Genealogy is the art of tracing your family's bloodline, and is one of the few times you actually start at the end of something and work your way back in time.
If you're just getting started, the first thing to do is start talking. Talk to your parents, your grandparents, aunts and uncles, anyone who has a link to your family, no matter how remote. The tiniest piece of information could be your biggest lead in finding a long lost relative. Once you've started down this track, you will need some tools to help you piece it all together. This is where the library comes in. What follows will help you piece together the branches of your family tree.
Seriously folks, books are a wonderful source of information. Especially when you are just starting out. Most resources will be at the Central Library, although there will be a small amount of material at branches also. The majority of our genealogy books are shelved in one area (those that can be issued that is). They can be found on the 2nd floor of Central library and you need to look for the Dewey area starting at 929.1.
Here are some booklists to get you started, whether you're a beginner or a more seasoned researcher:
Tracing family history in New Zealand, by Anne Bromell.
A good book for those just starting out. Originally published in 1988, it has been revised and updated every few years. Have a look on the shelves at 929.3 BRO or follow the catalogue link above to reserve it.
Writing your family history : a New Zealand guide, by Joan Rosier-Jones.Another local guide helpful when preparing to go into print. Have a look on the shelves at 929.1 ROS or follow the catalogue link to reserve it.
The Family Tree cemetery field guide : how to find, record, & preserve your ancestors' graves, by Neighbors, Joy
Cemeteries are crucial for any genealogist's search, and this book will show you how to search for and analyze your ancestors' graves. Although written for an American context, the tips for traipsing through cemeteries, and practical strategies are useful to anyone. "The Family Tree Cemetery Field Guide features: Detailed step-by-step guides to finding ancestor's cemeteries using websites like Find A Grave, plus how to record and preserve death and burial information ; Tips and strategies for navigating cemeteries and finding individual tombstones in the field, plus an at-a-glance guide to tombstone symbols and iconography (back cover)."
Unearthing family tree mysteries, by Ruth A. Symes.
This updated edition approaches genealogy research as a detective unravelling a mystery, plotting out the steps to answering questions in our own stories. Thanks to digital indexes empowering searchers, each year, more mysteries are solved. This book shows how a variety of sources including birth, marriage and death certificates, censuses, newspaper reports, passports, recipe books, trade directories, diaries and passenger lists were all used to uncover more, and how much can be detected by setting the characters from your family tree in their proper historical backgrounds. (Publishers summary)
Māori oral tradition : he kōrero nā te ao tawhito, by Jane McRae.
This book introduces readers to the distinctive oral style and language of the traditional compositions, acknowledges the skills of the composers of old and explores the meaning of their striking imagery and figurative language. And it shows how ngā kōrero tuku iho - the inherited words can be a deep well of knowledge about the way of life, wisdom and thinking of the Māori ancestors. (publisher summary)
Journeys home : inspiring stories, plus tips and strategies to find your family history, by Andrew McCarthy, & the National Geographic travel team.
Contains 26 intriguing stories about authors' roots with tips and recommendations on how to begin your own explorations. Each story offers a personal take on seeking unknown relatives, meeting family members, or perhaps just visiting countries to get a feel for one's roots. Well-illustrated with social history links, images of family heirlooms, photos, recipes.
Family history : digging deeper, by Simon Fowler.
As the sub-title suggests this may not be the first resource to try if you are an outright beginner. It assumes a little knowledge but is by no means for advanced searchers or experts. Includes interesting peripheral topics such as the abuse of geneology by the Nazis. A problem-solving section incldues experts tackling common difficulties to provide answers to the brick walls often reached when researching your ancestors.
Reunion : a search for ancestors / [Ryan Littrell].
Where do I come from? That question sets Ryan Littrell on a fascinating journey that crosses centuries. An anonymous letter reveals the first clues about his family story, and soon those clues lead to country graveyards, long-lost cousins, and a shocking DNA discovery. And as one hint follows the next, he uncovers his place in a tragic struggle--a tale of heartbreak, betrayal, and unfailing strength. A real-life account, Reunion shows how our ancestors are still a part of us, and how our story began long before we were even born.
Two places to start for whakapapa research are:
- The library's booklists of iwi histories which we hold. Most items can be borrowed.
Māori oral tradition : he kōrero nā te ao tawhito, by Jane McRae.
Chapter 2 has an important section on Genealogy lists and Whakapapa. Have a look on the shelves at 808.51 MCR or follow the catalogue link above to reserve it.
- See also: Whakapapa : an introduction to Māori family history research, by Brenda Joyce and Bruce Mathers. (2006)
Official Records Indexes
Births, deaths & marriages
These are held on the second floor of Central Library and are for "in-library" use only.
