Jan's Rellyseeker Blog


Archives New Zealand

Archives New Zealand (https://archway.archives.govt.nz/) is a wonderful site for online researchers who are unable to visit Wellington. There is a number of good resources available online, for free.

A couple of examples are:


Online Police Gazettes are available from about 1877 to 1945.

In the simple search box enter “New Zealand Police Gazette” and choose exact search term. Further down the page in the Held at: section, select the Wellington button. Click GO. Once the list of documents appears, scroll down until you see the heading New Zealand Police Gazette. There you will find annotations: View or download digitised record. Alternatively, you can sort by date.

When you click on the Gazette you wish to browse and have clicked on View or download digitised record, a new tab will open in your browser. When you view that you’ll see RECORD ONLINE with the name of the item underneath, eg New Zealand Police Gazette - Vol. 1. Click on the brown link. It’s very useful to browse through the index pages first to see if your “criminal” is there. From 1908 onwards Police Gazettes included Prisoners Photographs.


I find the best way to find these is to enter a person’s surname. When the search results appear, you can choose to refine them. Click on the Refine Search button then,  in Years: 1914 to 1919. Further down the page in the Held at: section, select the Wellington button. Click GO. Hopefully you will find the person you are looking for and can then click View or download digitised record.

A name search, without refining, may give you various documents in the search returns list, any of which may be useful for your research, and you can choose what you wish to view.

To access these, visit the Archives NZ website https://archway.archives.govt.nz/

Clients, Reading, Publishing

It has been ages since I have posted to my blog. It’s amazing how projects fill in the time.

I’m really pleased to have been able to help a number of clients find ancestors and relatives. It is really rewarding to have those "Eureka!” moments. On the obverse side, not finding ancestors and relatives can be really exasperating. It is barriers such as privacy laws that make such findings unavailable. I can well understand how living people want to maintain privacy, but it is my opinion that once a person is dead, they no longer have a personal interest in such documents, so researchers (professionals in particular, and descendants in general) need to be able to access documents. It disappoints me when I have to report back to a client that I am unable, and probably they will be unable, to order or to view relevant documents.


I have been reading Alison Light's book Common People. It describes the author's journey tracing her ancestors. I particularly like this:

“The 'family detective' in television programmes like the BBC's immensely popular Who Do You Think You Are? has the resources instantly at her command: a budget from the TV company to pay professional genealogists or to ferry her across the country or even continents to pursue branches of her family; immediate access to librarians and archivists, who drop whatever they are doing for the film crews and put a finger straight away on the right document (the team of researchers fresh from university, who have already done the legwork, disappear from view); academic experts and local historians on call, who explain the context. In order to shape a story several possible 'leads' will have been discarded; months of searching concertina'd into a finely honed hour on air. But as most viewers know, family history, like all historical work, is messy and loose-ended, full of false starts, red herrings and wild goose chases, discoveries which are sheer serendipity and might so easily have been missed.

Far from being dead ends or time-wasters, these detours are part of historical work. They reveal our misconceptions and dislodge our assumptions about the past.”

[Light, Alison, Common People, London, Fig Tree, 2014]


My father-in-law’s memoirs, which I have been working on, intermittently, for a couple of years, are now finished and are off at the publishers. They make for really interesting reading and present stories in the context of the times. It is my first effort at producing a book. It has been a real mission, proof-reading, annotating, finding pictures, formatting, but I am really pleased with the final result. It is going to be available in soft-cover, ebook, and PDF formats. After Christmas, I will post details of how interested people may obtain a copy.

New Zealand Research

I’ve been busy undertaking research so haven’t blogged for a while, but here I am again! 

For those people who are wanting to find relatives in New Zealand, there are some excellent resources available online. One I use regularly is Papers Past which has an increasingly large newspaper collection. It’s amazing what can be found. I particularly like reading some of the articles that possibly wouldn’t be allowed in today’s newspapers for fear of privacy laws or offending somebody.

Another useful site is Ancestry’s New Zealand, Electoral Rolls, 1853-1981. This helps people to track down relatives at a particular point in time. It’s great if you have a worldwide subscription.

Also of note is Ancestry’s New Zealand, Cemetery Records, 1800-2007. Many city and regional councils in New Zealand have cemetery records online. It is a matter of finding which area your ancestor may have lived in then searching for the records on that region’s local body website. Failing that, this website has records of many other cemeteries where the local bodies have not published online records, maybe because of financial and staffing constraints.

I hope these links prove useful to you.

