Useful information and links for people researching their whakapapa/family history
Cemeteries are primarily administered by city or district councils. Many councils have created online databases allowing you to search for your ancestors' burial records and photographs of headstones. The Dunedin City Council has an excellent cemeteries database. Links to this and other Otago and Southland council cemetery databases can be found below:
Directories and electoral rolls
Unfortunately for genealogists the New Zealand government did not keep the personal information collected for the census. Census forms were destroyed once processing was complete. There only remains a few fragments from the earliest regional census records and selected Māori census records.
This means we must turn to electoral rolls and directories as the best means to track people’s movements over time.
The first national elections in New Zealand were held in 1853. At that time suffrage was restricted to males over the age of 21 who were British subjects and owned property worth more than £50, or rented property with a certain yearly amount. In 1867 the Māori seats were created and all Māori could vote in these electorates regardless of property qualification. The property qualification was dropped completely in 1879 and then in 1893 women won the right to vote. In 1969 the voting age was dropped from 21 to 20, and then in 1975 it was dropped to 18 where it remains today.
There is a good online history available here:
The library holds a complete set of New Zealand electoral rolls on microfiche from 1853 to 1981 which can be found in the genealogy room. These are best used in conjunction with Alan McRobie’s New Zealand Electoral Atlas as the names and boundaries of electorates change over time. We hold hard copies of electoral rolls from 1984 onward.
The electoral rolls up to 1981 are now available through the online database Ancestry Library for which the library has a subscription. They are much easier to search this way as you do not need to know the name of the electorate, or even the region, in order to do your search. However, only some years are searchable with the rest of the collection browse only. You can find the link to Ancestry on the previous page. You must be physically present in the library in order to use this database.
Keep in mind that there are often supplementary rolls at the end of the main roll that must also be checked. Sometimes the search software will fail to pick up on some letters correctly, so it may be necessary to browse the rolls, either on Ancestry or on the microfiche.
Postal directories are another excellent source for helping you track your ancestors' movements. These were published regionally and nationally. Wises post office directories cover the whole country and were published from 1867 onwards. The Stone's Directory of Otago and Southland was published from 1884 to 1954. Some of these are available in searchable form on the Ancestry Library database.
Shipping and passenger lists
There are several useful websites for 19th and early 20th century passenger lists created by enthusiasts. These have been created using newspaper reports and documentary evidence. A selection of these can be found here:
A database has been created from the records held by Archives New Zealand by Family Search. You can find this under the New Zealand section of the website. This database is free to use but you must register an account to search and access information.
Newspapers and journals
Newspapers are one of the best sources we have to build up a picture of what the lives of our more recent ancestors were like. Especially in 19th century New Zealand you can often find surprisingly detailed and personal information.
An amazing range of New Zealand newspapers, magazines and government papers have been digitised by the National Library and made accessible through their Papers Past website. The site has a growing number of letters and other manuscripts of individuals of historic interest as well.
Dunedin Public Library maintains a very comprehensive newspaper index to Otago newspapers called the Southern Regional News Index that is a fantastic resource for current and future
researchers. It covers the period from 1993 onwards but we have retrospectively added material from the 1930s and 1940s. Our historic card index that covers the period from the 19th century to 1992 has been digitised and is available to browse on our digital platform Scattered Seeds - He Purapura Marara. A crowd-sourcing project is currently underway to convert this resource into a searchable database.
Libraries and archives
Many self-published family histories are held in library collections. Personal and institutional archives at the Hocken Library and elsewhere are also great resources.
Archives New Zealand - Archives New Zealand is the official depository for Government records. They have an excellent set of research guides for researchers.
Hakena - The Hocken Collections archives and manuscripts catalogue. The Hocken archives places particular emphasis on documenting the history of Otago and Southland.
University of Otago Library catalogue - The library catalogue of the University of Otago includes published items in the Hocken Collections.
Archway - Archway is the database for records kept by government departments held at Archives New Zealand. You can use this database to find probate and divorce records.
Tiaki - Tiaki is the catalogue for unpublished collections in the Alexander Turnbull Library.
National Library catalogue - The catalogue of the National Library of New Zealand for published material.
Presbyterian Church Archives - You can find marriage and baptism information here for the Presbyterian Church. The archives themselves are held at the Hewitson Library, Knox College.
The McNab collection holds Peter Garven’s six-volume Genealogy of the Ngai Tahu. Also available are reports from the Waitangi Tribunal which are very useful for genealogists.
