Your ancestors in New Zealnd

The land of the long, white cloud


New Zealand is a place many in the UK know of, even if they haven’t visited. This is probably because of the connection New Zealand has with the United Kingdom. How can you research your Kiwi ancestors and what records are available?

In 1841 New Zealand became the latest colony of the British Empire. One hundred and six years later it gained independence, however Queen Elizabeth II is still the head of state and many New Zealanders maintain an affection for the ‘mother country’. The indigenous population, the Māori, had a different experience of colonialism to that of their ‘neighbours’ the Aborigine in Australia. The treaty of Waitangi was signed in the Bay of Islands on 6 February 1840 with the declaration of British sovereignty on the 21 May 1840. However like Australia the Māori had been plagued by conflict with Europeans and introduced diseases for at least a century before this.

Many British people can claim a link with their family tree and New Zealand (and vice versa) through immigration/emigration (I always get the two words muddled)! Immigration = entering a foreign country to live, Emigration = leaving a country to live in another.

Of course, all New Zealand inhabitants without Māori ancestry must have ancestors who migrated to the country. How can you start to trace your New Zealand ancestors?


Background to immigration

Modern New Zealand history arguably starts in 1840, although this is disputed and doesn’t recognise the history of the country, immigration (which started 1,000 years before this) and its people in the centuries before. For the purposes of this article we’ll use 1840 as a starting point.

In 1840 there were around 70,000 Māori in the country and 2,000 European. By 1858 these numbers had been reversed (mainly by the influx of British and Irish Immigration) with 59,000 European and 56,000 Māori. In 1896 whilst the Māori population had reached its lowest (42,000) the European population had soared to 701,000. Today the total population of the Country stands at 4,882,000 (June 2018 estimate).

So you can see the significant effect of immigration on New Zealand and the reason we (in the UK) would be interested in New Zealand from a family history / genealogy point of view.

Immigration was encouraged into New Zealand through legislation (that largely favoured white, European settlers) and attracted farm labourers, agriculturalists, craftsmen and domestic servants. Being a British colony most settlers came from Britain and Ireland.

Why did people emigrate to New Zealand?

Due to the reasons highlighted above (work) but also due to clever advertising. Assisted migration was available via private organisations and the government. The New Zealand Company was a private company which attracted around 20,000 people to settle. Local and provincial governments also did their part by sponsoring immigration with offers of free passage or free land. Religious organisations (such as the Anglican experiment) got involved and encouraged people to travel and settle. However New Zealand is a beautiful and prosperous country and the clever advertising picked up on this; many migrants travelled unassisted as a result.


Immigration records

Most immigration records are held in Wellington, the capital of New Zealand. There are some records held in Auckland, Christchurch and Dunedin (regional offices of Archives New Zealand). Check out for extensive information on immigration records held:

  • Shipping Records
  • Immigration 1840-1880s
  • Immigration 1880s-1970s
  • Specific Group/Nationality Migrations
  • Emigration
  • Other Sources of Immigration Information

Records that survive are mostly those of assisted passage.

Birth, Marriage and Death (BMD) Records

These records are standardised and comprehensive from 1856, although the Government was involved in recording BMD from 1847. Before 1848 (like the UK) Church registers are the primary record. Registration has been compulsory for Pakeha; white New Zealanders (since 1847) and for Māori since 1911 (marriages) and 1913 (births & deaths).

Birth Registers have restricted access. Marriage and death registers are not as restricted. Searches of indexes can be made at: for:

  • Births that occurred at least 100 years ago
  • Stillbirths that occurred at least 50 years ago
  • Marriages that occurred 80 years ago
  • Deaths that occurred at least 50 years ago or the deceased’s date of birth was at least 80 years ago.


Other useful websites

Auckland Area Passenger Arrivals 1838-1889, 1909-1921


New Zealand Genealogy

New Zealand Genealogy related sites


New Zealand Society of Genealogists Inc


Research ancestors in other countries















The Netherlands

New Zealand

Northern Ireland








Sources for this blog:

  • Family Tree Magazine, article by Emily Manktelow


Robert Parker is a Genealogist and Trainer, based in Kent. He delivers courses, guidance, talks and research services for those interested in tracing their ancestors. See for his 5 steps to discovering your ancestors. Contact Robert to discuss your requirements without obligation.

What stories might your ancestors tell?

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