Till next time…

Research in Wellington

Since I last wrote, life has intervened somewhat in the genealogical process, as is to be expected with a move to the other side of the world. 

It’s good to be home in New Zealand and it’s good to be able to dig around in the wonderful archives here in Wellington.

I’ve had a lovely time working with clients on research projects. It is a real pleasure to help them find, or discount, relatives. It’s mentally stimulating, starting with the basics and thinking laterally to find solutions. It’s a real buzz receiving emails and letters expressing appreciation for my work.

My own family tree has expanded, not only in the number of people but in information about some of them, particularly ancestors. It’s a never-ending, most enjoyable process. Along the way I’m rediscovering New Zealand holdings I’d forgotten about in my time away, and finding new resources to improve my service. It’s a win-win, for me and for my clients.

If you’d like to see some examples of what I’ve been up to, genealogically-speaking you might like to look here. I’ve listed some of my projects.

Till next time…

Genealogical Journey

It's a while since I've written and, during that time, I've moved back to the other side of the world from Ireland. Now we're living in Wellington, New Zealand. 

The journey home started in August (as I wrote in my last post). From Glasgow I journeyed to Kendal to visit that branch of the Cumbria Archives. The rooms are only relatively (pardon the pun) small but the information was good. The staff were really helpful, even for me when I was having 'ditzy blonde/senior moments'. I was able to find some information for my IHGS assignments and to make progress with my own family tree. A delight during the visit was listening to a conversation between two other researchers. One elderly gentleman was researching railways and taking meticulous, beautifully hand-written notes. The other man was interested in what the gentleman was doing and asked about it. The gentleman said that nobody had recorded railways history in the area, so he thought he had better, before he ran out of time. It transpired he is 93 years old and researches each day for a couple or three hours (at least he did on the days I was there). I hope I'm like that at his age.

The next research stop was in York. I visited the City of York Archives which were muddly. I've since found out that the Archives are to be renovated, which would explain the muddle. Even the staff seemed confused. I had difficulty finding documents that were catalogued and what was catalogued seemed limited in its extent. The archives room itself had a bank of computers but these were being used for non-archive purposes, including one man who was playing on-line action games. I was very disappointed. Thank goodness there will be a shake-up.

By comparison, The Borthwick Institute for Archives, at the University of York, was excellent. York is the second province in the Church of England hierarchy, behind Canterbury, and The Borthwick Institute holds all the diocesan papers for the Northern Province. What a goldmine. The Institute is easy to access by regular bus service that runs from the centre of the city, with the bus stop being pretty-much outside the University of York Library where the Archive is housed.  The tranquility of the facility contrasted markedly with that of the city archive. Staff were really friendly and helpful and I was able to find what I was looking for for my assignments.

Warwickshire County Record Office was my next stop. I'd been there before so looked forward to carrying on my research. I was not disappointed. As usual staff were friendly and helpful, I found what I sought and was able to add to, and clarify, information for my tree.

My last stop was in Essex. The County Record Office at Chelmsford was my destination. As with Warwick, I'd been there before, but the service was even better than last time. It's nice to see archives keeping up-to-date with trends and with technology. It's good to see counties that put money aside and value genealogy and history and the staff who work in those areas. Sadly I couldn't find the tithe map I sought—it was catalogued but was missing, however it appears that I'll be able to obtain it through Cambridgeshire Archives. As with my last visit to Chelmsford, staff were friendly and helpful. Yes, 'ditzy blonde/senior moments' again.

So here I am, home in New Zealand. I'm back into a genealogical routine again, with the household unpacked and my office set up. So it's up and off to visit the archives and repositories.

Till next time…

Archive Visits in Northern Ireland and Scotland

I can't believe that it is September already and that my last posting was in July! Time flies when you're having fun.

I am making my way home to New Zealand following the long and winding road. The reason for the length of the journey is to enable me to visit the UK archives I need to so I can  gather the information for my remaining IHGS assignments. It is difficult to pop down the road to them from New Zealand.

My first stop was Belfast. There I spent a day at the General Register Office trying to find elusive people for my family tree. I had some success but the office needs a good update. I had to register (fair enough) in one room then go out into the foyer again to wait, with others, until someone came down in the lift to escort us up to the search room. The people working there are nice and are helpful but their computer system is woefully inadequate. I've been a long-time computer user but, even so, I was rather baffled. It is as if some techie geek has decided that there is a certain way to do things and never shall it be changed. I think it hasn't been changed for years. It would have been useful if there had been written instructions to help with searching, including the use of a wildcard unlike any I have come across before. I wasted lots of time not knowing about the different wildcard although I have used a range of wildcards before in searches.