Each of the microfiche held is an index of names divided into years. Alongside each name you will find a number, this number relates to the registery record held at Levin House in Lower Hutt. Having this number (usually referred to as a 'folio number') makes things easier if you do wish to apply for a copy of the certificate.
Note: The indexes to many historical NZ births, deaths and marriages are now online through The Department of Internal Affairs website.
Up until 1956 just the name of the child is given in the indexes. Between 1956 and 1960, the place of birth is listed. From 1960 the name of the mother and the place of birth is listed.
Until 1957, just the name is given in the index. Between 1957 and 1960, the place of death is listed. In 1960 the age of the deceased was added. 1961 saw the addition of the quarter in which the person died. In 1984 the age (at death) is replaced with the date of the person's birth.
Until 1957 each year had a list of grooms in alphabetical order and a list of brides in alphabetical order. From 1957, cross-referencing occurs. Looking up a groom will also give you the bride's name, and vice versa.
Tips & tricks:
When requesting a certificate, ask for a photocopy of the registry record. Although they are the same fee, you might get extra information that has been added or might not be needed on the full certificate.
New South Wales:
We also hold copies of the New South Wales Births, Deaths and Marriages microfiche from 1866-1890.
A very morbid, but useful way of finding long lost relatives.
Online records can be incomplete, relying on volunteer support, but try the local Council website which will outline what is available (e.g. Wellington, or Dunedin). Another option is the Cemetery Transcription Library for NZ brought to you by Interment.net.
Our microfiche are divided into regions. Each region has an index of names with a reference number. This reference number relates to a transcript of the epitaph of each headstone in each cemetery within that region. Wide coverage, but not fully comprehensive. A transcript of the Bolton cemetery is available in print format in the Local History Cabinet; please ask at the desk for the Karori cemetery.
Why is this useful?
Headstone inscriptions not only give the name of the deceased, but will quite often give the name of a spouse, how many children the marriage produced, and if more than one person is buried in the same plot, they will be listed as well.
New Zealand electoral rolls
You've discovered a name, on the Marriage or Death microfiche, but aren't quite sure if the person is who you're looking for. The electoral rolls can give you those few extra clues needed.
Electoral rolls will give you the town/city the person was residing in, their occupation, and because they are in alphabetical order, a quick scan can give you the name(s) of anyone at the same address. Very useful if you also have a spouse or child's name.
Electoral Rolls, 1853-1981 :
View in-library on Ancestry database. The Maori lists are also available there for 1908 and 1910. Otherwise :
Up to 1943 these are on microfiche, so please ask at the enquiries desk on the 2nd floor of the Central Library.
The library also holds electoral rolls from 1946-current in paper form. These are shelved on the South side of the 2nd floor in the Central Library.
The library holds The Dominion and The Evening Post on reel to reel microfilm.
- The Dominion, September 1907-2002; The Dominion Post, 2002 onwards
- The Evening Post, February 1865-2002
You can use these to look up Birth, Marriage and Death notices, but there is no detailed personal name index - so you will need to know the date.
Why is this useful?
As with cemetery records, newspaper notices will, more often than not, include the names of spouses, children and grandchildren. If a complete list of names is not given, a number will usually be mentioned.
E.g. Joe Bloggs - died 18 Sept 1925. Beloved husband of Jane Bloggs, father of 10 children and Grandfather of 23.
This will give you some idea of how many people you are looking for.
Other Microfiche/CD-ROM indexes
The library has a wide range. Two recent examples are:
Passenger lists, Victoria, Australia outwards to New Zealand, 1852 onwards, compiled by Gaynor Kirby
This is available from the Central Library, 2nd Floor. Each part includes: alphabetical list of passengers; entry order list of passengers; ship information.
A compilation of death notices from New Zealand newspapers 1957-1984 (The Enid Seton-Kellaway collection)
This is available from the Central Library, 2nd Floor. The main bulk of the divorce information comes from later newspapers. The strength is that newspapers from across the country are indexed.
UK official records
1881 British census and national index England, Scotland, Wales, Channel Islands, Isle of Man, and Royal Navy is available on CD-ROM at the Central Library, 2nd Floor. Please ask at the enquiries desk.
Note: The Library does not hold the St Catherine's Index. Please contact the National Library, in Molesworth Street if you need access to this.
Alexander Turnbull Library Indexes
Some of the indexes compiled by the Alexander Turnbull Library to their scrapbook collection are held at the Central Library, 2nd Floor, in microfiche.
New Zealand Post Office Directories
Commonly known as Wise's (Wise's New Zealand Post Office Directories). These were published between 1872 and 1961 and contain an alphabetical list of persons and business firms by name. Think of them as a combined Yellow Pages and Electoral Roll. They can be used to trace the movement and occupation of a person over an extended period of time.
