We are one of many agencies that could hold information on the history of your home or land.

As a government archive, our collection focuses on records of agencies which might have been involved in assessing council rates, managing development applications or managing land ownership.

It is rare for plans of private homes built prior to the 1950s and 1960s to be found within our records.

If you house used to be a pub or a school, we may hold some records relating to public buildings or licensed premises.

Access conditions

Many records relating to land and council administration are open for public access.

Some records containing sensitive financial information about individual cases might be restricted for up to 60 years.

Access to records held by other agencies (such as the Lands Titles Office or District Councils) is managed by those agencies.

Researching the records

Records may cover the:

  • current and former ownership of a property and its location
  • occupancy and property value, including improvements
  • plans and
  • heritage status.

Local government (council) records

Use the Keyword Search to search our ArchivesSearch catalogue  to see if records have been archived by the relevant council.

Use "council AND" with one word from the council name, and choose the "Agency" option.

You may need to look through a range of agency results as councils have changed their names and coverage over time.

Property ownership and location

The current certificate of title lists the present owners of a parcel of land.

To find the original or prior owners of your land, you will need to search through the previous titles to the property, many of which can be found via the South Australian Integrated Land Information System (SAILIS).

There are tutorials on the SAILIS site to help with your search.

The Property Location Browser is a free map-based interface which can be used to search addresses and to view details of land administration boundaries.

It also provides current certificate of title and valuation reference numbers.

Other records including:

  • the certificate of title reference number
  • valuation and plan type reference numbers and
  • sales details

are available via the South Australian Integrated Land Information System (SAILIS)

There is also a guide to land records which has been prepared by the Cadastral Surveying section in the Department of Planning Transport and Infrastructure (Survey Searching Guide).

This guide is quite useful as an overview of the different types of land records and includes specific references to series in our custody.

LocationSA hosts a map viewer which includes data sets such as hundred boundaries, current local council boundaries, roads, heritage status, as well as geographic information about other services.

Occupancy and property value

Previous owners and occupiers of a property, and the value of a property, can be traced through the council rates assessment books.

These books record the rates paid to the local council. Looking across a range of years can show improvements made to buildings on the property. 

Other useful council records include health inspector's reports and council meeting minutes.

Almanacs and directories list most business and private residents by township or street, and include useful statistics about townships.

Digitised copies of almanacs and directories are available through the State Library of South Australia or hard copies are available in the search area of our Research Centre.

Digitised copies of newspaper advertisements are available via Trove (up to c.1954) or the State Library of South Australia.

Plans

Local councils may have archived building plans including floor plans, elevation and site plans which formed part of the application provided to them at the time the house was built or extended.

Availability and access will vary from council to council.

We may hold plans of buildings which have come under government licensing, such as pubs or places of entertainment, or which were built for a government purpose, such as schools.

We may hold Council Works Committee Minutes for some local councils, which include the date of approval of the application for new builds or additions to existing buildings.

Heritage status

Search the South Australian Heritage Places Database to find out which houses in your area are heritage listed.

This database lists the property section and provides the plan or parcel and certificate of title reference numbers.

We may hold some Development Applications for heritage listed properties which include plans.

Heritage files are active records of Heritage South Australia and have not been archived.

Indexes and special lists

Maps - Surveyor General's Office, Lands and Survey Department and Lands Department, 1808-1946 (GRG 35/585)

Special list to GRG 35/585 Maps - Surveyor General's Office, Lands and Survey Department and Lands Department, 1808-1946 - arranged numerically

Memorial books, single number series, 1841-1981 (GRS 12154)

This series was the main record of land deeds before the Torrens title system in 1857 and the Real Property Act on 1858. 

We hold a copy of the index to these memorial books in our Research Centre and it also holds an index to the enrolments (GRS 12147).

Ask staff for help in searching this index. Bring a USB flash drive to capture index entries.

This index and the memorial books may also be available through SAILIS.

