How to find personal identity information like marriages, probates, coroners' inquests, and other records to help trace your family history.
We hold many records which provide basic life data about individual people. This information is to be found within the records of a variety of government departments and agencies, such as the courts.
Not everything is indexed by a person’s name. Many of the original registers included indexes, and much work has been done, especially in our regional offices, to supplement and digitise the original indexes.
However, some searches for basic life data which might be found here require time and perseverance.
Births, deaths and marriages
Government involvement in recording births, deaths and marriages began in 1847 but records were not standardised or comprehensive until about 1856. Before 1848 church registers are the primary record of births, deaths and marriages.
Civil registration of births, deaths and marriages has been compulsory for Pākehā since 1847 and for Māori since 1911 (marriages) and 1913 (births & deaths), but this does not mean the records are either accurate or complete. Some Māori or part-Māori were registered in Pākehā records throughout.
Access is restricted to all Birth, Marriage and Death Registers held here. However, those held by us are only a small proportion of the total of registers created, usually duplicate local registers, and not all are indexed.
The complete registers of births, deaths and marriages are held by the Central Registry of Births, Deaths and Marriages, Department of Internal Affairs. You should approach the Registry first, particularly for Births and Deaths. The address details are:
Births, Deaths, Marriages and Citizenship
PO Box 10-526
Phone (in NZ): 0800 22 52 52
Phone (outside NZ): 64 4 474 8150
Searches for early birth, death and marriage registrations be made at the Births, Deaths and Marriages website.
It is worth checking alternative name spellings as there are mistakes in these listings. You can work out the exact date of the event, but this is all the information you can get. If you require more detail you can purchase copies of certificates from Births Deaths and Marriages.
We hold very incomplete records of births in New Zealand. Access to many is restricted under the Adoption Act 1955.
The registers held in Wellington come from small places ranging from Ahaura to Wharekahika. Other archives may hold some local registers.
Our Wellington archive holds microfilm copies of some early Church of England Registers of Baptisms (1815-), for the Bay of Islands and Kāpiti-Manawatu. Microfilm copies should be viewed. [ADFD; MICRO 2792-2794]
Under the Vaccination Act 1863 every child born in New Zealand was to be vaccinated within six months of birth. Local Births, Deaths and Marriages registrars acted as Vaccination Inspectors, recording vaccination details or exemptions for all children born in their districts.
Some vaccination details were entered in the Register of Births rather than in a separate Vaccination Register.
Vaccination Registers are arranged by Register of Births number. Entries give the names of child and parents, the child’s dates of birth and vaccination, and the medical practitioner. Many registers are indexed.
These are the Vaccination Registers we hold:
Coromandel Register 1874-1888 [BACL 14480/1a]
Hikurangi Register 1911-191 [ABQU 15417/1a]
Huntly Register 1894-1913 [BAHB 11180/1a]
Owhango Register 1912-1917 [BAHH 11124/1a]
Waihi Registers 1895-1915 [BAFV 13779/1]
Vaccination exemption forms 1913 [BAFV 13779/1b]
Waipu Register 1874-1915 [ABQU 15416/1a]
Ashurst Registers 1896-1921 [AAXX 21517 W5462/111-112]
Wainui Registers 1887-1914 [ABPQ W4287/102]
Weber Registers 1897-1903 [ABPQ W4287/103]
Masterton Registers 1873-1920 (with gaps) [AAOF 22010 W5447/472 & 612]
Mauriceville Register 1895-1916 [AAOF 22324 W5447/472]
Feilding Registers 1876-1919 (with gaps) [ABYD 25166 W5935/86-89]
Blenheim Registers 1893-1915 [ABYB 21714 W5445/188-189]
Nelson Registers 1874-1921 (excluding 1892-1893) [AAPP 26319 W5973/213-214]
Aorere Register 1907-1914 [AAPP 26320 W5973/215]
Charleston Register 1874-1910 [CAIF CH446/142]
Waimangaroa Magistrate’s Court Register 1894-1916 [CAIS CH620/6]
Our Wellington archive holds Registers of Notices of Intentions to Marry which provide similar information to Marriage Certificates or Marriage Registrations. A few other Marriage records are also held:
Marriage registers which come from places ranging from Ahaura to Wellington. Some originate with registrars and include a few Notices of Intention to Marry, but most come from individual churches and ministers.
Early Church of England Registers of Marriages (1823-) for the Bay of Islands and Kāpiti-Manawatu areas. Microfilm copies should be viewed. [ADFD MICRO 2792-2794]
Intention to Marry records
Our Wellington archive holds Intention to Marry records for the whole of New Zealand from 1856–1956.
The Marriage Act 1854 (and later acts) decreed that one member of each couple must complete a Notice of Intention to Marry for the local registrar of marriages, before the marriage could take place. This notice, and payment of the prescribed fee, allowed a certificate (really a marriage licence) to be issued, current for three months.
This certificate authorised a minister or registrar to celebrate the marriage. After the marriage took place, the minister or registrar had to enter the marriage in a register book and then send a certified copy of the details to the Registrar-General of Births, Deaths and Marriages, to be entered in a central register.
The Alexander Turnbull Library in Wellington holds some Notices of Intention to Marry for 1855. Our Wellington archive holds Registers of Notices of Intention to Marry for the whole of New Zealand for the period 1856-1956 [ADAQ 8937 BDM 20/1-375]. Other archives have some regional registers.
Intention to Marry Registers are restricted for 80 years from date of closure.
