Getting started with family history research
Are you new to family history research? Our getting started guide will help you work out what questions you want to answer, and give you some tips to start finding your family in the Library's collections.
How do I find birth, death, and marriage information?
Family history thrives on the records of these key life events. At the Library there are many resources that can help you locate your ancestors birth, death, or marriage.
Comprehensive indexes of birth, death, and marriage information (covering 1840-1990) are available on the open shelf at the Library.
The library holds baptism, marriage, and funeral registers for many churches in the greater Wellington region and other parts of the North Island - although there are fewer funeral records than baptism or marriage records. You can search for these record books using the terms ‘baptism’ and ‘baptismal’, ‘marriage registers’, ‘church and funeral’, and then order them to use onsite at the Library.
For older records, the Department of Internal Affairs Births, Deaths and Marriages site helps you to find the year and registration number of:
- births that occurred at least 100 years ago,
- marriages that occurred at least 80 years ago,
- deaths that occurred at least 50 years ago or where the deceased’s date of birth was at least 80 years ago.
If you want to get further information, you will still need to order a copy of the certificate from Births, Deaths and Marriages.
Search under the name of your ancestor on Papers Past to see if there is a birth notice, marriage notice or obituary. Don’t forget to try different spellings and limit your results by date if you are getting too many results.
Archives New Zealand holds many government records that can help you find birth, death and marriage information. They offer advice about how to use their information in their Personal Identity Guide (pdf, 133KB).
Can I get my ancestors will?
Probates are the record of the probate process, which administers a dead person's estate. These probates are usually held in the region that they come from, however each Archives New Zealand office also has an electronic database of most New Zealand probates up to 1920, so you can begin your search for probates at Archives New Zealand.
A probate index may list the name of your ancestor as well as the date, which is often fairly close to the date of death. It is worthwhile looking for probates of relatives of the deceased as well, as sometimes they may have relevant documents.
A probate index will usually list a file number for the probate, which contains any related documents. You will need to write down this number so that you can request the actual file. If you are searching on Archway then this record will have the required details.
How do I find where my ancestor is buried?
Funeral home records, cemetery databases, and obituaries/funeral notices in newspapers can give information about where someone was buried or if they were cremated.
The Family History collection at the Library has a useful CD-ROM collection of indexes and databases. The New Zealand Burial Locator CD-ROM database is not a complete transcription giving full details of the burial, but points the researcher to sources which should provide more details. We also have the New Zealand Society of Genealogists Cemeteries index on CD-ROM.
The funeral home records of E Morris Junior, and J E Taylor and Sons (now Lychgate Funeral Home) covers the central central Wellington and inner suburbs from 1897-1989.
The Westland Funeral Services records hold information about burials in Westland from 1888-1964, with some gaps.
The records of Angus Family Funeral Directors, Lower Hutt, cover a more recent period (1993-2004).
When you are at the Library, you can browse the ‘red folders’, a comprehensive guide to finding cemetery information around the country, created by Library staff.
Wellington City Council allows you to search cemeteries by name and Christchurch City Libraries has a comprehensive guide to burial information across New Zealand.
How do I find when my ancestors came from the UK to New Zealand?
There is no single place to look for a record of people’s arrival to New Zealand and for many families there may be no surviving record. However, the Library has many resources that could help you find a record of your ancestors’ arrival.
With the Library's subscription to Findmypast.co.uk library edition and Findmypast Ireland you can access more information than is available through the free online version. This database includes access to passenger lists of people leaving the UK from 1890 to 1960, as well as some earlier information.
Microfiche indexes created by the New Zealand Society of Genealogists can help you find arrivals to New Zealand ports.
The Library has passenger lists for various ships, particularly the New Zealand Shipping Company Passenger Lists of voyages between Britain and New Zealand. The passenger lists showing voyages between the UK and New Zealand cover 1887-1930 and the passenger lists showing the return voyage cover 1885-1935 with gaps.
The New Zealand Company Embarkation register of assisted immigrants from the UK to New Zealand covers 1839-1850. All of these items can be found and ordered for use at the Library - try searching for ‘passenger list’ or ‘shipping list’, or the name of the company.
