Navigation Menu
This website aims to develop case studies of the development of farming practices and attendant transformations of local ecologies of defined blocks of land. Through these biographies of particular plots of land we are developing localised analyses of the wider historical trends in the political economy/ecology of the Northern Rivers.

How to trace the history of your land

If you would like to try tracing the cadastral history of your own land, you could follow some or all of these steps. We advise that you read through this entire guide before beginning your research, as you may not need or want to follow exactly the same process we have employed.

Please note that this process assumes you know the address of the lands you would like to research. If you just have a general area but no address, you can look up the parish via the historical records viewer, Pixel – the parish name can be found using the geographical names register.

1. Obtain the current title reference number

The current title reference number will normally look something like 12/DP12345 (the DP may be included or not, depending on the source of your information). Older form reference numbers look like 1234-12. If you already have a title reference number, you can proceed to step 2.

If you don’t have this information in your own records you can use any of the following methods:

– Use the free NSW Land and Property Information Street Address Inquiry to look up the current title reference number of the address you are interested in. This is the most straightforward option, and recommended if you already have a good idea of the key features of the property (such as the size of the portion and the shape of its boundaries).

– Use the free NSW Spatial Information Exchange (SIX) Viewer to look up the property address and display the Cadastral Features (you may be prompted to install a web browser plugin to use this service). This will allow you to view the property boundaries and title reference number. This can be particularly useful if you only know the approximate address of the property or can not locate the reference number using the street address inquiry method outlined above. This approach will also give you an idea of the size of the portion and shape of its boundaries, which can be useful later in your research. Note that in order to display the title reference number, you will need to select ‘show themes’ and then slide the slider labeled ‘imagery’ all the way to toward ‘map’.

– Access the current property report for the farmland. A digital copy can be purchased online from the NSW Land and Property Information Shop. This will give you a good idea of what the property boundaries look like on the current map, the names of any recent owners, who the most recent certificate of title was issued to, and what the title reference number is. This is a comprehensive packet of current information, and is particularly useful if you don’t know much about the current property. It will also contain prior title reference numbers, which may allow you to bypass step 2.

2. Obtain any prior title reference number(s)

The reference number you have will not usually be the first allocated to the property. It is important to find any prior title reference numbers before trying to access documents (other than maps) related to the property. To do this, you can use the free NSW Land and Property Information Prior Title Reference (do not include any letters when you search). This search should turn up one or more prior title reference numbers.

Record each resulting number (keeping careful note of the order in which you obtained them) and use them to repeat the search until there are no new results. New-form numbers use a slash as in 12/12345. Old-form numbers include a hyphen as in 1234-12 (volume-folio).

3. Obtain certificate(s) of title

Each of the reference numbers you now have correspond to a different certificate of title. Depending on your interest, you may only wish to view the oldest or newest of these, or you may wish to view all records. This is completely up to you. The reference numbers that appeared at the beginning of your search in step 2 will be the newest, and last number you obtained at the end of your search will be for the oldest certificate. However, you should remember that there may be older certificates that will not come up during this search (more on this later).

Use the NSW Land and Property Information Torrens Title Image Search to find and purchase a digital copy of each certificate of title. This will contain a map of the property from the date the certificate of title was issued, as well as any transfers of ownership, leases, mortgages, and other financial dealings over the time of this title’s use.

Prior titles can be found either on the certificate of title, or by the searching method outlined in step 2. If you are trying to compile all relevant documents, or find the oldest relevant document, it is always worth checking in the top left hand corner of these certificates. Sometimes numbers which do not show up in the prior title search (completed in step 2) will appear here. Numbers on these certificates will be in the format Vol.1234 Fol.12, but are equivalent to the form 1234-12. If you are looking for the oldest certificate of title, look for the ‘Crown Grant’ number.

4. Obtain any names of selectors, conditional purchase/lease numbers, and crown plan numbers

Certificates of title were issued to certify land ownership under the fee simple system of New South Wales (NSW) colonial land ownership (and then following federation, by the NSW state government). Squatting, surveying, and selection all took place prior to this ownership being established. So, if you would like information about earlier colonial occupants of your land, you should start with by accessing historical parish maps via the historical records viewer, Pixel.

