The 1st Australasian Congress on Genealogy and Heraldry was held in Melbourne in 1977 prior to the establishment of the Federation. One of the outcomes of this gathering of devotees from all over Australia and New Zealand was a strong feeling that the growth of interest in family history was such that forming an umbrella type organisation.

The Australasian Federation of Family History Organisations was successfully launched at the Australian National University. Canberra on 30 Sep and 1 Oct 1978, when sixteen genealogical, heraldry, family organisations and government bodies joined together in one Federation. The first President of the Federation was Mr WH (Bill) Marsh of the Heraldry & Genealogical Society of Canberra. The first Vice President was Mr DWM (Don) Grant (Australian Institute of Genealogical Studies) who conducted the inaugural meeting, as Mr Marsh was overseas at the time.

At the first Annual General Meeting, held in Sydney 14-15 April 1979, the following Council Members were elected:

  • President Mr JL (Bob) Hoad – South Australian Genealogy & Heraldry Society
  • Vice President Mr DWM (Don) Grant – Australian Institute of Genealogical Studies
  • Secretary Mr GR (Graham) Thom – Heraldry & Genealogy Society of Canberra
  • Treasurer Mrs I (Irene) Blaich – Blaich Family Organisation
  • Councillors: Mrs B (Beryl) Lewis – Fellowship of First Fleeters; Mr H (Horst) Blaich – Genealogical Society of Utah

Progress of the Federation in the first years of its existence was good. 1980 saw the 2nd Congress, the first sponsored by the Federation, in Adelaide (“Our colonial heritage”), plus its first publications – “A Register of Cemetery Transcriptions held by Member Organisations” by Graham Thom, to which nine members contributed, and the fist issues of the Newsletter Mr Hoad accepted the invitation on behalf of his Society and program arrangements progressed satisfactorily. The Congress was held on the Easter weekend, 4–7 April 1980 at the Scot Theatre in Adelaide.

Somehow after the first flush of progress the inertia was lost, to the extent that when the 3rd Congress was held in Hamilton, New Zealand in 1983 (“Under the Southern Cross”) Verna Mossong, the President of the New Zealand Society of Genealogists, in her introduction to the congress papers, stated, “We meet in 1983 aware that there is little apparent life in AFFHO!” The South Australian Genealogy and Heraldry Society became the host group in 1984 and its President, Andrew Peake, was elected President of the Federation. The reactivated Federation produced two new publications in 1985, a second edition of the Register of Cemetery Transcriptions by Faye Young under the title, “Cemeteries in Australia – a Register of Transcripts”, and the first issues of a successor of the Newsletter entitled “Australian Family History Gazette”. At this time there were 14 Members and 3 Associate Members.

In 1985 the New Zealand Society of Genealogists rejoined the Federation and this confirmation of the wider scope of the Federation was confirmed by amendment of its constitution to reflect same.

The 4th Congress in Canberra in 1986 continued the Federation’s promotion of these events. Later that year the name of the “Gazette” was changed to “Australasian” to reflect the true scope of the Federation’s membership. Early in 1987 the hosting of the Federation was taken over again by the Australian Institute of Genealogical Studies in conjunction with the Genealogical Society of Victoria.

The need for recognition of significant contributions to causes is one of the stages of the evolution of organisations. The Federation reached this stage in 1987 when it was decided to initiate the NT Hansen Award for Significant Contribution to Family History, to be awarded at two levels, one for contribution by an organisation and the other by an individual. The first award, for the individual category, was made at the 5th Congress in 1988, the recipient being well known genealogist Nick Vine Hall. The first award in the organisation category was made in 1989 together with an individual award. Other awards followed in 1990 and 1991.

Two new publications were forthcoming in 1988. These were the 5th Congress Papers, produced jointly with Society of Australian Genealogists, and the “National Register of Shipping Arrivals In Australia and New Zealand” by Andrew Peake. A second edition of the latter was published in 1989.

In 1990 the Society of Australian Genealogists in Sydney became the host for the Federation, and the 6th Congress was held in Launceston. At that congress it was decided that the NT Hansen Award should be renamed the AFFHO Award for Meritorious Service to Family History. It was also decided that the Gazette be replaced with a new series of the AFFHO Newsletter, also to be published twice a year.

