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?
Birth, Death and Marriage information Online
Birth, death and marriage (BDM) registration records provide vital information about the dates of those events and may also tell us the names and occupations of an earlier generation.
Further research can include additional sources such as intentions to marry, probates, and coroners’ inquests.
Department of Internal Affairs’ Historical BDM information
Births, Deaths & Marriages online is the primary source for historical birth, death and marriage records in New Zealand. It’s the first place to start your query and offers the following information along with the year and registration number of each recorded event:
- Births that occurred at least 100 years ago (including the parents’ first names)
- 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 (and may include the exact birth date as supplied on the death record)
This resource is particularly useful for finding out the exact birth, marriage, or death date of someone by whittling away at the Search From Date: (dd/mm/yyyy) and the Search To Date: (dd/mm/yyyy)
You will need a Family Name (surname) but be aware that sometimes there are errors of transcription or interpretation of handwriting, or a mistaken informant.
Finding a precise date means that you can then go to the newspapers and find a notice usually within a day or week of the event. In some cases there may be nothing, but often it can supply invaluable information about your relatives.
When ordering copies of original records, it is preferable to order a printout, as it is a copy of the original document and usually has more information than a certificate.
You can also download a form, particularly if you plan to use folio numbers sourced from microfiche indexes or the NZSG New Zealand Marriages 1836–1956 CD-Rom index database, or if you don’t know the folio number but you know the year.
Archives New Zealand guide
Archives New Zealand’s Personal Identity research guide describes records relating to marriages and deaths: specifically Intentions to Marry (for the whole of New Zealand for the period 1856–1956) and coroners’ inquests, probates, as well as other records including adoption information.
Papers Past contains a lot of birth, marriage, or death notices, and some obituaries. Try searching under the name of your ancestor but don’t forget to try different spellings of the name and limit your search results by date if you are getting too many hits.
BDM resources available onsite at the Library
Births within the last 100 years
For births, deaths or marriages that occurred before the 100 year limit on historical births you can use the microfiche indexes that are available on the open shelves in the Family History Collection in the General Reading Room, which cover 1840–1990. When used in conjunction with District keys to the NZ registration indexes, you can pinpoint where a birth or death was registered (1840–1955).
Note that the folio number on the microfiche index is different from the registration number used in the online historical Births, Deaths and Marriages records database.
Marriages within the last 80 years
The New Zealand Society of Genealogists’ New Zealand Marriages 1836–1956 (CD-Rom index database) is also extremely helpful for matching brides and grooms beyond the 80 year limit of the Department of Internal Affair’s BDM historical records database.
Ancestry Library Edition
Ancestry Library Edition is a subscription database you can access at the National Library and many public libraries. It recently added more New Zealand collection records. Note microfiche indexes were scanned (hence the possibility of errors) and different folio numbers are used than the registration numbers from Births, Deaths & Marriages online.
Find My Past
There are several advantages to using the New Zealand Birth, Marriage, and Death indexes in this database, particularly as you can search on first name alone, and the indexing is more accurate than Ancestry Library Edition. Note however, that the date range for births and marriages is more restricted.
Baptism, marriage, and funeral registers in the unpublished collections
We hold baptism, marriage, and funeral registers for some churches in the greater Wellington region and other parts of the North Island, as well as some undertaker records.
Please note that there are fewer funeral records than baptism or marriage records, and that ‘undertakers and undertaking’ as a search term may prove useful. You can search for these record books on our website using the terms ‘baptism’ or ‘baptismal’ and ‘marriage registers’.
When you find a likely set of records look for ‘View original source’ and the link will take you through to the unpublished catalogue of the Alexander Turnbull Library, Tiaki, where you can order the item into the Katherine Mansfield Reading Room. If not, then use the black ‘Send an enquiry’ button at left and fill out the online form with your contact details and staff will look on your behalf.
How do I find where my Ancestor is buried?
Death records and notices
Date and place of burial (or cremation) is given in death records and usually in death notices in newspapers. We also have a Wellington newspapers card index listing births, deaths, marriages, and anniversaries for 1969–1990, which while not comprehensive, can be useful.
The Alexander Turnbull Library biographies index, which is available on microfiche in the reading room and also held by some large public libraries, gives you access to a large collection of biographical newspaper notices (c1890–1988) concerning ordinary people throughout New Zealand.