I keep a copy of my family tree on my Reunion program on my iPad. Sadly there is a prohibition on iPads and such at GRO, which seems odd to me. You can take your iPad into the search room with you, but woe-betide should you wish to use it beside you at your computer station. You must place it on a table behind a room-divider and get up from your computer station, navigate around the divider to where you've left it, then back to your station to continue. Goodness knows why. Who is to know that somebody isn't interfering with your iPad when you aren't looking? You certainly can't see past the room-divider—it's floor to ceiling. The GRO costs £14 per day to visit. For that you can get two print-outs of information. Extra copies are £4 each. Exorbitant.

 The following day was spent at Public Records Office of Northern Ireland (PRONI). What a difference. As with the last time I visited the staff were friendly and helpful, even though I had mislaid my ID card (actually, it is on a container ship somewhere between Cork and Wellington). It was simply a matter of giving them my details and I was off and seeking. For free. I asked where I could find what I needed, was guided to it and given clear instructions. I found heaps of information and, best of all, I was allowed my iPad beside me, so that I was able to work methodically through my tree, finding gaps that needed to be filled from searching. I could have paid for print copies but was able to transcribe myself for no cost. Brilliant.

A couple of days later it was off to Glasgow where my grandfather had been born, of Ulster parentage. I had envisioned having to go to Edinburgh to do my seeking but then I discovered the Mitchell Library. What a wee gold-mine of information for family historians and it has a lovely café. The archives staff were super-helpful and were really kind  and friendly. I had three beaut days searching there. On Level 3 I looked at BMDs via ScotlandsPeople for £15 for a day of unlimited searching, plus a very reasonable printing fee for each copy I wanted. In the Archives on Level 2 I discovered Poor Law Registers and other information, all for free. What a resource the Poor Law Registers are—I've never used them before. I found loads of information about my grandfather's siblings, all very interesting and some very sad. My tree expanded markedly. I gained a really good insight into my grandfather's upbringing and think I have learnt why he was so irascible. 

I needed to find information for one of my IHGS assignments which needed my obtaining photocopies of a Register of Sasines and Services of Heirs. Normally this takes three days, but when I explained that I was leaving Glasgow on the following day, the staff had the copies done within half an hour for a really reasonable price. Such excellent service.

So my research travels continue. I love digging around in archives and the inevitable "Eureka!" moments. Now is the time to process all my findings. That will take days but will be just as enjoyable, I'm sure.

Till next time…

Irish Research

It has been a somewhat hectic time lately so my intermittent blog has become more infrequent than intermittent. We are in the process of moving house and moving country, so fitting in my blog has been difficult. Apologies.

Lately I've been looking again at finding Irish records. Ray and I both have Irish heritage of one kind or another but sometimes, when it comes to finding out information, Irish heritage can be more of a hindrance than a help. 

Finding records in Ireland is not as easy as I have found with other countries. The General Record Office has a genealogy and family search facility in Dublin but the actual General Record Office itself is at Roscommon, some two hours' drive from Dublin. The National Archives of Ireland are in Dublin. Northern Ireland is easier with PRONI and GRONI being fairly close to each other in Belfast.

My nearest Genealogy Centre is at Nenagh, North Tipperary some 20 minutes drive from me. I paid them a visit some time ago intending to carry out a little bit of a search about a distant relative. I was expecting to spend some enjoyable time searching through bits and pieces as I've done at many Country Record Offices and at TNA, Kew, in England. But no. Sorry, they told me, we don't hold records—they are all on-line at rootsireland.ie. Now that's all well and good, but I want to hold the physical items. Not possible. I've plenty of experience with subscription sites and know how regularly transcription errors are made, so I like to see original documents if I can, or at least photocopies of originals so I can make my own transcriptions. Not possible. 

So, I log onto rootsireland and, lo and behold, they want to charge me to view results of my search! Now, if I find that the name is common (as are many of my relatives—Mawhinney, McBride, Smyth—not only to I have to pay to see the search results, I have to pay extra for each individual item I wish to view within the results list. Now for the Nenagh fellow, John LEWIS, father Rice LEWIS, there are a mere 151 records. To view each individual detail costs 25 credits, ie €5.00 at the most expensive rate, so to view records for John LEWIS I'd need to load up with 3,775 credits. My cheapest option is 450 credits for  €50.00. There is no option to take out a subscription. The amount of information shown on results lists is insufficient so I must pay my money on a chance. Not good for the budget. I've lost count to the amount of money I have wasted on credits used at looking at irrelevant information. This from a site that is "created by the Irish Family History Foundation (IFHF), an all Ireland not-for-profit organisation." Hmmm…

I was pleased to read, a few weeks ago, that photocopies of Irish birth, marriage and death certificates will be able to be obtained via email rather than the current snail mail. Excellent news, thought I. Should have known better. I don't want the whole official form (€20) for really distant relatives, just the photocopy (€4) will give me the info I need. I can go online to download the forms, but then I must fill out the forms and post or fax them or apply in person. No such thing as submitting electronically. So really, the information is erroneous, for the time being. 

