Me pēhea te rangahau i ngā pūranga kōrero
How to research archives
Tips to help you discover archives that are relevant to your topic, find them in Collections search, and understand archives that are hard to read – as well as links to useful research resources.
Identifying and finding archives on your topic
Archival research is different to other kinds. If you haven’t done it before, it can be hard to know what types of record exist, and which will be relevant to your topic.
What’s different about archives
Many people are used using library catalogues or online journals to do research. In this kind of research, you often:
find information in secondary sources like books and articles
discover these sources by searching for keywords and phrases related to your topic, like “Māori land court” or “whenua”.
Archives are primary sources . Unlike books or articles, they aren’t created to shed light on a subject, but as documents to be used in people’s lives and work. This affects the way archives are named and organised – and means you need to search for them in different ways. Use these tips to get started.
1. Search for government agencies and types of record
are not organised by topic, but by the government department or public institution that created them
don’t usually contain the names of people they relate to in their titles and other data – though there are some exceptions.
This means that searching for topic keywords or the name of a person you’re interested in won’t always find the most relevant archives.
Instead, search for:
the government departments or public agencies your subject might have interacted with
records these interactions could have created.
The table gives examples of the records you might use to find information about an ancestor.
|Ancestor's life event||Public agency||Record|
|Went to Clyde Quay School||Department of Education||Registers of School Admission, Progress and Withdrawal|
|Served in World War One||New Zealand Defence Force||Military Personnel File|
|Trained as a lawyer||University of New Zealand||Law degree results, 1839 - 1937|
|Worked at the Reserve Bank||Reserve Bank of New Zealand||Attendance books|
|Bought land in Masterton||Land Information New Zealand||Nominal Indexes to Deeds|
|Spent time in Porirua Mental Hospital||Department of Health, Mental Health Division||Index of Patients|
2. Use books, articles and our research guides
Books and articles can show you which archives other researchers have used to learn about your topic. Look in their bibliographies and source lists.
Our research guides are another good place to start. They can help you learn which of our archives may contain information about:
an ancestor’s life
your whānau, hapū, iwi or whenua
a piece of land
events in your life, like immigration to Aotearoa New Zealand, a stay in state care, or a divorce
3. Use the language of your sources to search
Our records still have the same titles they did when they were created. This means:
some records use dated language, like “lunatic asylum” instead of “psychiatric hospital”
Māori names are often spelled incorrectly, and very few records use macrons
some spellings have changed over time
a person’s name might be entered using initials or an alias.
You’ll get better results if you bear these differences in mind when you search for records. Use the words your sources use and try different spellings.
Ngai Tahu/Kai Tahu/Ngaitahu/Kaitahu
hauhau/hauhaus /hau haus/hau hau
Visit Collections search to get started
Ordering and viewing records
Some of our records have been digitised, so you can view them online. If you need to see a record that isn’t online, you can either:
pay for it to be digitised
view it in the reading room at the archive it’s kept in.
Reading and understanding archives
Many archives are written by hand and use shorthand and abbreviations. This can make them difficult to read. If you’re finding it hard to read a record, try:
taking a photo you can enlarge or zoom in on
asking an archivist for help
using an online resource that explains how to read historic handwriting.
Copyright and citation
Most of the material in our holdings is protected by Crown Copyright. If you want to publish or publicly exhibit work that includes copies of our archives, you usually need to get our permission first.
You also need to make sure you cite any archives you use.
These websites and organisations may help with your research.
New Zealand history, arts and texts
Discover over 30 million digitised items from Aotearoa New Zealand – including videos, newspapers, maps, photos and artworks.
NZ on screen
Watch hundreds of New Zealand films, and see interviews with directors, actors and comedians.
Ngā Taonga Sound & Vision
Aotearoa New Zealand’s audiovisual archive has hundreds of thousands of films and recordings available to watch or listen to online.
Digitised versions of New Zealand and Pacific newspapers, magazines and books from the 19th and 20th centuries.
New Zealand Electronic Text Collection
See digitised versions of Victoria University of Wellington Library's collections of New Zealand and Pacific Island texts and materials.
New Zealand Audio Foundation
Browse this charity website for exhibitions, interviews and oral histories related to music and sound art in Aotearoa New Zealand.
28th Māori Battalion
Information about soldiers who served in the 28th Māori Battalion in the Second World War.
The site has a searchable list of records of over 6300 Māori and Pacific Island soldiers who served in the First and Second World Wars.
Māori Land Court Minute Books Index
A searchable index of names, iwi, hapū and land blocks included in the Māori Land Court Minute Books from 1865 - 1910.
A collaborative project between libraries, museums and research institutions at the top of the South Island to collect stories and information about the region.
National Oral History Association of New Zealand
Resources and guidance if you’re working on an oral history project, plus events and opportunities for online training.
New Zealand History
Articles about people, places and events in the history of Aotearoa New Zealand from the Ministry of Culture and Heritage.
A global site where you can search for genealogy information and archives – with links to digitised items in our holdings.
Birth, Death and Marriage Historical Records
Search and order records of births, deaths and marriages in Aotearoa New Zealand.
Background information and academic works
This online encyclopedia has fact-checked articles on thousands of topics. It’s a good place to begin if you’re researching something new.
Find and read articles, theses and reports from New Zealand universities and other research organisations.
Access millions of free books, papers, movies and more.
Find books, articles and other research resources in libraries all over the world.
If you’re a student, you can ask a librarian a question about your research.
Other archives, libraries and museums
Directory of community archives
Locations, websites and contact information of all organisations across New Zealand that hold archival information.
National Library of New Zealand
Access millions of books, electronic resources and other taonga at Aotearoa New Zealand’s national library.
National Library of Australia
Search for library items and access stories, blogs and research tips.
The Maritime Museum
Find online resources and exhibition details and learn about the history of seagoing in Aotearoa New Zealand. Use the Maritime Index to search for information about vessels, organisations, subjects and people.
New Zealand government websites
Births, Deaths & Marriages Online
Search and order government records for births, deaths and marriages in Aotearoa New Zealand – Archives New Zealand doesn’t keep these records.
Other New Zealand government websites
Sometimes you’ll need to get permission from another government agency to view a restricted record.