Canterbury Public Library newspaper index on microfiche, may be useful for historical material.
Cemetery locations and burial records
We hold the New Zealand Society of Genealogists (NZSG) New Zealand Burial Locator (V 2.0 CD-Rom database), an index pointing to a selection of burial sources throughout New Zealand. In our Family History collections you can also browse all the NZSG microfiche cemetery indexes, a comprehensive collection of New Zealand cemetery locations, burial records, transcriptions of headstones (monumental inscriptions), and cremation records.
Note the NZSG microfiche cemetery indexes, or New Zealand, Cemetery Records, 1800-2007, is a massive collection that has been digitised by Ancestry Library Edition. However, if you can’t find a name by searching and you know the name of the cemetery, you can still browse the records online.
Morris Junior, and J E Taylor and Sons (now Lychgate Funeral Home), which covers central Wellington and inner suburbs from 1897–1989.
Westland Funeral Services records, includes information about burials in Greymouth and surrounding areas from 1888–1964, with some gaps.
Angus Family Funeral Directors in Lower Hutt covers 1990–2006.
Diocese of Wellington and other Church records can also sometimes be helpful. Note their compilation and content varies by denomination. For example, the early Lutheran Church put all family events, baptisms, marriages, and burials in a single ‘Church book’. However, for family connections, death notices (when published) are likely to tell you more.
Death notices available online
Many institutions have created indexes, and Christchurch City Libraries has compiled a very useful list of New Zealand Newspaper archives and indexes.
For earlier deaths check Papers Past and our online catalogue for newspaper holdings; and for more recent deaths (since December 2006) check AMemoryTree.co.nz as it lists the dates when death notices appeared in newspapers (over 98% of those published).
New Zealand Herald’s Family Notices are indexed in the Newztext subscription database, and Press Reader has searchable full-text of a wide range of New Zealand and overseas newspapers with a generous backfile going back to 2004-2008 in some cases. Your public library may have a subscription to one or both of these databases.
Many New Zealand cemeteries have their burial and cremation records online. In most instances they give date of death and burial or cremation, and in some instances they include photographs, transcriptions, occupation, age, the plot number, others in the same plot, and, more rarely, the cause of death. Christchurch City Libraries has a comprehensive guide to New Zealand cemeteries online databases.
Billion Graves Cemeteries also can be useful for that elusive final resting place of your ancestor, particularly as in some instances there are photographs. The subscription database Find My Past has New Zealand Billion Graves Cemetery Index and there is also the fee-based BillionGraves.com; although it is US-centric, there is NZ content, such as the grave of Arthur Norbert McCarthy. Find a Grave is a free website bloated with advertising, nonetheless it may still provide some answers.
Can I get my ancestor’s will or probate?
Probates are records of the probate process, which administers a deceased person’s estate. These are official government records and are held at Archives New Zealand.
Use Archives New Zealand’s Personal identity research guide for advice about where to access probates.
You can begin your search for probates in Archway, as most will be listed there. Family Search volunteers have been steadily digitising and indexing Archives New Zealand probate records, specifically New Zealand Probate Records from 1848–1998. Although records cannot be sorted easily, it is possible to limit your results using the filter ‘other year’ to select either the 1800s or 1900s. These probates are free, but you will need to register with FamilySearch and use a login and password, unless you are onsite at either the National Library of New Zealand or Archives New Zealand.
A probate index may list the name of your ancestor as well as the date of the probate, which is often close to the date of death. It is worthwhile looking for probates of relatives of the deceased as well, as sometimes these may contain relevant documents.
A probate index will usually list a file number for the probate, which contains any related documents. You’ll need to note the number so that you can request the actual file. The Archway record will have the required details.
The Alexander Turnbull Library holds personal and organisational records. Only a small number of wills or probates are held here, generally amongst an individual’s personal papers in the Manuscripts collection.
When did my ancestors come to New Zealand?
There is no single place to look for a record of people’s arrival in New Zealand, and for many families there may be no surviving records. However, the library has many resources that could help you find records of your ancestors’ arrivals, and there are further sources of information available to you online.
Records were kept in many different forms, by a lot of different people
- Try searching using the full name, the last name and first initial, or just the last name
- If you’re looking for an unusual name, try different spellings
If you have, or can find, the name of the ship your ancestor arrived on, that will considerably narrow down your search.