Information recorded on Intention to Marry Notices may include:
date on which the notice was registered
full name, marital status, occupation and age of both parties
place of residence at time of notice and length of residence in registration district
parent or guardian’s name if either one of the couple was a minor
a number, which corresponds to the marriage register entry and marriage certificate number for the couple, indicates that a marriage took place
place where the marriage is to be solemnised and the minister or registrar who will conduct the marriage
Notices of Intention to Marry do not give birth dates or places and do not often state usual place of residence if it is outside the centre of registration. Usually the woman’s occupation is not noted. Later entries do not record length of residence.
Our Wellington archive also holds a card index of unfulfilled intentions to marry for 1881-1920. This records people who registered an intention to marry, but for whom no marriage certificate was issued, as indicated by the lack of a marriage register number in the original Notice of Intention to Marry.
Finding Notices of Intention to Marry
A card index to Notices of Intention to Marry in the Wellington reading room will lead you to Notices in the Registers for the period 1856-1881.
Indexes covering the years 1882-1889 are available to view here:
The Registers are organised in three monthly periods and by place of registry roughly from north to south, but alphabetical within regions. After 1889 you will need to know the approximate date and the place of marriage. Guides to the Registers (in red binders in the reading room) can then be used to locate the relevant registers.
Duplicate marriage registers
There are a few duplicate holdings of district Notices of Intention to Marry Registers:
Coromandel Wardens Court
Coromandel Registration District Certificates 1862-1871 [AAAE 15169/1a]
Gisborne Supreme Court
Intention to Marry Notice Registers 1856-1956 [BAJI 1859]
Intention to Marry Notice Registers [card index to 1930] 1856-1956 [BAJI 1859]
Dannevirke Magistrates Court
Notices of Intention to Marry
Marriage Notice Books Dannevirke 1885-1956 (link to book 9 – search books 10-33 individually on Collections search) [ABPQ W4287/9-33]
Marriage Notice Book Wainui 1885-1933 [ABPQ W4287/1]
Marriage Notice Book Weber 1897-1951 [ABPQ W4287/2]
Napier Magistrates Court
Marriage Notice Books 1855-1944 (link to book 150 – search books 151-197 individually on Collections search) [AAOW W3301/150-197]
Marriage Notice Book Porongahau 1865-1876 [AAOW W3301/235]
Christchurch Registry of Births, Deaths & Marriages
Akaroa Intentions to Marry 1855-1874 [CAYC CH784/1]
Little River Marriage Notice Book 1918-1937 [CAYC CH784/4]
Ellesmere Marriage Notice Book 1871-1876 [CAYC CH784/5]
Cust Registrar of Births, Deaths & Marriages
Registers of Intention to Marry 1878-1969 [CAHP CH14/251-254]
Rangiora Magistrate’s Court
Registers of Intentions to Marry 1861-1956 [CAHP CH14/95-118]
Timaru Supreme/High Court
Timaru Marriage Notice Books 1859-1956 [CAHY CH24/293-355]
Mt Cook/Fairlie Marriage Notice Books 1875-1956 [CAHY CH648/25-31]
Pleasant Point Marriage Notice Books 1897-1956 [CAHY CH648/32-36]
Waimate Marriage Notice Books 1869-1990 [CAHY CH648/1-24]
Waimangaroa Magistrate’s Court
Marriage Notice Books 1894-1964 [CAIS CH62/142-145]
There are many records in our Wellington archive which include information on death.
Death registers which come from quite small places ranging from Ahaura to Whangaruru.
Early Church of England Registers of Deaths (1821-), for the Bay of Islands and Kāpiti-Manawatu areas. Microfilm copies should be viewed. [ADFD; MICRO 2792-2794]
Coroners’ inquest reports and probate records provide more useful information relating to deaths. Coronial files for the whole of New Zealand are all held in our Wellington archive, but probate records could be held in our Dunedin, Christchurch or Auckland archive depending on where the person’s will was probated.
We hold records (indexes, registers and files) of all surviving coroners’ inquests for the whole of New Zealand from about 1840 to 2000. Records are not complete, especially before 1870, and later there may be gaps.
Most deaths did not generate a coroner’s inquest. Such an inquiry was normally held in cases of sudden death, where the cause was not immediately clear, or there was suspicion of foul play. Drownings were often not investigated by a coroner.
Coronial files usually include statements by witnesses, legal and official documentation, and the coroner’s verdict about the cause of death.
The clearest indication that a coroner’s inquest was held into a death is the comment “Verdict by Jury” or “Coroner’s Verdict” on a death certificate. Death records are held by the Central Registry of Births, Deaths and Marriages of the Department of Internal Affairs. Death certificates may be obtained, at a cost, from that institution.
All coroners’ inquest reports 1844 - 2000 are indexed by the person's name on Collections search, and the lists of those from 1844-1975 also include the name of the place the inquest took place.
The indexes and registers described hereafter are thus not as crucial a search tool as they used to be, but are valuable for searches when a person's name is unknown or misspelled, or if you are interested in topics such as mortality patterns, disasters, epidemics etc.
Early coroners' records 1840s-1880s
Early coroners’ inquest records are erratic, especially before the Justice Department took responsibility for coroners after the Coroners Act 1858. This replaced an Ordinance of 1846.
The first coroners’ register/index book [ACGS 16233 J 48/1], held in the Wellington Register Room, lists some coroners’ inquests from returns sent to the Colonial Secretary by regional coroners. Included are incomplete entries for:
Nelson 1844-1845, 1848-1853
Otago 1851-1864, 1868-1869
Auckland 1854-1857, 1862 [ACGS 16233 J 48/1]
These files may be found in boxes of the Justice Department coronial files, and can be searched for by name on Collections search.
Other early coronial files may be found under the Department of Internal Affairs [IA], New Munster records [NM], in Provincial Government records, or in Justice Department correspondence files.
