealing.
  • Brad Argent, Ancestry.com.au Content Director for Australia and New Zealand, comments: “To many, Australia is still considered a young country, but no one can deny we have a rich heritage and the stories of the convicts, the early settlers and how our nation was founded are a unique part of our history”.

    “Ancestry’s extensive convict collection offers Australians the opportunity to delve deeper into the colourful characters of our past in order to piece together the puzzle of who we are and where we came from.”

    To access Ancestry.com.au free convict collections, go to www.ancestry.com.au/convicts2013

    [i] comScore, 2011, based on genealogy related websites selected from the Family and Parenting sub-category under the Community category

    [ii] The Australian Constitution Referendum Study, 1999