Skip to main content
To top Back to top back to top

Government employment

The government in New Zealand has usually employed a considerable proportion of the country’s workforce. Information relevant to family historians may be found in lists of public service employees or in the records of government departments, though most such records are far from complete. Unless otherwise indicated, the records listed in this Research Guide are held in our Wellington archive.

Records by department

Most government departments maintained staff registers and service schedules or personal files. A few departments published their own employee lists.

We hold employment records from a variety of government departments and agencies, which may include life and employment data interesting to researchers. However, the records vary considerably from one department or agency to another. Many of the records are limited and incomplete.

Access restrictions usually apply to salary information and may apply to other employment records. Where possible restrictions have been given, but Collections search should always be consulted for restrictions.

Departments A - D

Departments E - H

Departments I - M

Departments N - Q

Departments R - Z

Non-government work

We hold a variety of government records relating to private employment, work, and financial status. Many of these originated in the courts, in government activity, or in the government requirement for those in various occupations to be registered.

Most records are incomplete and cover limited time periods, but some are quite comprehensive. Court files for bankruptcy are extensive. Some company records are full files, but often only card index entries exist. Our four offices hold many records of Liquor Licensing from the Courts, and of Mining (gold & sometimes coal), from Wardens’ Courts. Marine records – Certificates of Competency and other Seafarer records – are comprehensive up to the 1990s. Licence Registers cover various occupations for brief periods and limited places:

  • Auctioneers

  • Barmaids

  • Boiler Inspection

  • Dairy Industry

  • Gold Coin Dealers

  • Kauri Gum

  • Land Agents

  • Law Practitioners

  • Massage Parlours

  • Money Lenders

  • Motor Vehicle Dealers

  • Pawnbrokers

  • Printing Presses & Newspapers

  • Sawmills

  • Second-hand Dealers

Patent, Design, Trademark and Copyright records are extensive, though many applications were never completed, not all files exist, and many specifications /plans were returned to the applicant. We also hold the registration records of many Friendly Societies and Trade Unions, as well as industrial agreements.


We hold very few records of apprentices privately employed and only limited records of apprentices in government departments (see Government Employment).

Please direct enquiries to the TEC (Tertiary Education Commission) which holds apprenticeship records.

Most of our records are general in nature, relating to policy or the application of parliamentary acts. Very few even mention individual apprentices; there are no personal files for apprentices or records of qualifications gained.

Bankruptcy and insolvency

Courts created Bankruptcy Registers and two types of Bankruptcy files. A Court file was begun when a petition for bankruptcy was filed. Files were also created by the Official Assignee in Bankruptcy, in whom all bankrupts’ property was vested. You can find many files by searching the name of the person or company on Collections search, but for most a file number needs to be found through an Index or Register. Some files are not listed for restriction reasons. Access to records may be restricted.


The Companies Office registers corporate entities, particularly companies. Its Registers relate to companies, incorporated societies, building societies, charitable trusts, etc. The Companies Office delivers nearly all its services electronically.

The online Companies Register can be searched for current and historical company information.

Friendly societies

Friendly societies provided financial help when a family’s breadwinner suffered sickness, accident or death. The first lodge was formed by new immigrants in 1842. By 1901 friendly societies had 41,236 members – 15% of all adult males – and by 1938 there were 113,709 members in various societies.

Due to their role in providing welfare, the government established a Registrar of Friendly Societies in 1867. Office bearers of individual Friendly Societies were required by law to submit annual returns to the Registrar of Friendly Societies and Credit Unions.

The Companies Office took over the responsibility of managing friendly societies in 1997 and maintain an online register.

Friendly Society Records

You can find Friendly Societies with a search of their name on Collections search. There are also:

  • Annual Returns Registers & Valuation Registers [7351]

  • Annual Returns 1883-1993 [537]

  • Valuation Lists (5-yearly reports) c1880-1979 [580]

  • Registration Files c1887-2004 [581]

Credit Unions

A Credit Union is a member owned cooperative financial organisation with members sharing a common bond of either residence in a clearly defined geographical area, or employment by a particular employer, or occupation, of other qualifying association.

Credit Union records can be found with a search of their name on Collections search. See also: Credit Union registration records 1955-2004 [24181]

License Registers

At various times the Government required machines or people in various occupations to be licensed or registered. Courts were usually responsible for such processes and held the license records.