The Department of Internal Affairs had responsibility for coroners’ inquests 1841-1858. Departmental registers for that period give names for some coroners’ inquests, especially for the years 1848-1853. [ACGO 8335 IA 3/2/2-7]
The files are located in Internal Affairs correspondence files. [ACGO 8333 IA 1]
Coronial files for 1858-1888 can be accessed through Justice Department indexes. The lists of coroners’ inquests are to be found in a variety of places in the different index volumes. [ACGS 16134 J 3/1-10]
The files are located in Justice Department correspondence. [ACGS 16211 J 1]
Ngaruawahia coroner's inquests 1874-1877 (printout) (indexed) [BACZ A765/7]
Coroners' records 1888-1975
Our Wellington archive holds a variety of indexes and registers in the Register Room which provide a reference or file number for a Coronial File. A file number is usually in the form: J 46 year/number. The indexes and registers are:
Coroners registers/indexes [ACGS 16233 J 48/1-21]
These books give a complete alphabetical record from the volume for 1901-1915 [J 48/2] to that for 1975 [J 48/18]. Under each letter the entries are in roughly chronological order, not in alphabetical order. As outlined above, the first register [J 48/1] has only incomplete provincial listings for 1844-69.
Coroners record/register Books [ACGS 16232 J 47/1-14]
These volumes, mostly indexed at the front, give almost complete entries by number (roughly chronological) for 1873-1975. However, the Register Book for 1888-1905 [ACGS 16232 J 47/3] is not available, for preservation reasons, and entries for that period may be accessed through MICRO 3439.
Access to coroners’ indexes and registers is open, but access to coronial files is restricted for 50 years from the date of death, for files from 1962 onward. Access to restricted files may be obtained from:
Coronial Services Unit, Specialist Courts
Coronial Files 1888-1938 have been microfilmed and are available in our Wellington archive. [MICRO 5388-5592]
The Justice Department destroyed most coronial files 1963-1975, but they are held on microfilm. A few originals, especially from 1971, are also held. The indexes or registers (see previous page) should be searched first to locate an Inquest file reference and the corresponding microfilms are listed in Collections search [ACGS 16231 J 46 W2848]. However, the microfilms [MICRO 4907-5018] are held in cold storage and they belong to the restricted period, so they are not accessible.
Duplicate copies from the Wellington District Court of many coronial files 1963-1971 and some R-files 1972-1975 (see below) [AAAU 870 W3132/1-64], are also held. These are listed individually on Collections search.
Please note the Access Restriction.
- Coroners' records 1975-2000
Non-inquest death records
New Zealand Company
Deaths of New Zealand Company settlers were reported to the company. The names are in the General Biographical Index in our Wellington Reading Room, with references. [Bio 1]
Deaths on immigrant ships are usually recorded in Ship Passenger Lists or in Ship’s Papers, if they exist. (see Research Guide: Migration.)
Stillborn etc 1935-1954
R files (Inquest started but not carried through)
For some deaths evidence was gathered but no Inquest followed. From 1952 these files were recorded as ‘R files’ in the coroners’ indexes. Most have been destroyed; those which survive usually contain only the post mortem report and the coroner’s order for burial.
1952-1960s J 46 Year/R number. Use Indexes [ACGS 16233 J 48] to find reference number
1974-1977 [AAAR W3605/1-13] R50
Only the 1976 files (boxes 12-13) are searchable on Collections search, though the other boxes are listed.
Many drownings were not investigated by a coroner, particularly where no body was found, or the body was found and the circumstances of death were clear.
The AJHR (Appendices to the Journal of the House of Representatives) record most freshwater drownings 1840-1887, whether there was a Coroner’s Inquest or not. Lists were published in:
AJHR 1870 D-46 (lists 1115 people recorded as drowning 1840-1870.)
AJHR 1875 H-37 (30 June 1870 to 30 June 1875)
AJHR 1877 H-42 (30 June 1875 to 30 June 1877)
AJHR 1881 H-41 (1 July 1877 to 30 June 1881)
AJHR 1882 H-36 (1 July 1881 to 30 June 1882)
AJHR 1883 H-29 (1 July 1882 to 30 June 1883)
AJHR 1884 (session 2) H-22 (1 July 1883 to 30 June 1884)
AJHR 1885 H-39 (1 July 1884 to 30 June 1885)
AJHR 1888 H-27 (1 July 1885 to 30 June 1887)
The AJHR are available in the National Library, Wellington, and in other large collections, such as university libraries, as well as at Archives New Zealand.
A divorce, now dissolution, is the official termination of a marriage. Once a ‘Decree Absolute’, the final decree in the proceedings, has been granted, it becomes lawful for the respective parties to marry again as if the prior marriage had been ended by death.
We hold divorce registers and files which have been transferred by Supreme/High Courts. Each of our archives holds the registers and files of its region, though not all courts have transferred their records.
Other divorce registers held in Wellington were compiled by the Crown Law Office for the period 1868-1969. These include entries for divorces which are not found in the registers of regional Supreme Courts.
Divorce laws in New Zealand
The Supreme/High Court had exclusive jurisdiction in divorce proceedings from 1867 to 1980, under various acts and their successors.
Under the Divorce and Matrimonial Causes Act 1867 husbands could divorce their wives for proven adultery by the wife. Wives, however, had to prove both adultery and some other legally defined type of cruelty, or desertion, by the husband, to gain a divorce.
The Divorce Act 1898 allowed a husband or a wife to petition for divorce simply on the grounds of adultery, which could also lead to a judicial separation. The grounds for divorce were extended to include:
willfully deserting the petitioner without cause for five years
being a habitual drunkard for four years or more (with a failure to provide support or neglect of domestic duties)
cruelty (which could also lead to judicial separation)
attempted murder of the petitioning spouse or any of their children
the respondent was a lunatic or of unsound mind, confined in an institution for at least 10 years
the husband was guilty of incestuous adultery, rape, sodomy, or bestiality
one party had married twice
reasonable grounds for supposing the other party to the marriage was dead.