Limiting the date range will also help.
Resources available at the Library
Access online passenger lists of people leaving Britain, Ireland or Australia, including Passenger Lists Leaving UK 1890-1960, with both transcripts and scanned images that may provide information such as occupation, last address and country of birth.
If you have the name of the ship, use these lists to get information about voyages between Britain and New Zealand. Most of the lists have been digitised by FindMyPast and Ancestry; only a few years (1875–1877) and (1885–1889) haven’t been done.
View the register of assisted (and some fee paying) immigrants from the UK to New Zealand, spanning 1839–1850.
Online resources for New Zealand arrivals by ship
Passenger and shipping lists:
- NZ Immigration Passenger Lists, 1839–1973 Archives New Zealand passenger lists that have been digitised (images of the original passenger lists) and indexed by Family Search volunteers, and which are constantly being added to
- Passengers and Vessels — He Taenga ā-Pāhihi, ā-Kaipuke
- Passenger lists 1843–1885 New Plymouth (Puke Ariki)
- Emigration to Canterbury: Shipping Lists 1856–1874 (Christchurch City Libraries)
- Passenger arrivals at Port Chalmers, New Zealand, March 1848 – January 1851
- NZ Bound passenger lists (hosted by Roots Web)
- Petone Settlers database New Zealand Company 1839–1850, Provincial government 1853–1870, Vogel govt. period 1871–1888, Social Security period 1886–1897
- Early Settlers database New Zealand Company 1841–1850 (Nelson Museum)
- New Zealand Maritime Index (vessels, crew, etc.)
- Index to Outward Passengers to Interstate, UK and Foreign Ports, 1852–1923 & Ships’ Passenger list guide PROVguide 50 (Public Record Office Victoria) Note that New Zealand features among the foreign ports
- Papers Past is useful as many ships’ passenger lists were published in the newspaper at the time of arrival in New Zealand; and if the ship stopped en route in Australia
- Trove’s historical newspapers 1803– (National Library of Australia)
Get some background
For background material, try searching for ‘shipboard account’ or ‘shipboard diary’ in our unpublished material, or ‘emigration and immigration’, plus a region (like Otago or Canterbury) for more of an overview.
You might also enjoy reading published accounts such as Over the Mountains of the Sea: Life on the Migrant ships, 1870–1885 (2006).
To help you research ships, we have:
- Log of Logs (3 volumes), by Ian Nicholson
- Shipping to New Zealand 1839–1889: Comber Index
- New Zealand registered ships 1840–1950: Watt’s Index
We also have a small shipping card index available in the reading room, and our staff can help you find more resources.
How do I find information about my ancestor who served in a war?
Many New Zealanders or their close family have served in a major conflict and their records can help with your family research.
Get started online
Archives New Zealand’s War guide is a good place to begin your search. It describes what records they hold and is organised by period and conflict, focusing mostly on the Army (1840–1970s), but also the Air Force, Navy, Home Guard, prisoners of war, and nurses.
Archway lets you search across Archives’ personnel files for the Anglo-Boer (South African) War and for the period 1914–1920, including the First World War. All files are searchable by name and all of the South African War and First World War (1914–1918) records are available online.
The New Zealand Defence Force holds personnel files relating to service after 1920, including World War II and later.
Auckland War Memorial Museum’s Online Cenotaph database is a biographical database of over 140,000 men and women who served their country in the New Zealand Wars, the South African War, the First and Second World Wars, the Korean War, the Malayan Emergency, the Vietnam War, and more recently, service in Iraq and Afghanistan.
Also included are regular service members and those involved in various peacekeeping efforts throughout the world. Information sources include the official nominal rolls and New Zealand Gazette notices, and in many cases there are links through to digitised personnel files held by Archives New Zealand.
Digitised WWI Troopship magazines can also be found in the Auckland War Memorial Museum Library’s catalogue.
Official WW100 website is part of the Ministry for Culture and Heritage’s First World War centenary programme and provides additional contextual material. Family members can contribute further information and photographs.
On-site resources for researching ancestors who served in a war
At the Library you can access several extremely useful subscription databases. Your local public library may be a subscriber too, so check what they have.