To find a relevant map, you will need to know the name of the parish, which should be listed on the documents you already have. You can input this into the Pixel keyword search.

Once you find a relevant map, you will need to locate your portion of land. Look for the portion number on the older certificates of title from step 3. This will be mentioned in the description of the land at the top of the certificate, and is also normally marked within the portion if this is pictured on the certificate. Each portion of land on the parish map will be identified by a portion number (the most prominent number in each portion, 1, 2, or 3 digits). Find your land using your portion number. Keeping in mind the rough size and shape of the portion pictured on the certificate is also helpful.

Once you have located the correct portion, make note of:

– Any names listed, including any crossed through (these are the names of selectors and may also appear on your earliest certificate of title)

– Any conditional purchase numbers listed. These will be prefixed by CP (conditional purchase), ACP (additional conditional purchase), CPL (conditional purchase lease) or CL (conditional lease). If there is no conditional purchase number, there may be a HS number (Home Stead, sometimes in the form H/S). This is worth noting too. These numbers are in the format year.conditional purchase number (as in 12.123).

– The Crown plan number, which will be written in very small print and prefixed by R. Unfortunately if there is also an R or r following this number, it will not be of use in your research.

– The small number, located elsewhere on the map (often just below the parish map title or the table of portion numbers used, but it may be anywhere or not listed, so scan carefully).

View as many maps as there are available (normally there will be a number of historical parish maps around the period 1890-1940). If information is missing from one, it is often available in another.

5. Obtain any conditional purchase correspondence records1

Correspondence files include all the documents used to establish a conditional purchaser’s claim to the property (such as transfers, mortgages, surveyors reports, letters from the selector, inheritance records, letters outlining improvements). They can run from 1 to 100 pages (or more in rare cases). Sometimes documents related to multiple portions will be consolidated into a single file, if the selector maintained additional conditional purchases or leases. You should always keep these files in order.

This will require you to pay a visit to the Western Sydney Records Centre.2 There are two possible approaches once you arrive:

– The crown plans can be accessed in person on the terminals in the reading room. If you have the R number and small number you can use this method. Access lands records from the terminals nearest the entry door and input these numbers in the format R number-small number into the keyword search field. You should only get one result. If the result has a long number recorded in the middle of the mapped portion, this is a letter number. It will be in the format year.letter number (as in 12.12345). This number can be taken to the desk, where the staff can help you look up and then order conditional purchase correspondence. This will be delivered to you on the day, within about an hour. If the crown plan does not contain a letter number, you will need to follow the conventional approach to researching conditional purchases, below.

– Using the CP number from the parish map, ask at the desk for help researching conditional purchases. This research will follow the process outlined here. This is the more systematic approach, and is the one advocated by LPI staff. Although it takes much longer, this approach reduces the likelihood of missing important documents, and also teaches you a lot about the CP system. If you try this approach first but are unsuccessful, and you have the R number and small number, you should try the first option outlined here.

If you are unable to access any conditional purchase records using either of the above methods, you can try accessing tenure cards with the help of the reading room staff.3 If this yields no result, there is a small chance that the file box containing the records is out of order, which would prevent the staff from finding and delivering the documents for you.4 You can request that the entire file box be brought up to the reading room for you, but you should only do this if you are confident searching through multiple files yourself. You will need to manually sort through all the files in the box, keeping everything in order.




Print Friendly

  1. Unfortunately, CP research does not always yield results. It is notoriously complex and even once you master the system you may find some files are missing. 

  2. Note that the archives are in the process of digitising their records, so it is always worth checking what is available via the LPI’s online shop before you proceed 

  3. Although tenure cards are not comprehensive, they can contain letter numbers which may not have been picked up using the other methods 

  4. This is particularly likely if you have requested a number of files unsuccessfully with ‘not in box’ being recorded on the request slip