- Papers Past is useful as many passenger lists were published in the newspaper at the time of their arrival to New Zealand.
- Try searching using the last name and initial of their first name, or just the last name
- If you are looking for an unusual name, try several spellings
- Some of these databases have a lot of information! Try limiting the time period for a more accurate set of results.
How do I find information about my ancestor who served in the war?
Many New Zealanders, or their close family, served in a major conflict.Their records can help with your research.
Start by looking at the Archives New Zealand war guide which has useful pointers for research. Archives New Zealand also hold personnel files for the Anglo-Boer War and the First World War. Personnel files after 1920, including the Second World War, are mostly still held by the New Zealand Defence Force.
The National Library holds some published indexes, rolls of people who went to the First and Second World Wars, and the South African wars. These usually contain the soldier's name, address, occupation and next of kin.
The Auckland War Memorial Museum Cenotaph Database is a great source of information on New Zealanders who died in the wars of the 19th century. It includes those who have died during the wars and those who died since their war service.
If you are unable to find any information about your ancestor, try searching for someone who served in the same location - their diaries may refer to names of other servicemen and women. Papers Past also includes many records of people departing for the war or appearing in front of appeal boards as conscientious objectors.
Tracing where my ancestor lived
Sometimes you may have a lot of information about your ancestor but not know where they lived during certain periods. There are a number of ways to find this type of information including electoral rolls and directories, both of which are available on site at the Library.
We hold a complete set of electoral rolls from 1853 to present day, along with habitation indexes from the 1980s onwards, which allow you to search by address.
Telephone directories are another great tool which can help you locate an address. We hold these from the 1920s.
Can I trace ownership of my land?
Finding who owned land is trickier than finding who lived on it, but sometimes it’s the same person. Electoral rolls and directories list where people live, and provide starting points.
Records are available either through Land Information New Zealand (LINZ) or Archives New Zealand. These records are currently being moved from LINZ to Archives NZ. Check the locations of the most commonly used records for New Zealand’s 12 land registration districts.
Archives NZ has a research guide summarising records for Wellington. You can search the Deeds index, which tracks transfers of ownership. You can also search the index by names of registered owners, found in the Nominal Index.
As the LINZ records at Archives NZ are not complete you may need to try other avenues, for example local council records. Some land transfers can be found in the newspapers, so try searching for land owners’ names in Papers Past. You may also find mentions of changes of ownership in probate records.
How can I find out where my ancestors worked?
Searching for your ancestors’ names in Papers Past is a good starting point. Although not everyone made it into the newspaper, it has long been common journalistic practice to describe a person by their occupation, and sometimes by their workplace.
There is no centralised record listing where people worked. The electoral rolls, directories, and war records list occupations. You may be able to use this information to continue searching other collections or indexes.
Archives New Zealand holds a number of government employment records you may find useful, however some records still have access restrictions.
Archives also holds registers of occupations that had to be licensed or registered, such as law practitioners, barmaids, as well as liquor licensees. It also has medical, nursing and midwifery registers, and marine records.
Sometimes, records are lodged with local archives. Ask library staff about how to contact the institutions near where your ancestors lived.
What is the best way to search newspapers for my ancestors?
Newspapers are a great resource for turning up information on your ancestors. Often you’ll be able to find information relating to births, deaths, marriages or the arrival of ships that your ancestors sailed on.
More and more newspapers are being digitised and made available online. Papers Past covers the years 1839 to 1945 and includes 61 publications from all regions of New Zealand. Those that aren't online are often available from the Library on microfilm or in their original state.
The best way to search online newspapers is by trying different combinations of first name and surnames, as well as searching by initials, as people's names were recorded in many different ways.
If you are able to come to the National Library's Wellington reading room, use can use our subscription databases to search overseas newspapers. These include:
- Ancestry Library Edition
- Australia New Zealand Reference Centre
- Findmypast.co.uk, Findmypast.com.au, Findmypast.ie (Ireland)
- The Genealogist
- Origins Total Access
- Times Digital Archive 1785-1985
- 19th Century British Library Newspapers
- 19th Century UK Periodicals
- 17th and 18th Century Burney Collection Newspapers
- The Guardian and The Observer 1791-2003
- The Irish Times 1859-2007
- The Scotsman 1817-1950
- Sydney Morning Herald 1955-1995
- New Zealand Gazette 1841-2004
Do you have a photograph of my house?