Ancestry Library Edition includes the following:
- Chronicles of the N.Z.E.F., 1916-1919 (1,467)
- NZ Army Medal Rolls 1860–1919 (7,765)
- NZ WWI Military defaulters 1919–1921 (2,484)
- NZ Army WWI Nominal Rolls 1914–1918 (100,721)
- NZ Army WWII Nominal Rolls 1939–1948 (124,535)
- NZ Army WWI Reserve Rolls 1916–1917 (179,188)
- NZ Army WWI Casualty Lists 1914–1919 (61,475)
- NZ Army WWI Roll of Honour 1914–1919 (18,165)
- NZ Expeditionary Force Record of Personal Service, 1914-1918 (11,621)
- Roll of Honour, 1840-1903 (9,672)
- World War II Appointments, Promotions, Transfers and Resignations, 1939-1945 (85,962)
- World War II Ballot Lists, 1940-1945 (346,267)
- World War I Service Records, 1914-1920 (383,163)
Findmypast.com.au allows you to search under the category ‘armed forces & conflict’ and limit to New Zealand databases. You can then further limit to either ‘record set’ or ‘collection’ to find these records:
- New Zealand War Medal Roll (4,458)
- New Zealand Boer War Servicemen (6,446)
- New Zealand WWI Soldiers (288,526)
The Genealogist has a significant collection of British military records if your ancestor served in the British armed forces.
Discovery holds more than 32 million descriptions of records held by The National Archives [UK] and over 2,500 archives across the country. Over 9 million records are available for download. Popular topics include WWI army service records, WWI unit war diaries, Merchant Navy service, Passenger lists, muster books, naturalisation, Poor Law, etc.
Europeana is a digital portal to Europe's galleries, museums, libraries, archives and audio-visual collections. The 1914-1918 category of their blog has a wealth of content, including some sourced from Australia and New Zealand, thus allowing for a variety of perspectives.
The First World War: personal experiences is a collection of primary and secondary material drawn from 10 contributing libraries worldwide and includes digitised diaries, documents (including the full-text of the Chronicles of the New Zealand Expeditionary Force), historical and interactive maps, images, and some oral histories.
Trench Journals and Unit Magazines of the First World War is an archival research resource containing a vast collection of rare magazines by and for servicemen and women of all nations during the First World War. Over 1,500 periodicals written and illustrated by serving members of the armed forces and associated welfare organisations published between 1914 and the end of 1919 are included. Magazines have been scanned cover-to-cover, in full colour or greyscale, and with granular indexing of all articles and specialist indexing of Publications.
Further online resources
These resources provide many ways to go deeper, and are particularly useful once you have more names, places, and units to search for.
Has details on 1,700,000 men and women of the Commonwealth forces who died in the two world wars and in many cases has photographs of memorials or burial sites.
National Archives UK also has some useful military research guides, such as Looking for a person, which covers births, deaths and other life events, wills, prisoners of war and conscientious objectors, Army, Navy, and air personnel, Marines, medals and honours, merchant seamen, workers and employees, criminals, bankrupts and litigants, religious groups, slavery and indentured labourers, and asylum inmates. Plus there are more specific guides like Looking for records of a British Army soldier up to 1913 and Looking for records of a British Army soldier after 1913.
Includes The London Gazette, plus the Belfast and Edinburgh gazettes, as well as the WWI and WWII editions with medal citations.
Has biographical and collection databases that can be helpful, as some New Zealanders signed up in Australia and vice-versa. Try searching the World War I nominal roll database for example.
A large collection of digitised government records for both Australians and New Zealanders, including World War I and the Boer War. Public contributions of photographs and other supporting material are actively encouraged.
Has a useful guide for researching war service. The NAA hold digitised service records of those who served with the Australian army in World War I.
Links to an application form for post-1920 personnel files.
New Zealand Royal Honours is the official Governor General’s website.
Papers Past has lists of casualties, names of people departing for and returning from wars, or appearing in front of appeal boards either as conscientious objectors or for other reasons.
NZETC (New Zealand Electronic Text Centre, Victoria University of Wellington) has digitised a number of fully searchable titles including the following:
- New Zealand Wars history (73 titles)
- New Zealand First World War history (88 titles)
- New Zealand World War II history (106 titles)
Where can I find background information and context to the world wars?
