The Archives

This past Tuesday I went to the Archives.  Ah what a wonderful way to spend a day if you are a genealogist.

You may remember my offer some time back to spend time working on a local family history for someone.  Well that was taken up and I am now in the process of generating a family tree and all of the sundry information that can go with it.

If you embark on this type of journey one of the places that you will inevitably end up going to is the Archives.  They could be your local city archives or your regional archives or even your national archives.  Really it is simply a matter of finding out who has the goodies you are after.

Fortunately for me the person taking up the offer has a wealth of family information from the upper South Island, which means it is stored here in Wellington at Archives New Zealand.  A very big bonus for me.

The signing up process for a readers card to Archives New Zealand couldn’t be any simpler.
Turn up at a branch with photo ID, tell them all your relevant details, and Bob’s your auntie.

The reading rooms are lovely, large, light spaces with desks, powerpoints and nice soft chairs.  They like you if you have a digital camera as it means less photocopying for the archivists, and no doubt a good way to preserve the documents.  Just follow the photography guidelines and you will be fine.

The staff are extremely helpful.  Seriously, if you are not an archivist, there is no way that you are going to understand their back-of-house software and call system.   They have help desks in all the reading rooms – just go and put your current problem to them and see if they can come up with a document that might help you out.  But, remember, they are not family historians and they do not know the ins and outs of your family.  You need to be able to think outside the square and ask about the possibility of certain documents being available.  Then they will be in a better position to help you.

Archives NZ’s new ordering system is wonderful.  You can pre-order five pieces from the comfort of your own home that will be sitting waiting for you on the day of your choice.  You have up to two weeks out to pre-order, that’s got to be good if you are having to travel to the archive from some distance – there is no big time lag between arriving and starting to discover things.

The online catalogue is called Archway and is essentially their back-of-house software made public for searching.  If you are new to the archives, start with the simple search box and type in names to begin with and see what pops up.  You may find yourself surprised at who and what shows up.

For instance, if I type in the name Henry Joiner, this is the preliminary search result that I get.  You can refine your search if you get a huge number of hits – as Smith is likely to produce.

As it turns out with my search, I didn’t find anything related to my Henry Joiner.  What I did get was a whole lot of hits on men who had taken up a hammer and chisel at some point in their lives.  Yes.  Beware the surnames that are also the same as trade names – Joiner, Farmer, Smith – you get the idea.

Once you go through to your search results you will see them sorted by where they are held and grouped within that by type of holding, probates, summonses, war records, etc.

The result page will look something like this, only with people’s names to the left and a description of the type of record above them.

As you can see the nameless results (I thought I would do it for privacy’s sake) are actually probate records – with the last department holding them listed and where they are currently held.  You have four options – Auckland, Wellington, Christchurch or Dunedin.  Plan a trip if you’re an out-of-towner.  And as you can see these are all open access.  Some are not, but there may be many reasons for that so you should always ask the archivist in the reading rooms about it.  Some are restricted simply for preservation reasons and you may still be able to access the document but not in original form.  Some are for privacy reasons and you’ll just have to suck that one down.

Once you get to this stage and have found something you want, then you simply click on the Order Details link associated with that record.  Up comes the details relating to that file and you can fill in you Reader Card number and the date you wish to see the file, then press the Order button at the bottom. Hey presto, you are now an official user of your national Archives.

Remember – you actually have to turn up to the Archive where it is held to see it !

And that is the start of an adventure into the world of the Archives.  There will be more to come including some ideas about how to use the Advanced Search facility to get to those records that are not currently indexed.

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