Welcome to archival research! Below you will find a list of basic information to help you navigate our collection and conduct archival research. You will also find links at the bottom of the page to our most popular topics and digitised collections. Enjoy your archival research journey!


Where to start

Copy requests can be placed in person at our Reading Rooms, or online.

  • Step 1: Order the record first via your online account.
  • Step 2: Write down the citation details (e.g. PROV, VPRS 1163/P1, Unit 744, 1883/291)
  • Step 3: Submit a Photocopy Order Form (Mailed to you)
  • OR  Submit a Digital Image Order Form (PDF digital copy emailed to you)   

There is a fee for this service. The prices are listed on this page about our copying services.

Public Record Office Victoria (PROV) is Victoria’s state government archive. We preserve less than 5% of government records, often those records that are of significant value to individuals or the State of Victoria. Our records date from the mid 1830s, the early period of European settlement of the Port Phillip District, up until recently. The Collection includes memories of events and decisions great and small, records of immigration and shipping, criminal trials and prisons, premiers and governors, royal commissions, boards of inquiry, wills and probates and more. View this online presentation for more details on how we assess records for long term preservation.

You can view and download digitised records without an account. If you wish to view the original physical record:

  •  first login as a new user and create an account
  • search for popular records directly on our Topic Pages, or via our advanced search (top of screen). You can search by government agency, by record type (e.g. rate books), series title, or simple search using keywords
  • once you have ordered the records they are available in our Reading Rooms the next day
  • you can photograph them in the reading room. 
Viewing public records is free. Requesting copies of public records comes with a small charge. 
  • tip 1. Try our Topic guides and online collections to see how to find our popular records (family, property, wills, divorce etc)
  • tip 2. Search by using a subject keyword in our search section and click on the item and the series description to see if the result is relevant
  • tip 3. You can order boxes of similar records (including photographs and maps) and view them in our reading rooms the next day. They will be held for 10 days for you. 
Some popular records like family or property records are digitised but most records are still physical. See our topics page for popular research areas and what’s online page for digitised records. Most individual records are not online but the series of records (boxes of similar records) are listed by their title and description in our digital catalogue e.g.  You can order those records to view and then photograph them in the reading room on request.

Our most commonly requested records to assist people researching family history are listed on our Topic page called Family History. The way to research these records is listed on specific pages for each series of records. e.g. ship passenger lists or wills etc

Indexes are important for archival research. An index is often an alphabetised, or other sequential list, which refers the reader to a final set of records which are arranged in a different (often numerical) sequence. They are your key to finding a record. Often an index is a separate archival record and lists simple details like the last name, the subject, or the date, and then next to that listing will be a file number pointing you to the item. Some are digitised but many need to be requested and viewed in a reading room.

Record Series: A group of records which are recorded or maintained by the same agency (or agencies) and which are in the same numerical, alphabetical, chronological or another identifiable sequence, or result from the same accumulation or filing process, e.g. Admission Register of Patients.
Each Records Series is allocated a Victorian Public Records Series number (VPRS). PROV provides descriptions for each record series to help you understand the context of records, how to find records within the records series, why, when and by whom they were created.

Most public records which contain details about individuals are closed for up to 75 years, children's records are closed for longer. Some records are so old they need to be closed for their protection. The item in the catalogue will tell you if it's open or closed e.g. S9, S11. However special requests can be made to view those records. See our FAQ page for requesting special access.  

Unlike libraries which hold published material (books, journals, cds etc.), archives hold primary sources--original records and documents – which have been generated during the course of doing government business. Records take a variety of forms – files, handwritten volumes, cards, maps and digital files - and are generally unique and irreplaceable. Archival records are described and arranged according to the order determined and used by the government body from which the records originate, unlike library material which is typically arranged by subject or author.

PROV provides descriptive guides to the records and the government bodies that created them so that you can find, discover and interpret records in our Collection. Our descriptive guides are the archival equivalent of a library catalogue. Archival material cannot be borrowed by the public. However the government bodies that created the records may retrieve records if required for current government administration.

We can retrieve records for you and guide you on the research process for certain record types, but we cannot do your research. See our useful links for a list of private research companies.
Our online researcher team are here to help, but try the website section Explore The Collection first as you will likely be linked back to website pages first. Due to the hundreds of requests we receive each month the average response time may be two weeks.  

Explore archives by topic

Black and white photo of kids on a school bus

Find records by topic areas

Photographic collections

Black and white photo of a ship on the ocean

Digitised and non-digitised photographic collections

Online galleries and exhibitions

Sepia photograph of the official party from the visit of Lord Hopetoun

PROV's free online exhibitions

Online collections

Black and white photo of crew unloading a ship

Digitised records