Researching in New Zealand

These A - Z notes form a list of sources to help you get started with your New Zealand family history research. 

Arriving in New Zealand 

Since 1839 and depending on whether the government was encouraging or limiting immigration, there has been a steady flow of new arrivals. Sometimes family members know the name of the ship on which your ancestors came to New Zealand. A family diary of the journey may reveal the date of arrival and the port into which they sailed. Sometimes a child born on the voyage was given the name of the ship as a first or middle name and this can be a clue to help your research. Assisted immigrants had part or all of their fare paid by provincial or national government.

The passenger lists for ships carrying assisted immigrants who arrived before 1886 are held at Archives New Zealand, Wellington and have been indexed. Newspapers may give the names, and sometimes the ages of passengers who paid their own passage. An inquiry at a local museum or library near the port of arrival may reveal a passenger list. The New Zealand Company records immigrants arriving under government assistance 1839-1850. Provincial Governments provided assisted passage throughout the period 1853-1870. Government assistance under the Vogel Scheme covered the period 1870-1888. From 1883-1973 lists of all passengers, both arriving and departing, have been kept by the Departments of Customs, Labour or Immigration. These records are held at Archives New Zealand offices. It must be noted that there is no National Index of Passengers for New Zealand. 

If an ancestor was not born or naturalised in a British Commonwealth country before emigrating to New Zealand, Archives New Zealand may have records containing their place of birth and date of arrival. These records generally comprise those covering naturalisation procedures 1847-1948 and the control of aliens 1866-1970. 

Cemetery Records 

These can be an interesting source of information, albeit not always accurate. Burial records may reveal who bought the plot, birthplace of the deceased and even cause of death. The monumental inscription can be very simple or very detailed. Members of the New Zealand Society of Genealogists have, for the past 30 years, been transcribing headstones in cemeteries all around the country. The transcriptions have been microfiched as New Zealand Cemetery Records 1985 and its supplements and are available at public libraries, museums and Family History Centres (LDS). Society members may access them through the Society’s library and at many NZSG Branches. The Burial Locator CD indexes all the cemeteries transcribed by the NZSG as well as many new records. This index reveals where you can get further information. The NZSG has a free lookup service for NZSG members via the NZSG research service


You will probably have a copy of your own birth certificate and perhaps certificates of other family members, but it is important to remember that a certified copy of an entry, (certificate), does not contain all the information recorded in the register. An electronic printout of the original entry usually contains more information than a certificate.

You can apply for an electronic printout from the Registrar General by post. If you really want to obtain a certified copy of an entry, to gain the most information, you must ask for a full certificate, so that you do not receive a shortened certificate, (usually used when you are required to verify your date of birth). You should be aware that not all information recorded is accurate, as the informant may have given the wrong information, or the recorder may have written down the names and other details incorrectly.

Copies of the Registrar General’s Indexes to Birth, Death and Marriage Registers are available for viewing at the NZSG Family Research Centre, in larger public libraries; and Family History Centres of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (LDS). The later indexes may be accessed on computer database. When you apply to the Registrar, it is a requirement that you supply sufficient information to identify your request. You need to supply the full name (if a marriage, either bride’s or groom’s name), year, and reference number from the indexes.

Indexes to the birth and death registers contain a surname, forename/s and folio number. From 1956 a district of registration is included and from 1960, the death indexes contain the age of the deceased. The location of the District Office where a birth or death was registered can be determined from the folio number. See District Keys to the NZ Registration Indexes. 1848-1920) by Mary Neill, Meryl Lowrie and Aileen Wood (NZSG, Auckland, 1990), and District Keys to the NZ Registration Indexes. 1921-1955 (NZSG Auckland 1997).

For access to records not indexed on microfiche and entries in the Maori Registers, you need to supply the following information: for births, full name, date and place of birth, parents’ full names; for deaths, full name, date and place of death, parents’ names, if known; for marriages, the full names of bride and groom, date and place of the event.

Electronic printouts are available for Births 1848-1997, Deaths 1848-1997 and Marriages 1854-1997, and can give more information than a certified copy of a certificate.


Church Records 

Before civil registration, information may be obtained from baptismal, marriage and burial registers compiled by officers of the church. An address, father’s occupation and actual date of birth is often recorded on the baptismal entry. Many parish registers have been transcribed. Consult the catalogue at the local library to see if a transcription is held there. Older registers may have been transferred to Diocesan Archives. A letter to the church office of the parish may reveal where the registers are located for the particular time period sought. Always include a stamped self-addressed envelope with your request and offer to pay any charges. Church histories, or jubilee booklets may have been written about the church and these can prove very useful in learning about the church and its congregation.