Our collections include many books, original war diaries, war photographs, and oral histories. We hold the official photographs for WWI and WWII, plus J-Force and K-Force, as well as photographs taken by individuals. Many of these are digitised and available on our website.
Another useful pictorial resource for finding portraits is Onward : portraits of the New Zealand Expeditionary Force / P.J. Beattie and M.J. Pomeroy. (2013-), the most comprehensive (and still growing) collection of its type. Thus far four volumes and an index have been published, with a fifth volume expected later in 2020.
Your ancestor may not have kept a diary while on active service (as it was officially discouraged) or may not have written about their war experiences.
Try searching across our collections for someone else on the same troopship or in the same regiment, or who served in the same location or who came from the same place – their diaries may refer to names of other servicemen and women.
For more guidance on using our collections, use our guide to the First World War.
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.
Electoral Rolls and directories
Ancestry Library Edition is a popular family history subscription database freely accessible onsite in most New Zealand libraries, it has New Zealand Electoral Rolls 1853–1981 and New Zealand City & Area Directories, 1866–1955, although some years are only browseable, not searchable. Another subscription database is Findmypast.com.au which also has some searchable New Zealand electoral rolls and directories. Another useful resource is the freely available and searchable Women’s Suffrage petition, 1893 published by New Zealand History, which also links you through to the Archives New Zealand digitised sheets. Archives New Zealand’s Writing a Biography Guide – 1893 Women’s Suffrage Petition is helpful for those who have an ancestor that signed, including advice on how to submit your biography and/or images to NZHistory at: email@example.com.
Note that some of the signed sheets were lost so there are many more women in the 1893 Electoral roll than the Suffrage petition. And the NZSG’s New Zealand combined electoral rolls 1881, 1893 & 1896 (CD-Rom database) can be useful for finding elusive women, and for co-locating people with the same surname in the same Electorate.
We hold a complete set of electoral rolls from 1853 to the present day, along with habitation indexes, which allow you to search by address, available from the 1980s onwards. We also hold quite a number of New Zealand directories in a variety of formats, such as Wises, Stones, and other early directories and almanacs.
Telephone directories are another way to locate an address. We hold a large number of directories from the 1920s onwards, and these vary by place and year. They have differing titles such as ‘telephone book’, ‘telephone directory’, and ‘white pages’. Ask staff for assistance.
Archives New Zealand also has a large collection of telephone directories up to 1988 listed at the end of the Personal identity guide.
Can I trace ownership of my land?
Finding out who owned land is harder than finding out who lived at an address, but sometimes it’s the same person. Electoral rolls and directories list where people live, and provide good 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 land 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.
Other sources for tracing land ownership
As the LINZ records at Archives New Zealand 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.
The New Zealand Gazette and the AtoJs online may mention land grants. Some regional and city councils like Wellington City Archives hold rate books, building records, etc. We have the Maori Land Court Minute Books Index database available onsite, but it is only the start – Archives New Zealand in Wellington has a full set of the books on microfilm, and LINZ has created a useful guide to Māori Land Records – Te Ketu Kōrero Whēnua Māori.
The National Library also has a subscription to the Quickmap database accessible onsite in the Alexander Turnbull Library’s general reading room. The historical deposited plans, or title plans, are likely to be of most interest to researchers, using a street address search. To ensure that you have sufficient time with the resource, an hourly booking can be made in advance.
Do you have a photograph of my street?
There’s a good chance that there's a photograph of your house or street 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 panoramas or aerial views that include your house.
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. The section on teachers in their education guide is also helpful.
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. The Community Archive website (formerly the National Register of Archives and Manuscripts called NRAM) may be useful.
Other places to look include the New Zealand Gazette Archive 1841–2004 which is available on a PC in our reading room. For more recent years the Department of Internal Affairs publish online a searchable database of gazette notices from 1993 onwards. The AtoJs online (1858–1950, Session 1) [Appendix to the Journals of the House of Representatives, sometimes referred to as AJHR] digitised volumes are useful for finding all kinds of information including bankruptcies, sheepholder returns, lists of teachers from c1878 to 1924, reports, returns, etc. Another version called Parliamentary Papers is available within Paperspast.
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 1950 and includes over 150 newspapers and periodicals from all regions of New Zealand. Those that aren't yet online can be ordered onsite via the National Library catalogue in the general reading room where you can either scan articles to a USB stick or print them off. Only a very small number are available in hard copy, in the Katherine Mansfield reading room.