Publication activity continued through this period. In 1992 the third edition of the “National Register of Shipping Arrivals” went on sale. A booklet listing kindred organisations and entitled “AFFHO Directory of Genealogical Organisations in Australia” by Heather Garnsey and Martin Killion was also published in that year, and it was followed up in 1993 by a more specific one entitled “AFFHO Directory of Member Organisations” (now out of print) by the same authors.

Brisbane was the venue for the 7th Congress in 1994 at which a further AFFHO Award was made. It was decided then that the Award should only be made at the triennial congresses.

“Cemeteries in Australia” went into its third edition in 1994.

Three major issues faced the Society of Australian Genealogists when it became the host. They were the need for the Federation to become Incorporated, the destruction of Australian census returns, and the impending closure of the Australian Joint Copying Project. Much work on these issues was done by the Council in the five years 1991 to 1995 resulting in the adoption of a new constitution with by-laws, incorporation being effected, and a much wider degree of acceptance of the need to retain census material than was the case previously. Unfortunately, it was not possible to reverse the decision about the AJCP.

As of 1 January, 1996, the Western Australian Genealogical Society Inc. became the host for the Federation for the next few years. This saw the change of the AFFHO Newlsetter to a journal format, and also the production of the first numbers in the series of Information Sheets on topics of interest to members.

Membership of the Federation at the end of 1996 was 81 Full Members and 14 Associate Members representing over 50,000 persons who are involved in pursuing genealogy and family history in Australia and New Zealand – a large body indeed!

The 8th Congress was held at Lincoln University, Christchurch in February 1997, the second to be held in New Zealand, and over 600 persons attended. A presentation of the personal AFFHO Award was made at the Congress.

Early in 1997 many years of campaigning and lobbying for the retention of Australian census forms after statistical data has been extracted culminated in the setting up by the Australian Government of a public inquiry into this matter. The outcome of the Select Committee was a decision to include in the 2001 Census a question that if the responder ticked the box the census return would be preserved for posterity and released 100 years hence.  For the next Census AFFHO representatives and the President, Graham Jaunay, met with the Treasurer (then Minister responsible) and secured his support for the concept which until then had been a one-off trial with the 2001 Census. Therefore at the mid-term Census of 2006, there was the ‘tick the box’ option of preserving the census return.  Societies campaigned in their journals to remind members that they needed to ‘tick the box’.  A partial conclusion, but a step in the right direction.

The Annual General Meeting held in September 2000 saw the resignation of the Western Australian Council with the exception of WAGS President, Lyn Coy. Interest had again waned in AFFHO despite the successful Perth Congress 2000, which saw some 400 delegates attend. AFFHO was again in dire straits. It was suggested at the AGM that a working party be set up with the intention of setting up an Australasian Council. The President of WAGS, Lyn Coy offered that WAGS would continue to host AFFHO until December 2001 – this offer was accepted. To trial run an Australasian Council Mrs Coy introduced Jan Gow from New Zealand and Jill Adams from the Northern Territory. At the May 2001 meeting more states joined the Council including Dorothy Fellowes from New South Wales, Pam Valentine from NSW & ACT State Association, Di Christensen from VAFFHO. Keven Young from the Northern Territory joined the Council. Time ran out – WAGS again offered to continue to act as host until the May 2002 Annual General Meeting.

A new constitution was developed and approved at the AGM on 6 May 2002, with representatives from each state and territory and New Zealand, plus ex-officio non-voting State Association representatives.  An inaugural dinner to launch the new Australasian Council was held in Canberra in June 2002 with Graham Jaunay, from South Australia, as President.

Over the next few years much time was spent recovering AFFHO and building on the work done by WA after the slump of the late 1990s.  Much was done to try and make AFFHO relevant to family history societies and included:

  • Starting the website with its own domain.
  • Starting the Strays Index, although it has not progressed as well as hoped.
  • Started the Index of Indexes on the website, although this too has not progressed as well as hoped.