The problem is a lack of joined-up thinking as shown here:

Irish Genealogy Blogspot of 12 July 2013: "The Health Service Executive runs the Civil Registration Service…GROIreland's new online presence will be aligned with the Department of Social Protection's website…the mooted upload of the GRO's bmd indexes [will appear on] the Department of Heritage, Arts and the Gaeltacht". What HSE and DSP have to do with genealogy research eludes me. Meanwhile, this is the year of The Gathering in Ireland. Seems they are gathering nonsense and 'jobs for the boys'. An Irish solution for an Irish problem as they say here.

Till next time…

Finding People in New Zealand

The sunny weather is proving to be a distraction when it comes to working on the family tree. That and The Ashes, the Tour de France, Wimbledon and the need to work on assignments… Yes, procrastination is the thief of time. 

I've been working, on  and off, trying to find death dates for those Meluselah people I mentioned last time.

For my New Zealand relatives I use:

Births, Deaths and Marriages Online, https://www.bdmhistoricalrecords.dia.govt.nz/search/ (a free site) for finding "births at least 100 years ago, stillbirths if registered at least 50 years ago, marriages that occurred at least 80 years ago and deaths that occurred at least 50 years ago or the deceased's date of birth was at least 80 years ago". Lately, the deceased person's date of birth has been listed which helps fill in gaps on the tree, otherwise their age at death is given which allows an estimated year of birth.

PapersPast, http://paperspast.natlib.govt.nz/ (another free site) is excellent as it has digitised newspapers covering the years 1839 to 1945. A search produces results that can be refined according to the searcher's requirement. Actual images appear and there's the option to view computer-generated text, very handy in adding the information to the family tree program.

When I have exhausted those two avenues, New Zealand, Electoral Rolls, 1853-1981 on Ancestry is my next port of call (it is a subscription site). Using that I am able to locate people's residences and occupations every three years from the electoral rolls. During the depression and during the two World Wars some elections were deferred, but finding a person on the rolls and her/his last recorded residence allows an easier search for cemetery records.

Most New Zealand local bodies have uploaded their cemetery records online. Some even include photographs of the graves with close-ups of headstones or cremation plaques. These, too, are available to view for free and can be found using a search engine.

Archives New Zealand, http://www.archway.archives.govt.nz is a handy site for finding a range of material. The search result indexes allow for a researcher to order copies of documents. Alternatively, the relevant archive can be visited where the document/s can be viewed. A reference number is provided on the website. Lately Archives NZ have been uploading WWI soldiers records which can be downloaded as PDF files. Some of them make heartbreaking reading. There are all sorts of records to provide clues for further research.

There are some excellent sites for finding migrants. Ancestry, mentioned above, is useful as are the newspapers but free migration site I use regularly are:

New Zealand Yesteryears, http://www.yesteryears.co.nz

Petone Settlers database, http://www.huttcity.govt.nz/Leisure--Culture/Museums-and-galleries/Our-museums/Petone-Settler-DB/

Passenger Lists, http://freepages.genealogy.rootsweb.ancestry.com/~ourstuff/OurPassengerLists.htm

New Zealand Bound, http://freepages.genealogy.rootsweb.ancestry.com/~nzbound/index.htm

Victoria University of Wellington Library's New Zealand Electronic Text Collections "comprises significant New Zealand and Pacific Island texts and materials held by Victoria University of Wellington Library". It is great as a general resource but I particularly like its Index of Shipshttp://nzetc.victoria.ac.nz/tm/scholarly/tei-Bre02Whit-t1-back.html

It's always worth going back over members of the tree and re-searching as online information is being updated and improved all the time. Online information is super for finding rellies, then the relevant documents can be ordered and/or archives visited to give real validity to findings.

Till next time…

Improving Our Findings

For someone like me who has been researching for ages, it is really easy to fall into the habit of finding people new to the tree without going back over old information. My sort-out of my census data has flagged up such a situation.