Iwidex - Information on tribal history, tikanga-a-iwi and whakapapa held in heritage research collections at Auckland City Libraries.
Index of Māori names - This index is from an unpublished manuscript compiled about 1925 by the missionary Rev. Henry James Fletcher (1868-1933).
Whakapapa Club - A great site that brings lots of information and tips together in one place.
Maori Land Claims, 1858-1980 - Find these on Ancestry Library on the previous page. These are one of the best resources for researching your whakapapa. You can only search on Ancestry using the library subscription if you are physically in the library.
World War I and Boer War military personnel records are held by Archives New Zealand. These have been digitised and are freely available on the Archway database. Records from more recent conflicts are held at the New Zealand Defence Force Archives at Trentham. Nominal rolls for both world wars can be found on Ancestry Library.
Archway - Search on your ancestor's name.
New Zealand Defence Force Personnel Archives - This site explains the process to apply for a military personnel record. You are allowed one personnel record free of charge in every 12-month period.
Cenotaph - The Auckland War Memorial Museum database has records related to all major conflicts involving New Zealand. A good place to find photographs.
Commonwealth War Graves Commission - A database of all the Commonwealth forces that died in the two world wars and details of the cemeteries they are buried in.
You will find a lot of Australian information on Ancestry and Find My Past. In addition to that each state has its own public record office and state library. Most records are state-based, including births, deaths and marriages. Be aware that state boundaries have changed over time. You can find a good overview of the territorial evolution of Australia on Wikipedia.
There was a lot of cross-Tasman commerce in the 19th century and many New Zealand immigrants found their way here via Australia.
Trove - Trove is the Australian equivalent of Papers Past. You can find hundreds of digitised newspapers, magazines and much, much more here. An amazing resource.
National Archives of Australia - The official repository of federal government records. Look for the guides to researching family history under the Collection section of the website.
Ryerson Index - A free index to death notices appearing in Australian newspapers. The index is being continually added to and currently has over 7 million entries.
Australian Cemeteries Index - An Australia-wide cemetery database. This is not a comprehensive source. You can also try searching under the relevant local authority.
Mariners and Ships in Australian Waters - An enthusiast's site with browsable lists of ship arrivals and links to passenger indexes.
Ozships, Australian shipping 1788-1968 - Another enthusiast shipping site with information in browsable list format.
CoraWeb - The website of professional researcher and genealogist Cora Num, CoraWeb is a fantastic portal to other genealogy sites.
New South Wales State Archives & Records - There are lots of interesting online indexes to be found here.
New South Wales births, deaths and marriages - Compulsory registration began in 1856. Search for:
- Births over 100 years ago
- Deaths over 30 years ago
- Marriages over 50 years ago
Victoria Public Record Office - A marvellous site that includes indexes to passenger lists between Victoria and New Zealand.
Victoria births, deaths and marriages - Compulsory registration began in 1853. Search for:
- Births over 100 years ago
- Deaths over 30 years ago
- Marriages over 60 years ago
Queensland State Archives - Records include immigration, schools, land and court documents.
Queensland births, deaths and marriages - Compulsory registration began in 1856. Search for:
- births that took place more than 100 years ago
- marriages that took place more than 75 years ago
- deaths that occurred more than 30 years ago.
South Australia State Records - Records including passenger lists.
Genealogy South Australia - Search for births, deaths and marriages plus notices and cemetery indexes.
Western Australia State Record Office - Search here for passenger lists, wills, convict and court records.
Western Australia births, deaths and marriages - Compulsory registration began in 1841. Search for:
- Birth indexes - 1841 to 1932
- Death indexes - 1841 to 1971
- Marriage indexes - 1841 to 1936.
Tasmanian Archives Online - A fantastic site for genealogists. Check out the Tasmanian Names Index.
There are a plethora of websites related to British genealogy. The library subscribes to Ancestry, Find My Past and the British Newspaper Archive.
UK National Archives - The British government's official archive, containing over 1000 years of history.
Scotland's People - The Scottish government's official genealogy website where you can find census information, births, deaths and marriages, and other information. You need to register and it is a pay-as-you-go site with a limited amount of free search information.
National Archives of Ireland Genealogy Website - You can find Irish Census records for 1901 and 1911 here along with will registers and lots of other interesting bits and pieces.
Irish Genealogy- a free site with church and civil records along with lots of useful guides to how to undertake your research.