Over the years the grounds for divorce have been extended by various acts and waiting times reduced.
The Family Proceedings Act 1980 and the Family Court Act 1980 resulted in Divorce Proceedings coming under the jurisdiction of the Family Court in 1982 and the files were then called Family Proceedings Files.
Divorce records held in Auckland, Christchurch and Dunedin are all listed by the couples’ names on Collections search but many of those held in Wellington have not yet been indexed.
So if the record you are interested in is held in Wellington but not indexed by the person’s name on Collections search you need to know where and when the divorce happened to identify the correct Supreme/High Court. Then you will need to look at the relevant court register to get the divorce number. You need this number to locate the file.
It should not be assumed a divorce petition was filed in the same district as the couple lived before divorce.
Often one party moved away and started proceedings elsewhere.
Parties may have started proceedings in one court, not finalised them, then, after one party moved to another area, started again in another Court.
Divorce records can be difficult to locate for other reasons:
If the parties reconciled after the petition was filed, then the divorce proceedings stopped. If, later, they wished to terminate the marriage, then a new file was started under a new number.
Some parties commenced divorce proceedings more than once over a period of years. The husband may have been the petitioner the first time, but in the second file the wife may have been the petitioner and the husband the respondent.
Not everyone who filed a ‘petition for divorce’ (request to a Court for a divorce) actually completed divorce proceedings to the point of termination of marriage.
If the divorce occurred 1941-1981 you can get the number of the divorce file from the National Index of Divorces, held at the High Court in Wellington. Contact: Court Registry Officer 04 914 3600.
It is possible to verify if a couple were divorced, and where, by obtaining a copy of the marriage certificate. When a divorce is granted, a stamp is placed on the original certificate recording the date and court location of the Decree Absolute. Marriage records are held by the Central Registry of Births, Deaths and Marriages, Department of Internal Affairs.
What's in a divorce file?
Divorce files hold the legal documentation required for the granting of a divorce, including a copy of the ‘Decree Absolute’. The files may contain detailed information about the people involved, such as:
Full name of husband; occupation; current residence; place of birth
Full name of wife; maiden name; current residence; place of birth
Date of marriage; place & area of marriage; name of minister/registrar/celebrant
Copy of marriage certificate
Cause of divorce application and dates of events/incidents/behaviour
Name of co-respondent; occupation, current address
Names of Petitioner’s/Respondent’s/Co-respondent’s Solicitors
Full names of children of the marriage; ages of children at time of petition
Personal letters, postcards, or photographs submitted in evidence (occasional)
The divorce record you are seeking could be in any one of our four archives depending on the court it went through. Court records from the upper half of the North Island will be held in our Auckland archive, those from the lower half of the North Island and Marlborough and Nelson will be in our Wellington archive while Canterbury and the West Coast will be in Christchurch and Otago and Southland in Dunedin. The location of each record is included in its listing on Collections search.
Auckland Supreme Court
Divorce Registers 1867-1926 [BBAE 4446]
Divorce Registers 1927-1981 [BBAE 4447]
Divorce Files 1869-1926 [BBAE 4984]
Divorce Files 1927-1981 [BBAE 4985]
Divorce Minute Books 1869-1980 [BBAE 5636]
Gisborne Supreme Court
Divorce Registers 1888-1969 [BAJI 5809]
Divorce Registers 1970-1981 [BAJI 5808]
Divorce Files 1881-1969 [BAJI 5807]
Divorce Files 1970-1981 [BAJI 5810]
Hamilton Supreme Court
Divorce Registers 1910-1965 [BCDG 4150]
Divorce Registers 1965-1981 (photocopied index) [BCDG 4151]
Divorce Files 1910-1965 [BCDG 5153]
Divorce Files 1966-1981 [BCDG 5154]
Rotorua High Court
Whangarei Supreme Court
Crown Law Office
Divorce Registers 1868-1969 [ADOI 17018 CL 169/1-15]
Masterton High Court
Divorce Registers 1910-1981 [AAOF 22074 W5447/623-626]
Divorce Files 1910-1923 [AAOF 22071 W5447/235-238]
Divorce Files 1923-1951 [AAOF 22072 W5447/238-246]
Divorce Files 1952-1981 [AAOF 22073 W5447/235-238]
Napier Supreme/High Court
Divorce Registers 1869-1981 [AAOW 6047/1-17]
Divorce Papers (note not listed as files) 1886-1981 [AAOW W3846/403-691]
Registrar’s Minute Book under the Divorce & Matrimonial Cases Act 1867, 1869-1910 [AAOW W3244/312]
Nelson Supreme Court
Divorce & Matrimonial Court & Court of Appeal Minute Book 1872 [ADDU 16296 JC-N 1/5]
Divorce Case Files 1919-1981 (listed by person’s name) [AAOO 17997 W5444/1-97]
New Plymouth Supreme/High Court
Palmerston North Supreme Court
Divorce Registers 1904-1976 [AAOY 6376/1-14]
Divorce Files 1904-1977 [AAOY 21143 W3298/1-102]
Divorce Registers 1976-1981 [AAOY 6376 W5461/240-243]
Divorce Files 1977-1981 [AAOY 21143 W5461/244-295]
Wanganui Supreme/High Court
Divorce Registers 1894-1981[AAOG 6378/1-10]
Divorce Files 1894 - 164 [AAOG 27498]
Divorce Files 1948 - 1981 [AAOG 27499]
Wellington Supreme/High Court
Divorce Registers 1868-1981 [AAOM 6042/1-66]
Divorce Files 1869-1979 [AAOM 27175 W3265/1056-2270]
Divorce Files 1979 [AAOM 27175 W3550/114-129]
Divorce Files 1979-1981 (listed by name) [AAOM 27175 W4040/1-72]
Christchurch Supreme Court
Christchurch Divorce Files 1870-1981 [CAHX 3007]
Christchurch Divorce Registers 1870-1981 [CAHX 3004]
Christchurch Divorce Minute Books 1870-1911 [CAHX 3005]
Timaru Supreme Court
Timaru Divorce Files 1909-1981 [CAHY 20475]
Timaru Divorce Registers 1909-1981 [CAHY 26461]
Timaru Divorce Minute Books 1909-1962 [CAHY 26463]
Greymouth Supreme Court
Greymouth Divorce Files 1909-1981 [CAIF 12255]
Greymouth Divorce Registers 1909-1982 [CAIF 3430]
Greymouth Divorce Minute Book 1909-1911 [CAIF 3429]
Hokitika Supreme Court
Hokitika Divorce Files 1869-1952 [CAIF 12269]
Post-1952 Hokitika Divorce Files were filed among the Greymouth Divorce Files series [CAIF 12255]
Hokitika Divorce Proceedings Book 1869-1952 [CAIF 3431]
Westport Supreme Court
Westport Divorce Files 1909-1970 [CAIF 12260]
Post-1970 Westport Divorce Files were filed amongst the Greymouth Divorce Files series [CAIF 12255].
