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South Island | New Zealand | Family History SearchGuest post by Jennifer Branje |

New Zealand became part of the British Empire in 1840. Migrant ships transported new residents from Britain & Europe, often via Australia. With migrant records often lost or unattainable, it's the small regional historical societies that may hold the answers to your family history. 

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“There’s gold in them there hills” was the catch cry of prospectors worldwide whenever gold was discovered.  It beats me how word spread so quickly about the gold discovery in Otago, but those who came were the foundation of our societies today.  

The Chinese arrived to eke out a miserly wage, dreaming of returning to their homeland laden in wealth, as did the British, Irish and Scots.

The work was arduous and often unrewarding. Living in ramshackle accommodation, fickle climate and poor nutrition contributed to many miners’ demise. The rose bushes growing wild along the Central Otago roadsides are remnants of Chinese plantings to ward off scurvy. A great source of vitamin C, the rosehips were cooked to supplement a poor diet.  Some moved on to other districts in search of better fortune. The West Coast, Clutha District and the Coromandel in New Zealand’s North Island were popular mining destinations. When the gold ran out, or was just too hard to mine, attentions turned to the vast coal seams of Southland and the West Coast. As more women arrived, family units ensued and the first generation of New Zealanders was born. Small towns grew along makeshift trails where gold was transported. Most of these small towns have settlers’ cemeteries that hold many answers to genealogical searches.

The journey to find my own ancestral roots and heritage has led me to some fantastic research tools. I am a fifth generation Kiwi. William Murray, the first of my forbearers to enter New Zealand arrived on the ship ‘Red Jacket’ via Melbourne in October 1860. The Murray Family settled in Thames, Coromandel, where they were gold miners. The Treasury in Thames holds extensive settler and mining records, along with early military and cemetery records.  Passenger lists from migrant ships are often accessible online through various family history sites, but small town historical societies are also a mine of information, often supplied by descendants themselves. Local stories, news articles and business records can lead to more information than you’ll find elsewhere and we recommend taking the time to visit them.

Many mining settlements have been preserved and are open to the public. The historic Chinese Settlement in Arrowtown is a must view when you're passing through. 

South Island Cemeteries will direct you to regional cemetery records and family history site Hunting Kiwis is an excellent resource for Canterbury searches. 

New Zealand historical records can be searched on NZBDM. Official documents supply plenty of information that may lead you to your next relative. If you need to purchase a certificate, we recommend a ‘print out’ instead of the official certificate. Print outs have more information and are cheaper to acquire.

Papers Past is also a wonderful online resource and a great read too.

Military and Service Records can be searched here .

The Otago Settlers Museum have excellent documentation in their archives and the West Otago Vinatge Club also holds a myriad of family history, old business records and information.  The Maniototo District was also a hub for miners and the Maniototo Museums also have a family search section where you can get help. 

The West Coast Heriatge Trail will take you on an unbelieveable journey of local mining and logging history. The Going West Project is the personal journey of Yichen Hu, exposing life for Chinese miners on the West Coast. Small cemeteries in places like Charleston, Westport & Reefton are final resting places of many immigrants and are extraordinary caches of history. West Coast Recollect is also a fantastic collation of historical photographs, cemetery records and local history. 

If you require expert help and advice, the New Zealand Society of Genealogists website can direct you to regional collections for a targeted search. 

When you get the ‘genealogy bug’, good resources are true treasures. We hope this information helps lead you to the missing links in your family history, and takes you on a journey of discovery through the history of New Zealand's southern settlers. 

Historical images courtesy of Te Ara


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