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3.4 million Aussies claim to be the 'black sheep' in their family; are you one of them?

Research from Ancestry reveals that almost half of Australians have a black sheep in their family tree.

  • One in seven Australians consider themselves the "black sheep of the family"
  • Australian black sheep are generally thought to display unruly or antisocial behaviour, a criminal past or different belief systems
  • Two fifths (42 per cent) of Aussies are willing to let their black sheep ancestors off the hook, but one in five aged 18-34 years are ashamed of the black sheep in their family tree

They say there is a black sheep in every family and with Australia’s past steeped in rich convict history, bushrangers and larrikin criminals, it is easy to believe. However, new research released today by Ancestry, Australia’s largest online family history resource, has revealed that not all family black sheep are buried in history, with around 3.4 million Australians (14.5 per cent)[i] currently laying claim to the title in their family.

The new research revealed that Australians generally define a black sheep as “an outsider or a misfit within a family”, and those displaying general unruly behaviour (32 per cent), a criminal record (14.5 per cent) or different belief systems (10.9 per cent) are the most likely to be slapped with the label from their relatives.

Almost half of all Australians (46 per cent) can pinpoint exactly who the black sheep is with a quick shake of their family tree. Although luckily for the millions of Australians who currently consider themselves the black sheep in their family, holding the title doesn’t necessarily mean that you’ll be kicked to the curb. Instead, almost a fifth (18.1 per cent) of respondents feel proud to have black sheep in the family, while 42.6 per cent of respondents claim that with the passing of time, the actions of their black sheep ancestors no longer matter much.

Respondents aged 18-34 years were the most likely to be ashamed of the black sheep in their family across the generations with around one in five (22%) wishing to distance themselves from the behaviour of their past relatives – perhaps suggesting that people become more forgiving or less concerned about such matters the older they get.

Black sheep aside, the research revealed that when looking into their family history, many Australians hope to find stories of inspiration and achievement. Respondents indicated they would wish to discover ancestors who were adventurers or explorers (43.5%), successful entrepreneurs (37.9%), doctors or medics (26.6%), or members of royalty (25.2%).

Nigel Seeto from Ancestry said: Our nation loves a tale of the underdog. Whether it’s a bushranger fighting the law, convict or immigrant tackling insurmountable odds, Australia’s character grew from these black sheep ancestors who didn’t always stick to the rules.

“While we might not always agree or relate to their actions, we’d encourage everyone to take the opportunity to learn about their ancestors as you never know what you might find – and how it could help inform your own identity. One of the most common regrets I hear from people is that they didn’t ask questions about their family when they had the chance; this long weekend is the perfect time to start this journey.”

In celebration of the black sheep in Aussies’ family trees, Ancestry is offering free access to millions of Australian and UK criminal records dating back to the 1700s, including convict, police and court records and images over the Queen’s Birthday long weekend. The records will be open from Friday 10th June from 12.01am through to Monday 13th June at 11:59pm, at

Among others, the record sets available to access for free include:

  • Australian Convict transportation registers – First Fleet, 1787-1788
  • UK, Police Gazettes, 1812-1902, 1921-1927, 1941
  • England & Wales, Criminal Registers, 1791-1892
  • New South Wales, Australia, Police Gazettes 1854-1930
  • Queensland, Australia, Police Gazette Index, 1881-1945
  • Tasmania, Australia, Police Gazettes, 1884-1933
  • England, Suffragettes Arrested, 1906-1914
  • Western Australia, Australia, Convict records 1846-1930




[i] This figure has been determined based on the population of Australia in June 2016 as recorded by the Australian Bureau of Statistics. Total figure is 24,092,238.