Family history research involves studying the genealogy (or ancestry) of a family, often with a focus on the particular events and circumstances of their lives.

You might want to:

  • find out if family stories are true
  • locate missing relatives
  • find out when your family came to New Zealand
  • produce a family tree
  • publish a book about a family member or group
  • find descendants or ancestors of particular people
  • organise a family reunion.

Here are some basic steps to help you start researching your family history.

Read some guides to family history research

There are many guides for beginners on how to do New Zealand family history research such as:

  • New Zealand beginner’s guide to family history research, by Anne Bromell, 2004
  • Writing your family history: a New Zealand guide, by Joan Rosier-Jones, 2005
  • Whakapapa: an introduction to Māori family history research, by Brenda Joyce, 2006.
  • Your family's history: research, write and publish it, by John MacGibbon, 2009.

You can find and request these titles using the National Library Catalogue.

Identify what you want to find out

Think about what you want to find out before you start your research. What question or questions are you trying to answer about your family or ancestors?

Identifying the purpose of your research will focus your search. We are happy to discuss your research and help you plan your search strategy.

Ask a librarian for research help

Be organised as you research

It is important to be organised when you are doing family history research. Use an exercise book or laptop to keep notes and a record of the source of your information, its location, and the date you found it.

Start with what you know

Gather together everything you already know from available sources of information:

  • start with yourself
  • work backwards generation by generation
  • talk to family members and friends
  • find out what family documents, photographs, or objects are held by family members
  • get copies of birth, death and marriage records.

Try to be as specific as possible about names, dates, and places (including spellings).

Find birth, death and marriage records – Department of Internal Affairs website

Find out what research has already been done

Finding information that has already been compiled on your family history can save you a lot of time with your own research.

Try searching the National Library Catalogue for the surname using 'Subject heading' (such as 'Gray family') to find New Zealand family histories.

Research directories, like the Genealogical research directory or the Family research directory, can help you find out if others are interested in the same surnames as you. These contacts might assist you with your own research. There is also a large number of websites devoted to family historical research.

We also have publications by the New Zealand Society of Genealogists available at the Library.

National Library Catalogue

Useful Family History Websites

New Zealand Society of Genealogists website

Search for family records in our collections

The collections of the Library are rich in resources for family history and genealogy. The Family History Collection is the best place to start your search. It contains major sources of family history from New Zealand and overseas.

Find out what items are in the Family History Collection using the National Library Catalogue or consult the printed list of titles at the reference desk in the Library's Wellington Reading Room.

More about family history resources at the Library

Download list of resources in the Family History Collection

National Library Catalogue

Identify Family History Collection items

Family History Collection items have FHC in the call mark, such as FHC NZ/OTG/BDM (Catholic death notices in the Otago Daily Times 1861-1950). Call marks indicate where to find items from the catalogue on the ground floor shelves.

Information from particular countries is grouped together using Chapman place codes like NZ for New Zealand, AUS for Australia, ENG for England or OTG for Otago. Large microfiche and microfilm collections are located in cabinets.

Each source of family history information also has a subject division such as:

  • BDM = births, deaths and marriages
  • CEM = cemetery
  • LIST = lists of names
  • BIB = bibliographies
  • SHIP = shipping
  • OCC = occupations.

Use onsite computers to search

You can use our computers to search electronic resources (including CD-ROMs) for records of your family when you visit. Microfilm and microfiche readers are also available. Staff at the ground floor reference desk can tell you which computers to use, or you can book a computer in advance by calling us.

Download list of Family History CD-ROMs

Visit the Family Search microfilm service at the Library

We offer a Family Search microfilm service on at the Library's reading room. Through the service, you can access millions of records microfilmed by the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints. The Church has filmed archival records from many different countries, including church records, births, deaths and marriages, land, military, occupational and census records.

The service operates on the ground floor of the Library, and is staffed by members of the New Zealand Society of Genealogists. Īt is open 10.00am-4.00pm weekdays and 9am-12.30pm Saturdays.

You can see what’s available through the Family Search service by using their online catalogue. You can order films through the Family Search site or when you visit the Library. Once they have arrived you have four weeks in which to view them.

Contact the Family Search service

Family Search Library Catalogue – Family Search website

Consider sharing and publishing your family history

When you have compiled the research you have done, you could share your information with others, or publish a family history and give copies to the National Library.

More about putting out a publication

More about making a donation or bequest

Digitising family history material

Digital New Zealand has published a guide for people working on their family history or genealogy and wanting to scan, digitise, or digitally copy old family pictures, records and documents.

Digitising family history and whakapapa - DigitalNZ website