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All New Zealanders have either migrated to this country or are the descendants of people who migrated in the past. Māori origins are traced through whakapapa. Formal Pākehā migration recordkeeping began with the New Zealand Company, settlement from 1840, and with the formation of British government after the Treaty of Waitangi in the same year.

Our archives in Auckland, Christchurch and Dunedin hold some regional immigration information, but most immigration records are held in Wellington.

Ship records

We hold a variety of ship records, mostly in Wellington. All passenger lists held n Wellington have been digitised and are available through the FamilySearch website under ‘New Zealand Immigration Passenger Lists’.

Immigration 1840-1880s

For 1840-1880s our Wellington archive holds records of government-assisted immigrants only, mostly ship passenger lists. The records include about half the total number of immigrants in the period.

The New Zealand Company, Plymouth Company, Otago Association, Canterbury Association, provincial, and central government schemes all assisted migrants to New Zealand. Most assisted immigrant records held in Wellington date from 1871 when central government began to sponsor immigrants.

Ship passenger lists are the main source of migrant information, but we hold other records, such as ships’ papers and registers and files of various schemes to assist people to New Zealand.

Immigration 1880s-1970s

Most immigration records are ship passenger lists held in Wellington in the archives of the Social Security Department, which used them to validate pensions. Passenger lists were not collected systematically until 1910, and even after that there are gaps.

Labour Department archives also include immigration records after 1900 and a few may be found under the Customs Department. See also: Specific Group/Nationality Migrations.

Other immigration records

Specific group/nationality migrations

Most migrants to New Zealand have come from the British Isles. From the 1860s onward a number of other specific group or nationality migrations can be identified at different periods, and we have material on some of these groups. Not all the records refer directly to migration or individuals.

Post Second World War Labour Department


In Wellington we hold many outwards ship passenger lists up to 1973 in the Social Security Department records [ADBO 16135], but the sequences are far from complete until after 1910.

The records for minor ports hold some emigration records for 1886 and then from 1895. Wellington emigration records date from 1899 and Auckland records from 1908.

The passenger lists are grouped in three or six month periods by port: Auckland, or Wellington, or the minor ports which were Lyttelton and Bluff. Ships often called at more than one port and emigration from Dunedin was usually included with Wellington and Auckland entries.

The passenger lists are unindexed. If a ship name and date for leaving New Zealand are known, finding an emigration record is relatively straightforward. If no specific ship name or date are known, it is necessary to search the passenger lists which can only be done at our Wellington archive. It takes about an hour to search six months of lists for one name. [Search Series 16135 using keyword “Outward”].