Although an entire nuclear family may not be listed, you may find a sibling or other relative living in the same area.
To find out more about this collection, visit our Telephone books & directories resource guide.
Apart from published resources, the main index to personal names is Shipping arrivals in Wellington, 1856-1887, which is held in the Local History Cabinet at the Central Library on the 2nd floor. Please ask 2nd floor staff. You may also be interested in this guide to some of the Early Shipping Resources we hold behind the scenes at the library.
Shipping resources online:
Denise and Peter's Shipping Lists
New Zealand Bound
For passenger lists and many other helpful links.
- Sea voyages and Shipwrecks
Published to commerate the founding of a town or district, these can feature families of prominence in the area. Either the families played a role in the early settlement of the area: a member of the family held a position of power at some stage, eg. Mayor, Councillor, or Doctor; or the family ran a business of some importance in the area.
Local histories are usually written with the help of books, diaries, manuscripts, personal papers and letters, recollections of the locals and material found in archival repositories. Use the information found in the bibliographies, found at the end of any local history, as a springboard for further information.
Start going through those old photos at home, find out who's who in those family get togethers such as 21st birthdays and weddings. After you've exhausted the photos at home, start sourcing them from elsewhere. Some public libraries have photographic collections. If your luck holds out, they may have had them card indexed.
Wellington City Libraries has a large collection of historical photographs. Unfortunately, they aren't currently indexed - but browsing through these photos can be an enjoyable way of filling in a wet afternoon in town, although some are now available on Recollect.
Local Historical Societies
Do not overlook your local Historical Society as a source of information in your hunt for long lost family members. Repositories of a wealth of information (pictorial, written and oral), they can be found in most areas. You may be lucky enough to have a district wide society as well as a town society.
Contact information for Historical Socities can usually be found at the local library. You may be lucky enough to find the historical society even has a website. One such society is Horowhenua Historical Society in Levin. The site allows you to search an ever expanding collection of scanned images.
School and church history booklets
Use these in a similar way to Local Histories. They are usually published to commemorate a school reunion or jubilee. Full of information about the school, its teachers, principals, students of prominence. You may be lucky enough to find one that has included a complete list of all students who ever attended the school over the years. Below is an example taken from the Horowhenua College 50th Jubilee book:
This example gives the name and years between which each person attended the school. Looking at a "family name" it might be possible to assertain the names from particular generations. It might also be possible to work out birth dates, which is a link back to the registry birth index.
Wellington City Libraries holds a number of genealogy magazines. They can all be found in the Arts, Music and Literature section of the library on the First floor of the Central Library.
Here are just a few popular titles & descriptions:
Family Tree Magazine
This is a British publication that comes out on a monthly basis. Containing interesting and informative articles ; News of what's happening in the world of British genealogy ; Views from other readers, a useful name listing, book reviews and a computer section. It also has a webpage with a very useful online searchable index. There is also a links page.
Australian family tree connections
This is an Australian publication (with New Zealand content) that comes out on a monthly basis. The webpage is more an index to the magazine, offering information on how to subscribe etc, but does have a useful surname register.
Ancestry Library, is also available from internet PCs within our libraries. Contains millions of records accessible in one powerful search.
Now includes NZ Electoral Rolls 1853-1981, NZ Army WWI Nominal Rolls, 1914-1918, NZ Naturalisations 1843-1981, England & Wales BDMs 1530-2005, Australia Cemetery Index, 1808-2007, UK Census records 1841-1901, European lists and records, and is particularly strong in US and Canadian sources.
Tips for searching:
How do I find the "how-to" guides?
"How-to" guides to family history are mainly categorised by country. Above we've included searches for some common ones as well guides to researching online, otherwise when you're searching on our Catalogue, select the "Subject Search" search option, and type in country keywords e.g. Poland Genealogy.
If you know the title...
If you already know the title of the item you want, simply type it into the search box and select "Title Browse" as your search type.
More general searches...
For general geography or history searches, or information around social life or customs: use the Keyword search option, and type in basic search words, to locate the classification and possible items. (For example - type History Oamaru, or Shetland history).
If you need any help searching or you'd just like some tips, make sure to ask a librarian - that's what we're here for!
New Zealand genealogy links
New Zealand Society of Genealogists
The main organisation to support family researchers, whether researching in NZ or overseas from within NZ.
Archives New Zealand
Keeps government records, so is an excellent mine of information for the genealogist. Note the Guide for family history research, and ARCHWAY database which are good places to start.
National Library of New Zealand
The National Library of New Zealand has a specialist genealogy reference centre, as well as housing the Alexander Turnbull Library which focuses on NZ research. They also house many photographs. Here is their Guide to researching family history, as well as some more detailed information about their different collections.
