Introduction

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:

Central Registry

Births, Deaths and Marriages PO Box 10 526

Wellington 6143

Wellington Counter: Archives New Zealand Ground Floor

10 Mulgrave St Wellington 6144

Phone (in NZ): 0800 22 52 52

Phone (international): 64 4 474 8150

Email: bdm.nz@dia.govt.nz

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.

Marriage holdings

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]

Death holdings

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.

Divorce

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.

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.

Other family history records