Westport Divorce Registers 1909-1975 [CAIF 3524]
Dunedin Supreme Court
Invercargill Supreme Court
From c.1981 divorce proceedings were heard in the District/Family Court and divorce files became domestic proceedings files. Domestic proceedings were later renamed family proceedings. Access to family proceedings files is restricted for 100 years from file closure. However individuals are entitled to a copy of their own dissolution of marriage, but need to have obtained a file number (FP or DP number) from the District/Family Court for the relevant file to be located.
Family proceedings records post 1981
From 1981 onwards ‘divorce’ was actioned in Family Courts, creating Family Proceedings Registers and Files. Most start in 1981 but some records held under those agencies date back to 1970.
None are listed by peoples' name, all are restricted access, and the groups of records are found through Collections search.
Any Family Court has access to a national index which can give a file number for the period after 1981. Our holdings are very incomplete but can go up to 1998 for some courts. The best way to search is by keyword being mindful that there are different naming conventions, so search domestic or family court and domestic or family proceedings on Collections search.
Access to Divorce Registers is open. Access to all Divorce Files is restricted for 100 years from file closure. For the restricted files, either of the couple involved can, on clear proof of identification, access a copy of the Decree Absolute and the Decree Nisi. Access to a whole restricted Divorce file requires the researcher (including either of the couple) to present a letter of permission from the appropriate court. There can be no publication of the names of individuals involved in divorces without permission from the relevant high court
Probate and other estate records
Probate files contain the documentation required for the granting of probate on a will, that is, for the legal administration of an estate after the death of a person.
The word ‘probate’ comes from a Latin word meaning ‘prove’. In the context of a will/estate, Probate refers to the proving of a person’s last will before a court.
We hold many probate registers and files. Each archive holds those for its region, except where Courts have retained their own records.
However, not everyone who left a will has a probate record. A will was probated if its value was above a certain level set by the government from time to time. As well, Public Trust administered wills go through the courts. A will not dealt with by the courts was administered privately by a solicitor/executor.
If a person died intestate (without making a will) there may be Letters of Administration for the estate in the Probate records.
Wills were usually probated, within a few months of death, in the Supreme/High Court nearest to where the deceased person lived, though sometimes there was a delay. Occasionally a will was probated in more than one court.
Up to about 1908 the old style District Courts also administered Probates, so their records and those of Supreme Courts may need to be searched.
Up to about 1950, all Public Trust wills from throughout the country were probated in the Wellington Supreme Court.
Wills of Māori could be probated through the Māori Land Court Te Kooti Whenua Māori (Head or District Offices). Others are in the records of Māori Affairs (Te Puni Kōkiri) or Māori Trustee Te Tumu Paeroa (Heador District Offices). See ‘Deceased Estates’ [AAMK 869 (MA 1/11)] for example.
Probates are listed by name in Collections search.
Most probate records contain a variety of documents concerning: establishing the identity of the deceased, executors, and the processing of probate.
The documents may include the following information:
Name of testator (the person who made the will) or intestate person, place of residence, occupation, exact date of death, death certificate.
The person’s last will, name/s of beneficiaries, their relation to the deceased, the bequest to each.
Dates probate was filed and authorised, executors named in the will and confirmed by the court. If for some reason there was no executor to the will, then the court could appoint an administrator.
Net value of property, and other details relating to the estate left.
Name/s of solicitor.
Details of payment of duty (tax).
In the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries some smaller centres, such as Ashburton, Stratford and Hāwera, registered their own probates, but later these were registered in the court of a larger centre, such as Tīmaru or New Plymouth.
Our probate files have been digitised as part of a joint project between Archives New Zealand and FamilySearch. All probate files over 50 years old can be accessed online, free of charge, for searching, viewing, and printing, via the FamilySearch website. You do not need a FamilySearch account to access these.
Other estate records
Early Intestate Estates
Financial details of some early Intestate Estates were published in the New Zealand Gazettes, in the 1860s for example.
Registers of Various Duties Payable after Death
Some information on property and the settlement of an estate may be obtained from Inland Revenue Department registers which record various duties payable after death.
Under the Stamp Duties Act 1866, and later acts, the estates of deceased persons had to bear three types of duty: succession, legacy and residuary. The registers record the duty paid and provide detailed information about deceased persons, including the exact date of death and details of the beneficiaries.