Finding Licence Records

Licence records are organised by region and type of licence. Records exist for:

  • Auctioneers: Most Auctioneer records are Registers of Licensing. A few Auctioneers’ applications for licences are individually listed on Collections search, especially for the 1970s, and may can be searched by name

  • Barmaids

  • Boilers

  • Dairy Industry (Cream & Milk Graders, Dairy Factory Mangers)

  • Gold Coin Dealers

  • Kauri Gum

  • Land Agents

  • Law Practitioners

  • Massage Parlours

  • Money Lenders: Most records are in Registers created in the Courts. A few company applications for licences can be found on Collections search under company names, especially for the 1960s & 1970s

  • Motor Vehicle Dealers

  • Pawnbrokers

  • Printing Presses & Newspapers

  • Sawmills

  • Second-hand Dealers

Liquor Licensing

Licensing Committe and District Records - Liquor Licenses - Publicans

A Licensing Ordinance of 1842 first controlled the sale of liquor. Provincial governments issued various licences from 1853-1875, with liquor licences increasingly tied to the provision of accommodation. You can find early records in the New Zealand or Provincial Gazettes, in inwards correspondence of the Colonial Secretary [8333] and in Provincial records, especially Wellington [16195].

1873 legislation created Licensing Districts similar to local body areas and established Licensing Courts, which included the Resident Magistrate and other appointed members. People applied to the court for a licence and paid a fee with the application.

Licence details were published in newspapers, and can also be found in Magistrates Court records before 1881.

The Licensing Act 1881, which incorporated a number of previous acts, set up Licensing Committees within specific electoral areas (Licensing Districts) to grant, renew or revoke sale of liquor licences. Licensing Committees were based in Magistrates Courts.

Finding Liquor Licence Records

Liquor licence records are organised by region. They are often Court Registers or Record Books of applications, and can be found with an appropriate keyword search on Collections search.




We hold extensive records of miners and mining, mostly for gold, but some for coal. The records are held regionally and most are in our Auckland (Thames gold), Christchurch (West Coast gold) and Dunedin (Otago gold) Offices. Most records come from Wardens’ Courts and their listings can be found on Collections search. The main records are Indexes and Registers, and often include miners’ names, putting them in a particular place and context.


The Depression of the 1930s led to various government measures to allow rural mortgagors to seek relief from mortgage obligations. Records can be found on Collections search in the archives of the various Courts (Court of Review or Adjustment Commission), or under key words such as Mortgage or Mortgagor. Some courts also hold records of Mortgagee Sales, not just during the Depression of the 1930s.


A Patent specification number is needed to find a Patent file. You can find the Patent specification number in various indexes and Registers of Patents.


Design registration protects the external appearance of a manufactured article, especially novel or original design features that would appeal to the customer. Design Application Registers give the volume & page number of specific entries in Registers of Design (up to 1954), in rough chronological rather than number order. From 1954 Register entries are by registration number. Only approved applications were recorded in the Design Registers. These give brief application and applicant information. Diagrams or photographs may be attached for registrations before 1954.


Under the Trade-Marks Act 1866, the Colonial Secretary administered trademarks 1868-1890. Applications to register trade marks were inwards correspondence, and the annual single number formed the basis of the trade mark file number. The Patents, Designs and Trade-marks Act 1883 moved trade mark administration to the Patent Office.

Registers of Trade Marks are held in our Wellington Office, and many were also published in the New Zealand Gazette. Richard Wolfe’s Well Made New Zealand: A century of trademarks illustrates the variety of New Zealand trademarks.


In New Zealand copyright protects original literary, dramatic, musical and artistic works, sound recordings, films, communication works and the typographical arrangement of published editions.

Trade Unions

We hold many union-related records but not the records created by unions themselves. Our holdings cover their interaction with the state, such as rules, annual returns, registration cards, arbitration records, awards and agreements, industrial disputes, and objections to compulsory unionism. We also hold the Trade Union Education Authority records [W3597]. For police files of industrial disputes see Law & the Courts. You can find most union records with a search of their name on Collections search.

  • Registration Cards of Employee Unions and Employer Organisations 1895-1991 [ABLC 18111 W4234/1-6]

  • Trade Union Annual Returns 1888-1951 [AACS 583/1-5]

  • Trade Union Registered Files c1903-1964 [AACS 623/1-11]

  • Registrar of Union Records 1972-1990 [ABLC 8608]

  • Department of Labour Central Filing System 1897-2000 (esp. sub-series 3/ and 46/) [AANK 947]