There’s a good chance that there is a photo of your house in our collections.
Start by being specific, and try typing in the house number and street name. If you get no results it may be because the record information is not detailed enough. In this case expand your search by using just the street name or suburb. You will likely get results that are not totally relevant, but there may be some shots of your house, either directly or in pictures of your neighbours' houses.
How do I keep tracing my ancestors in their country of origin?
When doing family history research in New Zealand you’ll often reach a point when your ancestors have come to New Zealand from further afield, meaning that you’ll need to expand your search overseas.
The National Library has a lot of resources that can help you with this, but it usually means you will need to come to our reading room in Wellington.
We hold a large number of newspaper collections, lots of guides, and major family history resources in various formats for Australia and the UK. We also have research guides for other countries and nationalities. Searching this site for British newspaper collections or British family history will turn up many of these items. We also regularly add new specialist advice books to our collections so it is worthwhile checking back to see if we have any new resources.
Ancestry Library Edition is a great tool for searching historical records from the USA, United Kingdom and Ireland, Europe, Canada, Australia and New Zealand. Many other libraries also subscribe so check your local library before heading into our reading room.
FamilySearch at the National Library
FamilySearch is a family history and genealogical research service that helps you access records from around the world. You can request specific records on microfilm or microfiche to be delivered for use at the National Library. FamilySearch charges a fee to cover their costs.
Use the library catalogue on the FamilySearch website to find the record you want to examine. You can search by name and date, but the best route to a record number is to search by place, and then drill down to a specific set of records. Parish records give you the most complete information about a family.
Take down the record number and head to FamilySearch’s film ordering site. You will need to register, order the record, and pay online. It takes about three weeks to arrive, and you will be contacted when the item is available for use at the National Library.
You’ll be able to access microfilm records for about three months before they have to be sent back. If the record is on microfiche, the loan is semi-permanent, and you’ll have access to it for much longer.
FamilySearch volunteers are available in the National Library reading room. If you want a hand finding the right record, or ordering from the website, they can help you out.
Publishing and preserving your family history
Your own ancestors may one day thank you for taking the extra step of publishing and preserving the results of your family history research. There are a couple of options you might consider for ensuring your family history is preserved for future generations.
Sharing or publishing your family history
Once you’ve compiled your family history research you can share it with others by publishing your work. The Library’s introduction to putting out a publication will give you more information and help you get started. Another good introduction is the guide by John MacGibbon called Your family’s history: research, write and publish it.
Digital New Zealand’s Digitising family history and whakapapa guide will give you detailed information to help you scan, digitise, or digitally copy old family pictures, records and documents.
The Library is always pleased to consider items for donation to the collections as long as they meet our collections policy. We collect a wide range of materials relating to all aspects of New Zealand and Pacific life, including published and unpublished histories of families, groups, districts and organisations. To discuss making a donation, contact the Library with details about the items you wish to offer.
New Zealand Web Archive
The Library regularly harvests websites that meet our collections policy. If you have published your history research online, you can nominate your site to be added to our collections.
If you decide to publish your work in print, there are legal obligations to deposit 1 or 2 copies with the Library, depending on the size of the print run (1 copy if less than 100 printed, 2 copies if more than 100 printed). Read more about the Library’s Legal Deposit requirements.
Other places to research family history
Take your research beyond the National Library and the Alexander Turnbull Library. There are many more websites for family history and genealogy from New Zealand, Australia, Great Britain and Ireland, the Pacific Islands, and the United States of America.
Cyndi’s list of genealogy websites provides over 270,000 links to other genealogy and family history sites.
The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints site searches across several genealogy records and databases including Ancestral File, International Genealogical Index, Pedigree Resource File, the U.S. 1880 and British and Canadian 1881 census indexes and Record Search Pilot.
The RootsWeb surname list lets you search over 1.2 million surnames entries.
RootsWeb’s World Connect searches across more than 575 million names.
Major genealogical and historical research subscription site including English and Welsh census indexes and images from 1841-1901, as well as Scottish census indexes and transcriptions from 1841-1901.
