Find your familyAugust 31st, 2012
I am responsible for the Family History area at the Library and I've been fascinated by family history for years. When I think about it, this began because of my mother's surname of Michel and because her father was a great story teller especially about the early days in Greymouth and Hokitika in the goldfields on the West Coast.
Alfred Michel, my grandfather's grandfather, had come to New Zealand via South Africa and the goldfields of Victoria. When gold was discovered on the West Coast in 1865 he left Otago with his family and headed to Hokitika. He died suddenly in 1866 leaving his wife Emma to bring up their six children.
I guess this is a fairly typical story for many New Zealanders. Over the years I've found out a lot more about the origins of the Michel family, who were Huguenots, and came to England via Jersey. My other ancestors were all English, Irish and Scottish and I've been on many family history trips to explore the places and houses where they lived as well as doing research in many different libraries and archives around the world.
Interest in family history has increased hugely with the growth of the internet and the development of very large family history sites. As we’ve seen, great-great-grandpa’s legacy not only lives on, it’s very easy to find.
It's now so easy to put in names of interest and come up with something relevant or connect with someone who is researching the same name, and many of those who start online then come into the Library. A high proportion of those using the collections of the Library, both online and on site are doing family history.
British immigrant children arriving on board the ship `Rangitata', circa 4 October 1940. Ref: 1/2-058472-F
Family History Month
August is Family History Month throughout New Zealand. This great photo, which we’ve used in the month’s programme of events, is from our collections.
I decided to use it as a starting point to think about the different parts of our collections that can help you to research your family history. You can use our collections on the web and at the Library, as well as other family history sites, both free and subscription, to find out about your families.
How did they get here?
If you are looking for people who came by ship to New Zealand, there are lots of useful images, including photographs, sketches and paintings. All our digitised images , and there are still many more originals available at the Library.
Our hard-copy collections have many books on the history of shipping lines and of migration that can provide background material for your family history.
Ships' arrivals turn up in the shipping columns of newspapers, sometimes if you are lucky with lists of the passengers and a description of how the voyage went. You may be able to find out whether the ship ran into storms, or if there was illness on board.
Start with Papers Past, which now has 77 publications from all regions of New Zealand covering the years 1839 to 1945. As with images, there are more hard copy versions to see if you come on in.
If you are searching for family who came in the nineteenth century, you’re in luck, as we hold many shipboard diaries. Even though your ancestor may not have kept a diary, someone else on the same ship may have. These diaries can give the everyday details of life on board, and genuine insight into your ancestors’ personalities.
Family Search is the largest free family history site in the world with billions of names across hundreds of collections. For New Zealand it includes the New Zealand Immigration Passenger Lists, between 1855 and 1973. This is the indexes and images of the actual passenger lists held in paper form at Archives New Zealand. Currently 817,601 names are searchable and the rest of the images are browsable.
Who were those children in the photo?
I used our subscription databases, plus other resources in our Reading Room, to find out about them. It turns out that they were some of the 113 British child evacuees who arrived at Wellington on the Rangitata in 1940. They were one of the two groups that arrived in New Zealand during the Second World War and many of them went to foster homes.
When you’re in the Reading Rooms, you can use Findmypast.co.uk to see the original passenger list of this voyage of the Rangitata. From this you can find each child's name, age, country of birth, nationality as well as the name and address of the person they were going to live with, plus the name and address of their parent or guardian. Archives New Zealand have more records and information for this and other ships.
Subscription databases can be essential sources for family history. Alongside Findmypast.co.uk, one of the many subscription databases in the Reading Rooms, we also have Ancestry Library Edition, Findmypast.ie, Findmypast.com.au, The Genealogist, Origins Total Access, and overseas newspaper databases.
What became of the passengers?
If you wanted to find out what became of these children and if they stayed in New Zealand, you could search for them using electoral rolls on Ancestry in the Reading Rooms, and then the hard-copy rolls from 1981 onwards in the Family History Collection.
Some of them may have married and stayed in New Zealand. Marriages that occurred 80 years ago are in the New Zealand births, deaths and marriages online but after that you could check the marriage indexes on microfiche.
A family history year
These collections and services are always available, as well as research support from our staff and the wonderful volunteers from the New Zealand Society of Genealogists. You’re welcome to come and start your research any time of year.
Got a question for Margaret, or want help finding a starting point? Send us an enquiry through the Ask A Librarian form.