Births, Marriages and Deaths – Tips and Tricks

Following on from my introduction to Archives New Zealand and Archway here is a tip or two for the online Historical BDMs.

The Department of Internal Affairs has kindly launched an online site for historical births, deaths and marriages.  It’s great.  You can find the front page here.  It isn’t quite as sweet at the Scottish system where you can pay to search the index and get images of the original certificates online for a pittance*.
Still it is a big step up from having to visit your local library, LDS family history centre or the NZSG library.

What you need to know:

You can search for:

  • Births that occurred at least 100 years ago
  • Stillbirths if registered at least 50 years ago.
  • Marriages and eventually Civil Unions that occurred 80 years ago
  • Deaths that occurred at least 50 years ago or the deceased’s date of birth was at least 80 years ago.

So here’s some simple tips so you can make the most out of the indices, especially if you’d like to limit your financial commitment.

1. Start with what you know.
Yes, it is obvious, but fundamental.  If your dates are old enough (see above ranges), then you can double check what you know before you get carried away.

2. Buy the Marriage Certificate.
Don’t waste your money on the birth or death certificate if you can use other sources.  The marriage certificate is best for ensuring you have the right parents and will often confirm a number of details for you.  Here is where you can find out what to expect.

3. Use shortcuts and smart strategies.
Birth dates can be pinpointed in many ways.  Cemetery records will occasionally note birth dates.  From the early 1970s the Deaths index shows the birth date of the deceased. Prior to that it is the deceased’s age.   You may find compilations of “Early Births” in your local library and sometimes you can pinpoint dates using newspapers.
Deaths can often be confirmed and pinpointed using the cemetery records that are available online for most places these days.  Sometimes you will be able to find obituary records online** or at your local library in compiled books of “clippings”.   Try those first.

4. Fill out the whole family.
As best you can, fill out the brothers and sisters from each generation.  As we don’t have the luxury of census details giving family groups, you will have to rely on getting this in round-about ways.  Or you can pay for a bucket load of certificates to get absolute proof.  I’d rather not waste my money if I can find a strategy that will give me a reasonable hit rate.
At the BDM site there is a simple thing to do if you know the names of your ancestor’s parents.  Which you should do if you are following my advice so far – start with what you know & buy the marriage certificates.
Consider doing a surname search over a thirty year period around the date of your direct ancestor’s birth year.
i.e. Enter the surname and a start and end date.  Hit search.  (I use 01/01/xxxx for simplicity.)
Once it returns all the names, sort by whichever parent’s name is easiest or most unique.  You will probably find, depending on the time-frame you are searching, that you get most of the siblings.  The earlier in the records, the less likely this works as many times no parents are listed in the index at all.
Other sources for this information are the electoral rolls, monumental inscriptions***, probates, other archival documents****,  and newspapers.

This last tip is not the least important because it came at the end.  It can sometimes turn out to be the most important one of the four.  It can be the one thing that allows you to make positive connections from one generation to another through naming patterns, extra details about extended family in the siblings’ documents and may confirm relationships that were previously tenuous.

Finally, before any of you very correct family historians leave comments on this post, please read this note.

NOTE: if you want to be strictly correct and formal about your tree you should confirm each individual’s details by sighting the document regarding that event. i.e. you should be buying each of the birth, marriage and death certificates.
If your family is only one or two generations here, fine go ahead and do that if you can afford to.  Then pray you have Scottish roots for cost-effective and easy access to primary records, where you can get 5 Scottish for the price of 1 NZ certificate.
For the budget conscious, you can always do the formal confirmation in a slow and budget-friendly way after you have compiled your tree as I have advocated above – using the minimum resources to generate the most accurate tree you can.
Remember, this is a hobby. It is not meant to take you down the road to bankruptcy, and unless you are compiling a tree with which to reclaim the throne of some foreign country, I really don’t think we need to get too uptight about seeing each and EVERY certificate.
In saying all that – it’s not an excuse to avoid recording your sources.  Take notes of each event’s reference that you are using as the basis for your assumptions.
i.e. the BDM registration number would be good !!
That way it can be checked or rechecked, either by yourself or by others, in the future.

That’s it for this week’s tip.
Happy hunting everyone !

* £6.00 buys you 30 credits – each certificate is 5 credits and a single page of returned results is 1 credit.  So if you are clever about your search parameters you can squeak 5 certificates out of your investment.  That’s less than $5 per certificate for goodness sakes – compare that with a single purchase here in NZ at the cheapest is $20.40 and that’s for an A3 photocopy posted to you !!

** if the individual died long enough ago, try Papers Past for details. I’ll write more about using this resource later.

*** flash term for information on a person’s headstone.

**** I’ll go into some of these in another post.

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