Ancestry Library Edition is available on public computers at our Thorndon Quay reading room in Wellington. It is also available at most local public libraries in New Zealand.
The Commonwealth War Graves Commission has the personal and service details and places of commemoration for 1.7 million Commonwealth Forces who died in the First and Second World Wars.
Search and order birth, death and marriage records.
Family History group with news, events, and advice.
Access to the Archway online index to New Zealand Government Archives.
Search marriages by year, folio, or name.
Online history and genealogy resources, including passenger arrivals Auckland 1838-1886, 1909-1921.
Approximately 267,000 names from electoral rolls and street directories for Otago and Southland.
Articles, images, and resources from the Ministry for Culture and Heritage.
Includes the Dictionary of New Zealand Biography, with over 3,000 biographies.
Introductory research to researching whakapapa.
Directory of priests ordained before 1931 who served in New Zealand, Polynesia, Melanesia and part of Papua New Guinea.
Includes text of war histories.
Includes family history guides, digitised Canterbury Police Gazette 1863-1876, list of online New Zealand cemeteries.
Millions of pages of full-text, digitised New Zealand newspapers and periodicals. The collection covers the years 1839-1932.
Subscription database. The New Zealand Index includes The Bibliography of Published New Zealand Family Histories listing 3, 465 separately-published histories of families with descendants in New Zealand. This bibliography is also available on FindNZ articles.
Great Britain and Ireland
Long distance voyages from the British Isles 1890-1960. Indexes free, pay for images and transcriptions.
The National Archives catalogue, DocumentsOnline with access to over 1,000,000 PCC wills 1384-1858, Service Registers of Royal Naval Seamen and World War One Medal Cards, online research guides, TNA Global Search.
Civil Registration index information for England and Wales. The FreeBMD Database currently contains over 178 million records.
10.3 million catalogue entries from 418 record offices and other repositories.
British History online, core printed primary and secondary sources for the medieval and modern history of the British Isles, includes Victoria County histories and Survey of London.
Statutory Registers for births deaths, marriages 1855-2006, Old Parish Registers 1538-1854, census indexes and images 1841-1901, wills and testaments 1513-1901.
52 Scottish archives.
Subscription sites. English and Welsh section has nearly 20 million names from 1442-1872, including England and Wales census indexes and images for 1841, 1861 and 1871. Irish section includes index and images of Griffith's Valuation of Ireland, the most important database for Irish genealogical research prior to the 20th century.
Origins Total Access is available on public computers in our Thorndon Quay reading room.
1911 census of Ireland with indexes and images.
Free access to full text historic Australian newspapers, 1803 to 1954.
Registries for Australian births, deaths and marriage, many with online indexes.
Births 1788-1909, deaths 1788-1979, marriages 1788-1959.
Includes some assisted immigration to New South Wales indexes plus convict indexes.
Indexes unassisted passenger and crew arrivals to NSW 1845-1922, complete 1845-1879, access to original lists.
Indexes unassisted immigration from British, foreign and New Zealand ports to Victoria 1852-1923, British assisted immigrants 1839-1871, outward passengers to interstate, UK, NZ and foreign ports 1852-1901. The Family History Collection holds on microfiche the original unassisted British and foreign passenger lists 1852-1923, New Zealand passenger lists 1852-1923, assisted passenger lists 1839-1871.
Includes Index to Tasmanian Convicts 1804-1853, Index to Departures 1817-1867, Colonial Tasmanian Family Links Database, Index to Tasmanian Wills, Index to Divorces.
Online indexes include Wills 1857-1900, teachers 1860-1904, assisted immigration 1848-1912.
National Archives of Ireland’s transportation records database Ireland to Australia.
376, 000 digitised service records of those who served with the Australian army in World War I.
Australian War Memorial biographical databases - Roll of Honour, Commemorative Roll, First World War Nominal Roll, Boer War Nominal Roll, Honours and Awards (Gazetted).
Index to 2,297,887 million death notices from 168 Australian newspapers.
United States of America
Search the index of more than 22 million immigrants, passengers and crew who came through Ellis Island and the Port of New York 1892-1924.