Land tax assessment returns 1885 (GRG 21/1)

Land tax was introduced in 1885, this is the only year tax returns have been kept.

This series consists of forms completed by individual land holders and collated by the Land and Income Tax Department. The forms were the basis tax was levied at a rate of one halfpenny for every pound of unimproved value.  

This special list is arranged:

  • alphabetically by the surname of the person completing the return (often the name of the mortgagor, agent or trustee is substituted, though the owner is indexed separately)
  • contains surnames of respondents and
  • is arranged to reflect the order in which they were microfilmed from 1977 to 1978.

Special list to GRG 21/1 - Land tax assessment forms, 1885 - A - Z - alphabetical by surname

There are two appendices. 

Appendix 1 consists of a Supplementary Index to owner's names not revealed by the alphabetical arrangement of returns.

Appendix 1 to GRG 21/1 Supplementary Index to owner's names not revealed by the alphabetical arrangement of returns, 1885 A - Z

Appendix 2 consists of a Supplementary Index to comments made by persons completing the returns. 

Appendix 2 to GRG 21/1 Supplementary Index - alphabetical by owner's name to comments made when completing returns, 1885 A - W - alphabetical by surname of owner

Plans of public buildings, 'Historic Drawing' series ('HD' plans) - Colonial Architect's Department and successors, 1848-1972 (GRG 38/68)

A special list of historic drawing plans of Government buildings, including schools, police stations, courts, prisons, powder magazines, hospitals etc, is available in the Research Centre.

Plans relating to current infrastructure such as Parliament House, or active courts, police stations and correctional facilities, are restricted.

Digitised records

Digitised copies of newspaper advertisements are available through Trove.

Digitised copies of almanacs and directories are available through the State Library of South Australia.

A small set of plans have been posted to our Flickr page. For example:

Drawer system plans - Surveyor-General's Office, 1829-1991 (GRS 6910)

Some of these plans record original survey data, and some are referred to in Parliamentary documents and publications. 

Digital copies of the hundred maps, out of hundred maps and standard mapping plans are viewable in our Research Centre.

A copy of Hundred Maps, as published in outline format, is available through the State Library of South Australia.

Records held

Subdivision sale plans of suburban and country areas - Land and Income Tax Department, c1868-c1922 (GRG 21/31)

Some of these sale plans include details about the sale price and purchaser. A special list is available in our Research Centre.

Types of records

Land tax assessment returns 1885 (GRG 21/1)

Land tax was introduced in 1885, this is the only year tax returns have been kept.

This series consists of forms completed by individual land holders and collated by the Land and Income Tax Department.

The forms were the basis tax was levied at a rate of one halfpenny for every pound of unimproved value.  

Each return gives details of:

  • land owned
  • extent
  • location
  • mortgages
  • mortgagor
  • owner and occupier
  • Occasionally, correspondence has been attached to the return. 

While the returns are arranged alphabetically by surname, the arrangement is not always by the owner's name. 

Often the name of the mortgagor, agent or trustee is substituted. Where this has occurred the owner's name has been indexed separately in the special list.

Key factsDecorative Image: D 504/4, unit 4, item F5/53 - civil drawings, annual single number with 'C', 'D', 'E' and 'F' prefixes - Chief Engineer's Department, South Australian Railways

Researching the history of a private dwelling requires using a range of different sources to discover:

  • current and former owners of a property
  • occupancy and property value
  • plans and
  • heritage status.

Other sources

  • Adelaide City Council Archives - for information relating to buildings in the Adelaide central business district, including council assessment books from 1847 and city building plans from 1924.
  • Louis Laybourne Smith School Architecture Museum - holds South Australian produced architectural records.
  • State Library of South Australia - holds local and regional histories.
  • Local Libraries - for publications on the historical development of your area. Published histories compiled by local historians or heritage groups provide valuable background information on building development and often include photographs.
  • Local community residents - for the history of the street or the ownership and occupancy of a house.