I have been amazed at how many people on my tree have been born but who, according to my data, haven't died. Gosh, some of them must be hundreds of years old—Meluselah, in fact, if it were true. So that is the next project—finding deaths and burials.

In the meantime, my census tidy-up has been an interesting exercise in that it has indicated the ways in which peoples' lives and circumstances have changed— for the better, in many cases. It has shown how society has changed with innovations left, right and centre. 

It is interesting to see how families adapted to changes introduced by the Industrial Revolution. Some continued in their family 'tradition' of agricultural labourer, but most families have at least one person who moved with the times, whether voluntarily or by necessity, and improved his or her skills. From agricultural labourer to traction engine driver, from farm waggoner to bus driver, train driver or to owning a carrying business. Migration to cities features strongly with the rise of large textile factories. Those families who were born in more advantaged circumstances had their ups and downs. Some continued to thrive where others went in the other direction, to the workhouse. Some are listed as lunatics. It makes me wonder if these last inherited the poor mental health gene or whether circumstances drove them to their so-called lunacy.

Something that was brought home to me was the number of families who had a child, if not several, who died as infants or children. Social class was not a factor. Diseases wrought havoc amongst rich and poor, although many illnesses correlated with living conditions. What a difference compared with nowadays. Sometimes a couple who were closely related had no children born alive or children who lived long enough to be baptised but died soon after. The cruelty of the Established Church struck me when unbaptised children were not allowed to be buried in consecrated ground. Wow. Talk about adding insult to injury. Real Christian values coming out there (says she, ironically).

It is a really enjoyable exercise finding out the backgrounds to the various circumstances. Being a Kiwi, I've had to learn heaps about the United Kingdom's history to try to put it into some kind of context. I've drawn up a timeline. Maybe it will help someone.

So, the journey continues.

Till next time…

Why Do We Start Our Family Tree?

My interest in family history started when I was young, in the late 1950s. I was an avid reader from the time I first learnt to read and, when my parents bought me a 'finding out' book when I was about 7 or 8 years old, I was engrossed. It was one of those all-in-one-volume books covering all sorts of topics and with a super section at the back of anagrams, quizzes, finding the way from A to B on a map. You may know the kind of book I mean. I spent hours tracing the royal family backwards in time using the 'See Also' at the foot of each entry, along with various other historical and scientific information. Whatever took my mood.

My mother was something of a snob, if that is the word. Not to the heights of Hyacinth Bucket, but in her own unique way. There was a place for everyone in the social hierarchy—English people were defined by their accent, with the Queen's being top of the pile; Indian people were always "Hindus"; Maori were "those Maoris" unless they rose to some important role such as being Governor-General in which case they were "good Maoris"; similarly with Catholics, who, too, became "good Catholics"; then there were "those University types"—lecturers et al. As for the Irish, my mother was proud of the fact that she had "not a drop of Irish blood", something I was delighted to tell her, eventually, was not a fact. Of course, she still denied it. My research was faulty.

The one thing my mother did do, however, was talk about her mother's family.They were musical (professionals, some of them), artistic (again, the odd professional) and had had money (although Georgette Heyer would have referred to them as "Cits"). There was little known about her father's family (that's where the Irish bit comes it). As for my father's family, they were "common" so we didn't talk about them. My mother's family had arrived early on in the European settlement of New Zealand, so that counted in their favour.

When you are an intelligent person and are faced with sweeping statements such as my mother's, the urge to find out more becomes something of a challenge. Not only the idea of finding out for oneself but the challenge of confirming or refuting ideas becomes something of a driving force. I suppose it could be seen as a form of rebellion against ideas instilled by parents, something I think most teenagers experience at some stage. So my interest started and has continued for a bit over 40 years.

Compared with the late 1960s and early 1970's, genealogy is something of a doddle for finding out basic information. I trawled around cemeteries and libraries initially. All my findings were on bits of paper in various drawers. I didn't get around to making a drawn tree until I bought my first computer in 1992 and bought Reunion, my genealogy program. All the connections were on those scraps of paper and in my head. Trying to find out some family information was 'interesting' in that, back then, some people thought my enquiries were being nosey and that I was just trying to make mischief by dragging skeletons out of the wardrobes. How times have changed (gosh, I'm starting to sound like some old codger). And so the process continues. For some people (removed cousins and such) I have found only basic information, but for my ancestors I am continuing to delve deeper and am at the stage of reading old wills and registers, translating Latin documents and so on. How I wish I had taken Latin at school, but I use a nifty app made by BitKnights that translates Latin ⇔ English. Super.

So there we go. Why did you start your tree?

Till next time…

© Jan Powell