The best way to search online newspapers is by trying different combinations of first name and surname, as well as by initials, as personal names may be recorded in many different ways.
When you come into our library’s Wellington reading room, you can use our subscription databases to search the full-text of Australian, British, New Zealand, and selected international historical and contemporary newspapers.
Newspaper databases that we subscribe to include:
- 17th and 18th Century Burney Collection Newspapers (Gale)
- 19th Century British Library Newspapers: Parts 1 & 2 (Gale)
- 19th Century UK Periodicals: Empire & New Readerships collections (Gale)
- 19th Century US Newspaper (Gale)
- Australia & New Zealand Reference Centre
- British Newspapers: Part 3 & 4, 1780-1950 (Gale)
- British Newspaper Archive, 18th-century – and some later 20th-century (note: you need to create a personal login using email and a password, but then on-site access is immediate).
- Gale NewsVault (searches across all 9 Gale newspaper collections we subscribe to)
- Gale Primary Sources
- The Guardian and The Observer 1791–2003) (Proquest)
- The Irish Times and The Weekly Irish Times (1859 - 2017) (Proquest)
- Newztext (1993–) [New Zealand]. (Knowledge Basket) Blogs, The Independent (UK), NBR Full Text 1993- NBR Index 1985-1992, Fairfax NZ Herald 1998-, Stuff, Newswires, Scoop
- Press Reader, coverage includes New Zealand and international newspapers from the last 90 days
- PINI Pacific Island New and Information database (Knowledge Basket)
- The Scotsman 1817–1950 (Proquest)
- Sydney Morning Herald Archives 1955–1995
- Telegraph Historical Archive 1855-2000
- Times Digital Archive 1785-2013 (Gale)
- Trove’s Australian digitised newspapers from 1803 onwards is free and often includes New Zealand news and may mention your ancestors or the ship they were travelling on if they came via Australia
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 some resources and research guides for other countries and nationalities. 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.
We also have subscriptions to Findmypast.com.au (world) which covers Australia, New Zealand, UK, Ireland, USA and Canada, as well as My Heritage (International), The Genealogist (UK), and Discovery (UK), amongst other databases.
FamilySearch at the National Library
FamilySearch is a free genealogical resource that helps you access millions of records from around the world, using the extensive historical collections of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints (LDS).
First try searching on the FamilySearch catalog to find a digitised record you want to examine. The best way to find a record number is to search by place, and then drill down to a specific set of records. While Parish records give you the most complete information about a family, the wiki and research guides are also useful.
The National Library of New Zealand, since the 2nd of September 2017, acquired official FamilySearch affiliate library status. This means that onsite in our General Reading Room, on the first floor of the National Library, you can access many digitised records that were previously only accessible at a LDS Family History Center – and that you can download images of these records to your own laptop via our free public wifi.
Alternatively, if you want help in finding and viewing FamilySearch records or saving FamilySearch images for your family history, you can make your way to the FamilySearch Service. This is located within the General Reading Room on the first floor of the Library, and FamilySearch volunteers from the local branches of the NZSG (New Zealand Society of Genealogists) are on hand to help you. Look out for the FamilySearch Service sign to your right as you come up the stairs to the General Reading Room.
Contact: t: 04 474 3048 (10am–4pm Tuesday–Friday and Saturday 9am–1pm, except mid-December to mid-January)
Publishing and preserving your family history
Your descendants 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 information on putting out a publication will 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 via the Ask-a-Librarian form 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 as a website, you can nominate your site to be added to our collections.
If you decide to publish your work in print or as an ebook or CD-ROM, there are legal obligations to deposit 1 or 2 copies with the Library, depending on the size of the print run (1 copy if published digitally or less than 100 physical copies published, 2 copies if more than 100 published). Read more about the Library’s Legal Deposit requirements.
Other places to research family history
Google Advanced and family history search engines such as Mocavo may be helpful for finding online forum discussions about people you are interested in, family trees, etc., although you do need to be careful about the accuracy of the information supplied.