Civil Registration 

The registration of European births and deaths commenced in 1848 and marriages in 1856. The registration of separate Maori births deaths and marriages commenced in 1911. Births, deaths and civil marriages are registered at a District Registry Office and a copy of each entry sent to the Registrar-General’s Office (RGO). Marriages performed by a civil celebrant are registered at the District Registry Office where the Marriage Licence Application was made, whilst marriages performed by a minister of religion are entered in the church marriage register. A copy of each marriage register entry, whether civil or religious is forwarded to the Registrar General’s Office. It should be noted that birth and death entries from 1876 and marriage entries from 1880, contain more information than entries recorded before these dates. The Maori and European marriage registration systems were combined in 1952 and the birth and death systems in 1961. The historic BDM indexes can be searched on-line at HERE

Collecting Information from Family

By talking to family members, collect as much information as you can on the immediate family as this will be your starting point for your research. Information such as details from family bibles, diaries, photographs, certificates, school magazines can be very helpful. Collect all information including family folklore/stories. These may have relevance at you at a later stage but should always be treated as stories until proven

Coroner’s Inquests 

If the information on a death certificate is given by a coroner or "by verdict of jury" then that is an indication that a Coroner’s inquest was held to determine the cause of death. There are no known surviving records before 1844 and if the inquest took place within the last 50 years, permission must be gained from the Coroner’s Clerk, Department of Justice, Private Bag, Wellington. Archives New Zealand, Wellington has finding aids to help the researcher locate an inquest held.

Deceased Estates

Before 16 June 1842, wills of deceased New Zealanders were lodged with the High Court, Sydney, NSW, Australia. (For access refer to Supreme Court of NSW Probate Index which is available in some New Zealand libraries.) A will often contains information on the deceased, such as occupation and place of abode, as well as the names of the beneficiaries and details of bequests. After the death of a person, the will is taken to the Justice Department High Court where the Act of Probate is passed on it. Many probate registers and files have recently been transferred to Archives New Zealand and its regional offices. Where a person died without making a will, there may be a file of Letters of Administration containing the legal documentation required for giving permission for someone to administer the deceased person’s estate. Wills are usually probated at the High Court nearest to where the person lived, however, if the person had owned land in several areas, the will may be probated more than once. Not all wills are probated, if the estate is small and beneficiaries amicably agreed to disburse the estate without the extra burden of the probate fee, then these wills will not be found in the Courts or Archives New Zealand. If they have survived, they may be with a family member.

Before the 1950s, wills lodged with the Public Trust were all probated through Wellington High Court regardless, of the place of death and these will be found in the probate files at Archives New Zealand Wellington. After 1950 Public Trust wills were proved at individual High Courts and so from this period, they can be found at each office of Archives New Zealand . Members of the New Zealand Society of Genealogists are currently compiling a national index of the names of persons whose wills have been probated, or for whom letters of administration have been granted. The Index for 1842-1900 has been microfiched and can be read in public libraries or purchased from the NZSG. The offices of Archives New Zealand hold indexes to the probates.

Testamentary Registers of the Inland Revenue Department are also known as Death Duty Registers. Such information as the tax payable on a deceased person’s estate, date of death, value of the estate and usually the legatee’s and executors’ names can be found.

Directories and Electoral Rolls

The NZSG’s Family Research Centre in Panmure and many libraries hold collections (books and microfiche) of Wise’s New Zealand Post Office Directories which provide an alphabetical list of householders, their occupations and addresses, including a trades section. Other publications include Cleave’s Auckland Directories and Stone’s Wellington, Canterbury and Otago Directories. Electoral Rolls are used to confirm names, addresses and occupations of people. Electoral boundaries change, refer to the New Zealand Electoral Atlas by Alan McRobie to identify the electorate. An excellent addition to your search of the early rolls, is the CD produced by the NZSG of the Combined Electoral Rolls for 1881, 1893 and 1896 and 1911 New Zealand Electoral Rolls.

Divorce Records 

Archives New Zealand holds records of divorces that have been transferred from a High Court. Access is at the discretion of the Crown Court Office and the relevant High Court for the national register and case files respectively, however the registers from individual courts are not restricted.

