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Feb 28, 2020

Renewing My New Zealand Research

February 28, 2020

As anyone who has New Zealand roots knows, researching in New Zealand from the U.S. has been difficult in the past. Short of making a long, expensive trip to the other side of the world, access to records has been sparse. While a trip to New Zealand is definitely worth the cost since it’s a lovely place to visit, it’s just not practical for many of us. Or, as in my case, I have visited New Zealand twice, but, of course, now know more about my ancestors there and have more records I’d like to find.

Even with the growth of the internet, records for New Zealand have been slow to show up on the big database sites such as Ancestry and Family Search. Access to vital records has been the one bright spot because birth, marriage and death records were kept in New Zealand starting in 1840 and are readily available from the website Birth, Deaths and Marriages Online (https://www.bdmhistoricalrecords.dia.govt.nz/Home/), albeit for a fairly pricey $25 NZ per record. The indexes for these records is free to search, but the information is limited and is no substitute for the actual record. If you only have a few New Zealanders in your family tree, ordering these records is a good option, and I have done that for my direct line ancestors which includes my great grandmother, my second great grandmother and my third great grandmother. However, there are also lots of aunts, uncles and cousins, all of whom produced large families, that I’ve always wanted to learn more about.

In addition, New Zealand does have a digital newspaper website called Papers Past (https://paperspast.natlib.govt.nz/newspapers). This free website is a treasure trove of local newspapers for New Zealand, and it has a sister site for Australia. Thanks to the site, I’ve found obituaries for many of my collateral relatives who stayed in New Zealand. I’ve also found ships’ lists which listed my ancestors’ voyages to and from New Zealand.

Otherwise, the pickings have been slim. The Family History Library does have some records for New Zealand, but most of them still seem to be available only on microfilm or are available only on the computers at FHL, necessitating a visit to Salt Lake City to access them. Ancestry has had an index to the birth, marriage and death index as well as some voter registration rolls available for several years, but not much else. All of this has meant that my New Zealand research has been on hold for a few years.

To my surprise, I recently noticed that Ancestry had added or updated a number of New Zealand databases. These included gems such as the “New Zealand Police Gazettes” where I found not just records of some of my New Zealanders who had run afoul of the law, but also a few photos of some thuggish-looking distant cousins who’d ended up in prison. Although prison records aren’t exactly the sort of record anyone hopes to find for their relatives, I’ll take a picture of a relative any place I can find one. In addition, I found a database of New Zealand cemetery records that included a number of my relatives. That’s as far as my research has taken me at this point, but I still have a number of family lines to search. There could be even more heretofore hidden treasure to be found.

The big takeaway from my renewed focus on New Zealand is that just because there were few records of interest on one of the major websites a few years ago doesn’t mean that’s still the case. If you haven’t looked at a family or a location for a while, it’s definitely worth checking. You never know what you might find.

Carol Stetser
Researcher/Director at Large