Try Google Books, although copyright restrictions may mean you only get a snippet view. The Internet Archive is a wonderful resource, likewise the Hathi Trust, and FamilySearch has a growing number of digitised books. And for world-wide holdings of library books, OCLC Worldcat is hard to beat. Don’t forget NZETC (New Zealand Electronic Text Centre, Victoria University of Wellington) or ENZB (Early New Zealand Books, University of Auckland) for digitised books on New Zealand and the Pacific.
Many websites can assist you with your family history research, including a number of commercial sites where people submit their family trees; although you may need to verify the information.
Major websites (free access)
The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints hold records that span billions of names across hundreds of collections – including birth, marriage, death, probate, land, military, International Genealogical Index (IGI) and more. Start with search, and then browse ‘all’ to limit your search to specific countries or regions. Their wiki and research guides give helpful advice.
Cyndi’s list of genealogy websites provides over 300,000 links to other genealogy and family history sites.
The RootsWeb surname list lets you search over 1.2 million surname entries.
RootsWeb’s World Connect searches across more than 600 million names.
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.
Has millions of free UK transcribed indexes.
Websites for genealogists (Australia).
Explore our collections to find books, images, maps, articles and more. The library houses an extensive collection of material including rare books, heritage children’s books, over 500,000 online images, born-digital material including harvested websites, plus digitised full-text material such as Papers Past, AtoJs, findNZarticles, Index New Zealand, Te Ao Hou: The New World , and Transactions and Proceedings of the Royal Society of New Zealand 1868–1961.
Hosts millions of digital images and objects from New Zealand libraries, museums, and institutions; and facilitates activities that re-use and re-purpose digital content.
Provides a useful gateway to the Museums of New Zealand and their collections.
Online history and genealogy resources, including Auckland eResources, Passengers and Vessels - He Taenga ā-Pāhihi, ā-Kaipuke, Immigration, Index Auckland: local history, arts and music, Iwidex, and Heritage images and photography eResources.
New Zealand births, marriage and deaths indexes, 1991-1997 Central Auckland Research Centre
Online Cenotaph database is a useful and growing resource for biographical and service details for more than 140,000 New Zealand service men and women from the 19th century till today, with a focus on the First and Second World Wars.
The Catalogue includes digitised WWI Troopship magazines amongst other useful resources.
Introductory research to researching whakapapa.
Has a wealth of online resources such as Cemeteries and cemetery records including a comprehensive directory of online cemetery databases; Digital collections include the digitised Canterbury Police Gazette 1863–1876; Emigration includes scanned Embarkation lists 1854–1876; Family History guide; and Newspaper archives and indexes (a directory of NZ-wide holdings).
A knowledge basket of images, audio, video, and documents, that are collected and catalogued by the community.
Of particular interest are the heritage collections and the learning and research centre.
Stories from the ‘top of the South’, ie. the Nelson and Marlborough regions.
Approximately 267,000 names from electoral rolls and street directories for Otago and Southland.
A significant heritage collection that is focused on the Pacific and Antarctica, with a special emphasis on the Otago and Southland regions of New Zealand.
APNK host a number of online digital repositories on behalf of public libraries. These repositories are called Kete and library staff or members of the community use them to share: photographs, audio, video, documents, personal accounts, memoirs, and stories.
New Zealand’s ‘hub’ for archival collections, it provides brief descriptions of collections and contact addresses. Contributors range from individuals and small local organisations through to large institutions with nationally-significant collections.
Articles, images, and resources on a wealth of topics from the Ministry for Culture and Heritage.
Includes the Dictionary of New Zealand Biography, with over 3,000 biographies and a vast collection of online resources on the history, culture, peoples, natural environment, economy and society of New Zealand.
Established in 2002 at Victoria University of Wellington, the NZETC is a rich resource of digitised New Zealand texts on a variety of topics including New Zealand history, literature and biography, as well as broader projects focusing on Maori legal resources, encompassing Maori and Pacific subjects amongst others.
The archive was formed by recent amalgamations of the New Zealand Film Archive, Sound Archives Ngā Taonga Kōrero and the Television New Zealand Archive.
Anglican clergy who served in New Zealand, Polynesia, Melanesia, and part of Papua New Guinea.
Family History group with news, events, and advice.
Registries for Australian births, deaths and marriage, many with online indexes.
Search family history historical indexes for births 1788-1915, deaths 1788-1985, marriages 1788-1965.