Not all registers are indexed
Access to these registers is restricted from 1921
Holdings of these records are listed with Probates
Native Succession Orders
Inland Revenue Department archives include Native Succession Order Registers 1911-1964 [AAEC 659/1-20]. When a Māori person died, successors or inheritors did not pay death duty, but a succession duty, payment of which was recorded in these registers, held in our Wellington archive.
Most registers include nominal indexes, and indexes have been created for those (1920-1926 [AAEC 658/1-2]) which do not have their own. However, access to all records from 1921 onward is restricted.
Prior to 1904 all probates for the greater Auckland region went through the Auckland Supreme Court. Gradually other courts were established. Probates from other areas then went through the local Supreme Courts, though for a few years after establishment a probate could be processed in either the Auckland or the local Supreme Court. Records for more than one court may need to be checked.
Up to about 1950, all Public Trust wills were probated in the Wellington Supreme Court.
The probate record you are seeking could be in any one of our four archives depending on the court it went through. Court records from the upper half of the North Island will be held in our Auckland archive, those from the lower half of the North Island and Marlborough and Nelson will be in our Wellington archive while Canterbury and the West Coast will be in Christchurch and Otago and Southland in Dunedin. The location of each record is included in its listing on our collections search tool.
Auckland Supreme Court
All probate files held in Auckland are listed by name in Collections search.
Probate Registers 1845-1886 [BBAE 1592]
Probate Registers 1887-1926 [BBAE 4107]
Probate Registers 1927-1985 [BBAE 4108]
Probate Indexes 1968-1976 [BBAE 4641]
Probate Files 1845-1886 [BBAE 1568]
Probate Files 1887-1926 [BBAE 1569]
Probate Files 1927-1984 [BBAE 1570]
Probate Files 1985-2002 [BAZZ 1570]
Unregistered Probate Files 1869-1912 [BBAE 1589]
Recordbook (Wills, Probates & Letters of Administration) 1848-1883 [BBAE 4560]
Recordbook (Letters of Administration) 1865-1901 [BBAE 4562]
Recordbook (Letters of Administration, Wills) 1879-1901 [BBAE 4563]
Recordbook (Probates) 1865-1901 [BBAE 4564]
Receiver of Intestate Estates 1842-1867 [BBAE 1952]
Intestate Orders to Pay 1842-1864 [BBAE 1590]
Register Letters of Administration 1845-1886 (indexed) [BBAE 1588]
Estate Duty Index 1921-1973 (for NZ) [BBAE 4283]
Intestate Files 1849-1886 [BBAE 1587]
Legacy Duty Registers 1867-1876 [BBCB 4209]
Testamentary Registers 1876-1921 (photocopied index) [BBCB 4208]
Trustee Files 1856-1920 [BBAE 5523]
Auckland Succession Registers 1867-1876 [BBCB 4210]
District Court Waikato & Thames - Hamilton
Hamilton Supreme Court
Probate Registers 1904-1909 [BCDG 4422]
Probate Registers 1910-1954 [BCDG 4423]
Probate Registers 1954-1998 [BCDG 4424]
Probate Files 1910-1953 [BCDG 4420]
Probate Files 1954-2006 [BCDG 4421]
Gisborne Supreme Court
Probate Registers 1879-1973 [BAJI 1602]
Probate Files 1879-196 [BAJI 1594]
Probate Files 1970-1998 [BAJI 1595]
Probate Files 1974-1991 [BAJI 1595/26-212]
Rotorua Supreme Court
Probate Files 1973-2006 [BAZY 4992]
Whangarei Supreme Court
Probate Files 1937-1938 [BBNY 10441]
Probate Files 1939-1959 [BBNY 10297]
Probate Files 1960-1994 [BBNY 10440]
Blenheim/Marborough Supreme Courts
Probate files (numeric) 1876-1972 [ADBY 17543 (Boxes 1-106)]
Probate files (alphabetical) 1973-1990 [ADBY 17544 Boxes 107-160)]
Testamentary Registers 1876-1983 [AASK 7748 W5078/1-6]
Hawera Magistrates Court (see also Taranaki District Court)
Wills of Public Trust 1895-1908 [ABIB W3865/289]
Inland Revenue Department Head Office, Wellington
Colonial Registers, Residuary Duty 1867-1876 [AAEC 613/1-2]
Colonial Registers, Legacy Duty 1867-1878 [AAEC 615/1-2]
Colonial Registers, Succession Duty 1867-1876 [AAEC 616/1-2]
Wellington Legacy Duty Registers 1867-1876 [AAEC 660/1-2]
Wellington Residuary Duty Register 1867-1876 [AAEC 661/1]
Wellington Succession Duty Registers 1867-1876 [AAEC 662/1-2]
Wellington District Testamentary Registers 1876-1962 [AAEC 611/1-36]
Head Office Duplicate Testamentary Registers 1876-1962 [AAEC 638] (links to first volume in each regional sequence below)
Auckland 1876-1962 [AAEC 638/1-37]
Blenheim 1877-1915 [AAEC 638/38-39]
Canterbury 1876-1962 [AAEC 638/40-71]
Hamilton 1953-1962 [AAEC 638/72-73]
Napier/Hawkes Bay 1876-1962 [AAEC 638/74-82]
Marlborough 1916-1962 [AAEC 638/83-85]
Masterton 1953-1962 [AAEC 638/86]
Nelson 1876-1962 [AAEC 638/87-93]
Dunedin/Otago 1876-1962 [AAEC 638/94-119]
Palmerston North 1950-1962 [AAEC 638/120-121]
Gisborne/Poverty Bay 1898-1962 [AAEC 638/122-125]
