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What archives are

Government agencies create a huge volume of records as they go about their business – each day, they produce documents, data, correspondence and more. When an agency has finished using a record, it’s assessed to understand whether it has long-term value. If it does, it’s transferred to us and becomes an archive.

We hold archives that date from around 1840 to the recent past. They come in a wide range of formats, from written documents to photographs, moving images and sound.

Types of archive we hold

The archives you can find in our holdings include:

  • immigration and citizenship files  

  • court records, including divorce and bankruptcy files and probated wills

  • records from Māori Land Courts and Boards, like minute books, alienation and confiscation files

  • coroners’ inquests into deaths     

  • land registrations, crown land administration and early survey plans

  • maps and plans for public works like railways and post offices

  • school archives

  • health, mental health and welfare records

  • police and prisons records

  • mining records

  • politicians’ papers

  • artworks, including the National Collection of War Art and school journal illustrations

  • films created by the National Film Unit

  • other types of public record.

What we don’t have

We only have 3-4% of all records ever created by the New Zealand government. Most records haven’t been kept, because they:

  • weren’t believed to be valuable

  • have been lost or damaged by disaster or human error.

We don’t have records that are still being used by government agencies. If you want to see a document that’s still in use, you’ll need to contact the agency that holds it.

Types of record we don’t keep

Public archives keep different types of document to libraries or collecting archives. The table shows some things we don’t have, and where you can look for them.

We have a very small number of some types of record, including:

  • the passport applications of fewer than 100 well-known New Zealanders

  • personnel files of soldiers who served in World War Two or later conflicts – we only have these for soldiers who also served in World War One.

Where to view records

We keep our records in four archives around the country – Auckland, Wellington, Christchurch and Dunedin. If you:

  • need information about a record – it’s best to contact the archive that holds it 

  • want to view a record in person – you’ll need to visit the archive that holds it.

Online records

Our digitisation team Te Maeatanga is working to make our holdings available online. You can view hundreds of thousands of digitised records in Collections search.

If you want a digital version of a record we haven’t reached yet, you can pay to bump the item to the top of our queue.

Learn how to get an archive digitised

Find record locations

The easiest way to check where a record is kept is to find it in Collections search. An item’s location displays on the search results page.

Most records are kept in the archive closest to the place they were created. For example, you can view records about Westland gold mining in Christchurch, while most central government records are in Wellington.

Some of our centres also have extra holdings, on top of the archives for their region – find details of these in the lists below.

Search for records

Special holdings in each archive

Find out more about what we have

We can help if you need more information about the types of record we keep.

Ask an archivist about what we have