Foreigners and Settlers in NZ arriving or born before 1840
The main feature is an alphabetical name listing. For most people there are approximate year of arrival and place of residence, and a few have links to more information such as specific family histories. The sources listing is also helpful.
The main purpose of this Wellington site is to bring together the genealogical sources of the Wellington area to help with your family research. Also contains links to key other sites.
Helen's page of New Zealand history
Focusing mainly on Wellington and the lower North Island, this growing site contains early Wellington directories, passenger lists and a mine of other local history information.
New Zealand 1840s-1980s Funeral notices
Another website of interest that provides 'people' information. This site is added to continually to increase coverage of Funeral Notices, In Memorium, News Items, Obituaries, Shipping, Te Maori, the Smith Surname, Recent Deaths, and Missing People spots.
New Zealand History resource network
Essays, indexes, biographies, and links, all with a site search. Find out contextual information about how your ancestors lived and what they experienced.
Wellington City Archives
Information about the activities and functions of Wellington City Council since its establishment (and therefore the development of Wellington City). In the context of genealogy this may extend to property records, for example.
NZHistory.net's genealogy directory
Websites for family history research.
Online genealogical directory.
FamilySearch is a family history website provided by The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints free to the public. The primary resources offered by FamilySearch are searchable databases and research guidance. Especially see their International Genealogical Index
U.K. and Ireland genealogy.
A free genealogy community which makes use of online forums and mailing lists to help people research their family history.
The dictionary of New Zealand biography
Currently in five volumes and covering the years 1769-1960, this is just as it sounds. Personal details of people, who have achieved some level of importance, arranged in alphabetical order. Found at all of Wellington City's libraries in print form at (REF) Bc DIC; it's also available online.
Who's who in New Zealand
This lists those who have achieved some level of importance. Each entry will have dates, honours and awards received. When a person dies, their entry is removed when the next edition is published.
Cyclopedia of New Zealand
Published between 1897 and 1908, the Cyclopedia of New Zealand was produced in six volumes. Each volume covered a specific provincial district. Members of the public could have their biography included in the appropiate volume for a fee. The information in these bibliographies has not necessarily been verified. Biographies contain information about a person, their life, family and friends. Consulting the index may reveal the name of a forebear. Finding these references within the book may reward you with further information about your family.
Individual family histories:
Along with biographies are individual family histories. Books published by people just like you. They have traced their families history and thought it was interesting enough that others might like to read about them.
A large collection of such books are available in the New Zealand room at the central library. All can be found at 929.2 (followed by the first three letters of the family name).
You can use the catalogue to find subject headings that group family histories together. Do a subject search on the family name your interested in. If there is an entry it will appear in the format "Fowler family". Also try a subject search on the country of interest followed by genealogy, eg New Zealand Genealogy.
And if you've gradually started gathering names, using a family group sheet will help you organise them into managable groups. Feel free to print out a copy of this Microsoft Word document and photocopy as many as you may need.
The library subscribes to a range of different subject databases, which you can access through the Mygateway.info section of our website. You will need your library card details to access these.
Search across thousands of articles on a range of topics, and browse online magazines and newspapers with our databases. These pages also include some links to non-subscription, freely available databases that we have selected and included for their excellent content.
Here are some of the databases available through Mygateway.info that have content relevant to genealogy:
Oxford Reference Online
Contains full contents of over 100 reference books from the Oxford Publishing House suite. Of particular interest to genealogists is The Oxford Dictionary of Local and Family History, but this database also has a particular strength in general history (for living conditions of past-times). Search either across individual titles or the whole reference suite.
Times Digital Archive 1785-1985
This database allows you to search and view every page published by The Times [London] from 1785-1985. Content includes news articles, obituaries, advertising, book reviews and even the crossword puzzles. You can also browse by issue date, story headline, subject etc. Results are displayed at the article level and you may view the article - or the full page upon which it appeared. You may strike it lucky to find some earlier family members, or (more likely) read first hand about events in their lives such as coal mining strikes, Highland clearances, or the Boer War...
Provided by the National Library, Papers Past showcases selected 19th century New Zealand newspapers and periodicals. The site currently contains digital images of over one million pages from more than 40 publications, including searchable full text of the Evening Post from 1865-1915.
You will find, once you've started down the genealogy path, names will be flying at you from all directions. A good thing to do is buy yourself a nice hardback journal and carry it with you where ever you go.
Use it to jot down names, dates or places you hear, or read, about in your searching. Very useful if you come across a name you're not sure about, having a record of it means you can always come back to it later. A lot easier than trying to find the name again.
Now that I've given you a few pointers on getting started, start digging! If, on your journey through genealogy, you come across a book or website you found useful or interesting, please don't hesitate to email me, Leonard Clough, and I can add it to this site, or pass the suggestion on to the appropriate member of our library website team.