Intention To Marry Notices 

When a couple intended to marry, one partner was required to complete an Intention to Marry Notice for the District Registrar. At the end of each quarter of the year a return of these notices was sent to the Registrar General. The reason these returns are useful is because they contain information not recorded in the marriage entry such as the `length of residence’ for both bride and groom. This refers to residence in the district, but it may also be a guide to length of residence in the country. The name of the parent or guardian who gave consent is also included where the bride or groom are under 21 years of age and this can be of value especially for pre-1880 marriages where there is not so much information on a certificate. Archives New Zealand holds these returns from 1856 up to 1956. Although the major collection is held at Archives New Zealand Wellington, the returns for Gisborne are held at the Auckland Office of Archives New Zealand ; the Christchurch Office holds some records for Cust, Rangiora, Timaru, and Waimangora (these are not indexed). The Intentions to Marry held at Archives New Zealand, Wellington have been card indexed under both groom’s name and bride’s maiden name. From 1880-1920, the Intentions to Marry can be accessed providing that the date of marriage is known.

NZ Land Research


By exploring the New Zealand and Local History Sections of your local public library, you will find much useful reference material. A library or museum may hold surname indexes to some of their collections and references may be found under biography, early settlers, passenger shipping arrivals, or obituaries. Geography books, maps and history books give a good insight into the locality and happenings of the time you are interested in. Church, school and district histories, particularly jubilee books, give detailed histories and usually contain many names of the people in the area. Photographs are an excellent way of increasing your knowledge of an ancestor. Collections of photographs may be found in libraries and museums. These can include churches, schools, localities, business premises, and of course people.

Maori Genealogy - Whakapapa 

Whakapapa is more than just genealogy or family history as understood by Europeans and ideally should be learned in the tribal setting. A researcher should contact kaumatua (elders) at the marae. The Maori civil registers of births and deaths from 1913-1961 and marriages from 1911-1952 may reveal information as there is provision for tribal affiliation to be recorded on birth and death entries. Other sources for research are parish registers, school admission registers and class lists, and cemetery records.

Maori Land Court minute books are an important resource because the courts dealt with Maori landowners who were required to prove their right to the land by proving their relationship within the tribe. Archives New Zealand holds microfilm copies of the minute books for the period 1865-1975. The Department of Land Information New Zealand (LINZ) hold records of leases and surveys of land, website.  The minute books may also be available in university and public libraries and at Family History Centres at the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (LDS).

 For further information contact the Maori Interest Group of the New Zealand Society of Genealogists.

Military Records 

Records of the Militia, Royal New Zealand Fencibles, British regiments stationed in New Zealand in the 1800s, Volunteer Corps, and the Armed Constabulary are held at Archives New Zealand and are a helpful source of information. Embarkation rolls for the South African War (Boer War), First and Second World Wars contain the name, marital status, address and occupation of each person enlisting. The rolls also contains the name, address and relationship of their next-of-kin. They have been re-published on microfiche. 

The NZSG has published two sets of these records. The WW1 NZ Service Personnel and reserves index is a fully searchable CD which has many records of servicemen not listed elsewhere. While the Discharged in New Zealand book and fiche lookups are again provided free by the NZSG lookup service.

Extensive records are held in the New Zealand Defence Force Library and the Defence Force Personnel Archives, the latter holding some 4,500,000 records. Access to personnel records may be gained on application and on payment of a fee. The National Army Museum, Waiouru is currently compiling a computer index of servicemen who died in the two world wars. Many of these records have now been moved to the National Archives Wellington


By consulting the Union List of Newspapers preserved in libraries, newspaper offices, local authority offices and museums in New Zealand by D R Harvey, you will discover the newspaper that covers the time period you are interested in and their present location. Larger public libraries have copies or microfilms of newspapers dating back to the early days of settlement. Birth, death and marriage notices, obituaries and wedding reports are always well worth consulting. They may contain family information you do not know.


The occupations of an ancestor can be ascertained from the many records available. Early licences were recorded in Provincial Gazettes and Archives New Zealand holds records for licenced trades such as publicans licences and mining licence applications. The archives from the Companies Office and the Official Assignees Office may be useful in tracing the business affairs of family members. Public servants are well recorded in Archives New Zealand and invariably will be also found in the Gazette and the Appendices to the Journal of the House of Representatives (AJHR).

School Records 

School Admission Registers are a valuable source of information as they can list the date of birth (or age), full name, parent’s or guardian’s name and address, previous school attended, child’s class at the time of enrolment and expected destination of a child leaving the school. Inspectors Reports, class lists and Education Board records contain less detailed information, but may be the only record that has survived. Many have been deposited at Archives New Zealand Wellington, Auckland, Christchurch, or the Hocken Library in Dunedin. Archives New Zealand, Auckland office, has a collection of material from Native (Maori) Schools. School magazines, and jubilee booklets may contain useful information about pupils, teachers, the school and its locality and these should be available in libraries and museums.