Includes the following: Index to vessels arriving in Sydney, 1837–1925; Indexes to assisted immigrants (Port Phillip, 1839–1851, Sydney and Newcastle, 1844–1859, Moreton Bay (Brisbane), 1848–1859, Sydney, 1860–1879, Sydney, 1880–1896); Index to unassisted immigrants, 1842–1855 (Passengers arriving at Sydney, 1846, Shipping Masters’ Office (Passengers Arriving), 1854–1855, Reports of vessels arrived (or Shipping reports), 1826–1855).
Indexes the NSW State records, such as Passengers Arriving 1845–1922. You can browse by year and month, then click on a ship’s name to view a transcribed copy of the passenger list. Note that in some cases you can see the original scanned image in the subscription database Ancestry.com.au (available in many New Zealand public libraries).
Index to over 5 million death notices from hundreds of Australian newspapers.
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 1852–1915. The Family History Collection at the National Library holds on microfiche the original unassisted British and foreign passenger lists 1852–1923, New Zealand passenger lists 1852–1923 and assisted passenger lists 1839–1871. See the PROVguide 50: Ships’ Passenger Lists.
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 topics about: convicts / prisoners, courts, hospitals / sanitoria, immigration, indigenous, lands, professions, orphanages and reformatories.
Includes resources on immigration, including convicts to Moreton Bay (Brisbane) in its John Oxley Library.
Australian War Memorial biographical databases - Roll of Honour, Commemorative Roll, First World War Nominal Roll, Boer War Nominal Roll, Honours and Awards (Gazetted), World War I.
376, 000 digitised service records of those who served with the Australian army in World War I.
Explore a growing selection of government records about Australians and New Zealanders in World War I and the Boer War, alongside contributions from individuals.
Obituaries Australia is hosted by the National Centre of Biography at the Australian National University, and offers published obituaries relevant to the history of Australia.
People Australia is also hosted by ANU (Australian National University) and offers standalone biographies by searching across all the National Centre of Biography's biographical websites.
Dictionary of Australian Biography is the pre-eminent dictionary of Australian national biography.
A rich resource of books & periodicals, digitised newspapers, manuscripts, images, music and sound.
Biographical directory of priests ordained before 1931 who served in New Zealand, Polynesia, Melanesia and part of Papua New Guinea.
Over 400 collections of overseas missionary materials (including New Zealand) held in the United Kingdom. Formed by British missionary societies, collections of personal papers, printed matter, photographs, other visual materials, and artefacts.
PAMBU locates and microfilms archives, manuscripts, and other unpublished material from the Pacific region. The Alexander Turnbull Library is a partner library, with a large collection of Pacific Manuscripts Bureau microfilms, which can either be viewed onsite here in Wellington, or borrowed via the interloan system through your local public library.
Great Britain and Ireland
Civil Registration index information for England and Wales. The FreeBMD Database currently contains over 200 million distinct records.
Search the newly indexed birth (1837-1915) and death indexes (1837-1957) which now list the mother’s surname from 1837 for births, and death records now include middle names in full if known. You will need to register for free first, using an email address and secure 8 letter password. The date range for searching is a maximum of two years. And if needed you can purchase a certificate online.
Society of Genealogists. Includes advice, catalogue, and online shop.
Includes the National Maritime Museum.
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.
Full text of 197,745 trials held at London’s central criminal court.
Statutory Registers for births deaths, marriages 1855-2014, Old Parish Registers 1538-1854, census indexes and images 1841-1911, wills and testaments 1513-1925, valuation rolls 1855 – 1930. Payment is required.
Includes maps for Scotland and beyond, including British Ordnance Survey maps.
52 Scottish archives.
Historical directories, local and trade directories for England and Wales, from 1750 to 1919 (University of Leicester). Try the advanced keyword search.
National Library of Wales and Welsh Newspapers Online Discover more than 15 million articles and 1.1 million pages
Census of Ireland 1901 and 1911 (indexes and images)
Official repository of Northern Ireland public records.
Title applotment books (1823-1837) National Archives of Ireland
Scanned images can be downloaded; knowledge of parishes and townlands is needed.
United States of America & Canada
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.
Passenger lists of immigrants and opportunists sailing into San Francisco Bay c1800s.
Searchable databases, related to whaling in large part.
Contact addresses for all US states.
Mocavo – family history search engine [Mocavo has now moved to Findmypast.com]