Invercargill/Southland 1876-1962 [AAEC 638/126-136]
New Plymouth/Taranaki 1876-1962 [AAEC 638/136-144]
Tauranga 1953-1962 [AAEC 638/145]
Timaru 1953-1962 [AAEC 638/146]
Whangarei 1953-1962 [AAEC 638/192]
Wanganui 1950-1962 [AAEC 638/147-148]
Wellington 1876-1962 [AAEC 638/149-184]
Westland 1876-1962 [AAEC 638/185-191]
Whangarei 1953-1962 [AAEC 638/192]
Masterton Supreme Court
Probate files (1st sequence) 1892-1904 [AAOF 18575]
Probate files (2nd sequence) 1919-1923 [AAOF 18576]
Probate files (3rd sequence) 1924-1946 [AAOF 18577]
Probate files (4th sequence) 1947-1992 [AAOF 18578]
Napier Supreme Court
Probate Registers 1862-1993 (1862-1927 Microfilm 6336-6337 [AAOW 6028/1-28]
Wills 1879-1886 [AAOW W3244/311]
Probate files (1st sequence) 1862-1919 [AAOW 22760]
Probate files 1919-1923 (2nd sequence) [AAOW 22774]
Probate files (3rd sequence)1923-1959 [AAOW 22775]
Probate files (4th sequence)1959-1967 [AAOW 22776]
Probate files (5th sequence) 1967-1993 [AAOW 18573]
Nelson Supreme Court
Probate files 1849-1907 [AAOO 17070/1-28]
Probate files 1891-1968 [AAOO 17072/29-177]
Probate Files 1969-1991 [AAOO 17073/179-325]
New Plymouth Supreme Court
Probate Registers 1881-1981 [ABAJ 6478/1-21]
Probate Files 1867- 1981 [ABAJ 21954 W4079/5-184]
Stratford & Hawera Probates (numbered separately 1880-1909) Link to 1st box only [ABAJ 21954 W4079/1-4]
Index to Stratford & Hawera Probates 1880-1909 [ABAJ 21956 W4079/331]
Palmerston North Supreme Court
Probate Registers 1904-1977 [AAOY 6040/1-19]
Probate Registers 1904-1927 [MICRO 6337-6338]
Probate Registers 1977-1994[AAOY 6040 W5461/1-11]
Probate Files (1st sequence) 1879-1928 [AAOY 21253]
Probate Files (2nd sequence) c1868-1994 [AAOY 21078]
Patea Magistrates Court
Probate Admin 1875-1888 [ABIB 26677/44]
Taranaki District Court, Hawera
Wanganui Supreme Court
Probate Registers 1887-1979 [AAOG 6377/1-12]
Probate Registers to 1932 [MICRO 6328-6329]
Probate Files (1st sequence) 1859-1886 [AAOG 23647]
Probate Files (2nd sequence) 1887-1908 [AAOG 23649]
Probate Files (3rd sequence) 1893-1979[AAOG 23650]
Wellington Supreme Court
Probate Registers 1843-1999 [AAOM 6027]
Probate Registers 1843-1926 [MICRO 6329-6336]
Probate Files (1st sequence) 1843-1939 [AAOM 6029
Probate Files (2nd sequence) 1940-1946 [AAOM 6030]
Probate Files 1947-2003 (3rd sequence) [AAOM 6031]
Unregistered Probates 1855-1900 [AAOM 6049]
Wellington Supreme Court/Department of Justice
Agency Probate Registers 1913-1952 [AAAR W3558/692]
Christchurch Supreme/High Court
Timaru Supreme/High Court
Timaru Probate Files 1871-2000 [CAHY 3155]
Please note that this series includes Oamaru probate files from 1973 onwards, and Ashburton probate files from 1891 to 1909. Pre-1973 Oamaru probates were filed at the Dunedin Supreme Court; post-1909 Ashburton probates were filed among the Christchurch probate files [CAHX 2989]
Greymouth Supreme/High Court
Greymouth Probate Files 1868-1996 [CAIF 3387]
Hokitika Supreme Court
Hokitika Probate Files 1865-1953* [CAIF 20702]
Reefton Probate Files 1876-1909* [CAIF 20703]
Westport Supreme Court
Westport Probate Files 1875-1970* [CAIF 20704]
*Please note that the Greymouth Supreme/High Court took over the functions of these courts over the years, so Hokitika, Reefton and Westport probate files post-dating these date ranges can be found filed amongst the Greymouth probate files [CAIF 3387].
Death Duty Registers
Our Christchurch archive holds the following registers from the Stamp Duties Department and its successor, the Inland Revenue Department. Please note that access to Testamentary Registers and Native Succession Order Registers dated after 1921 is restricted. Written permission to view restricted registers must be obtained from Inland Revenue.
The following links are to the first volume in each sequence only. Subsequent volumes must be searched separately.
Succession, Legacy, and Residuary Duty Registers 1867-1876 [CATS CH291/1-3]
West Coast Testamentary Registers 1876-1983 [CAUU CH383/1-8]
Native Succession Order Registers 1911-1956 [CATS CH291/22-25]
All New Zealand Estates Index 1921-1962 [CATS CH515/21-29]
New Zealand Estates Index 1963-1973 [CATS CH515/30-34]
Dunedin Supreme Court (includes Oamaru to 31 March 1973)
Indexes to Case Files c1863-1907 [DAAC 9318] for Lawrence, Naseby, Oamaru, Queenstown & Dunedin
We hold Divorce Registers and files which have been transferred by Supreme/High Courts. Each of our archives holds the registers and files of its region, though not all courts have transferred their records.
Crown Law Records
Other Divorce Registers held in Wellington were compiled by the Crown Law Office for the period 1868-1969. These include entries for divorces which are not found in the registers of regional Supreme Courts.
Invercargill High Court
Lawrence Magistrates Court
Probate Index c1876-c1909 [DAAC 9319]
Naseby Magistrates Court
Oamaru Magistrates Court
See also Dunedin Supreme Court to 31 March 1973 and Timaru Supreme Court (Christchurch archive) from 1 April 1973.
Queenstown Magistrates Court
Stamp Duties Department/Inland Revenue Department
Succession Duty Registers 1867-1926 [DAGI 9008]
Legacy Duty Registers 1867-1913 [DAGI 9007]
Testamentary Registers 1876-1983 [DAGI 9010]
Testamentary Decisions 1911-1921 [DAGI 9011]
Western Otago District Court
Probates & Letters of Administration 1872-1907 [DAFG 9071]
Other family history records
Access to adoption records is restricted. Furthermore, the adoption records held by us (see Child Welfare) are only a small proportion of all adoption records. Most records are held by the Central Registry of Births, Deaths & Marriages. Researchers are advised to work through the Adoption Information and Services Unit of Oranga Tamariki.
Change of name - aliens
We hold many records of aliens in New Zealand. Alien index cards and files can give basic life data. See Research Guide: Citizenship.
Change of name - deed poll
Many people have changed their names in New Zealand, possibly to hide their past, perhaps to merge into the largely British community. In the 19th century taking on a new name, perhaps just simplified spelling, was common, often without any formal or legal change.
A Deed Poll is a formal record of change of name. Up to 31 March 1954 a deed poll to change a name was entered in a Supreme Court register, usually a Miscellaneous Register or sometimes, earlier, an Agency Register, which may be held by us.
A researcher needs to identify the court where the change of name was made, and look for an entry and file number in the appropriate registers. The file might still exist in court records. Court records are held regionally in our four archives.
A few changes of name before 1920 are listed in Collections search. Others are listed in Internal Affairs Indexes under ‘Name, Change of’. There is also one incomplete alphabetical list, of changes both to and from, in the Internal Affairs Index 1913-1932. [ACGO 8335 3/3/29 R21909276 pp208-209]
Registers of name changes from 1 April 1954 are held at the Central Registry of Births, Deaths and Marriages of the Department of Internal Affairs. Most of the files to which these registers refer are held in our Wellington archive.
Deed Poll Applications 1981-1984 R100 from date of name change Listed only as “deed poll applications” on Collections search so file number needed from BDM before an individual record can be located [ABIY 23864 W4469/1-78]
The most comprehensive collection of Electoral Rolls is held in the Family History Collection at the National Library in Wellington on microfiche. Researchers are advised to consult that record.
We do not hold a full set of Electoral Rolls. Some are held in hard copy and some on Microfilm, but not all are available to researchers. The available holdings are:
Our Wellington archive holds Microfilms of Electoral Rolls for the period 1893-1935. These are available in the reading room. [MICRO 3351-3433]
We hold only a few early Electoral Rolls in hard copy, mostly of the Wellington area [ADOR 17133]
1866-1878 (some electorates)
1879-1880 (most electorates)
1903-1905 (Wellington electorates only)
1908 (Wellington electorates only)
1911 (Wellington electorates only)
1931-1941 (Wellington electorates only)
1946-1947 (Wellington electorates only)
1949 (mostly Wellington electorates)
1953-1975 (mostly Wellington electorates)
1978-1985 (Electoral Rolls covering the whole of New Zealand)
Current Electoral Rolls are held in the Wellington Reading Room.
We hold many records of naturalisation in New Zealand. Later naturalisation files in particular may give life data. See Research Guide: Citizenship.
In Wellington we hold a considerable number of telephone books from throughout New Zealand. [AAMF 7580 W3327]
These telephone books originated in the Post Office/Telecom Museum. In some places the telephone books begin as early as 1909 and they all continue through to 1988. The early books do not usually list exact street addresses.
Telephone books held in Wellington are:
Hamilton (see also Waikato) 1916-1965
Hawkes Bay/Napier & Hastings 1912-1988
Manawatu/Palmerston North & Feilding 1909-1988
Marlborough/Blenheim & district 1934-1988
Northland/North Auckland/Whangarei 1925-1988
Oamaru, & district (see also Tīmaru) 1934-1964
Rotorua, & district/Bay of Plenty 1927-1988
Taranaki/New Plymouth 1917-1988
Taumarunui (see also Waikato etc) 1927-1965
Tīmaru/Oamaru, & districts 1922-1933, 1965-1988
Thames/Bay of Plenty 1925-1933
Thames, & district 1933-1965
Waikato, King Country & Thames Valley 1967-1988
Wanganui, & district 1909-1988
West Coast & Buller districts/Greymouth & Westport 1926-1988
Not all records which give basic life data are held here.
Births, Deaths and Marriages
Most Births, Deaths and Marriages records are held by the Central Registry of Births, Deaths and Marriages, Department of Internal Affairs. See address under the "Births, deaths and marriages" heading.
Local bodies have responsibility for cemeteries. Our Wellington archive holds only a few plans of Māori burial ground reserves [MA 16036 1/21] (do a record search for this series and use burial as a keyword) and there may be the occasional cemetery plan in Lands & Survey Department records
Military Personnel Files
Military Service personnel files can provide much life data. They exist from the Anglo-Boer War 1899-1902. Our Wellington archive holds files which were closed before the end of 1920. These include most First World War files. See Research Guide: World War One.
The New Zealand Defence Force holds later Military Service personnel files, including those from the Second World War. Contact details are:
New Zealand Defence Force
Private Bag 905 Upper Hutt
Phone: 04 527 5280
Fax: 04 527 5288/527 5275
Last updated on 12 May 2022