Family history tips: Beginners’ guide to burials

When it comes to finding the resting spots of your ancestors, there are some handy resources you can use, some at the end of your fingertips and others that are physical and can be explored when we return to life post lockdown!

Here are some family history tips for finding burials.

As a starting point, our website has a useful page of advice and resources to use for deaths and burials

Depending on what knowledge you already have about your ancestor, the New Zealand historical newspapers website Papers Past can be fantastic for unearthing family information. There are death notices, funeral information and sometimes even articles about how people met their (sometimes unfortunate) ends.

Let’s look at a local example, Mr William Lurch. Whilst he died in Christchurch on the 13 November 1911, his death was reported in newspapers across the country. Possibly due to the rather shocking nature of his death. From the papers we can learn that poor William, aged only 22, died when he got caught in the belt of the engine he was working on at Aulsebrook’s Biscuit Factory.

From various newspapers we can also find out information from William’s inquest and death and funeral notices. These last two provide names and address information about William’s parents and where William is buried. Because we know he died in Christchurch and was buried in Addington Cemetery, taking a look at the Christchurch City Council Cemeteries Database confirms that he is buried in Addington and provides the plot and block details to use if a visit to the grave was intended.

When searching in Papers Past, it’s best to be a bit creative about your search, as the names of your ancestors may not have been recorded quite as you think or the OCR (optical character recognition) may not pick up the name if the scanned text of the newspaper is blurry.

The death or funeral information for the delightfully named Edith Cumberpatch would not have been found with a keyword search as the scan of this particular paper isn’t great and she shows up as "Umberpatch" instead!

Searching the individual issues of the relevant paper is a better way to go in this instance, assuming you have a ballpark idea of death date.

Another way of finding where your ancestor might be buried, is using the New Zealand Burial Locator, which is a directory containing over 3 million names, thanks to the work of the New Zealand Society of Genealogists. As this is a CD-ROM that can only be accessed in specific libraries, pop this on your ‘things for later’ list for when you can get out and about and visit a physical library again.


All is not lost for now though, as quite a lot of New Zealand councils have their cemetery information online, some even have photos of the tombstones if you’re lucky. A quick Google search for the place and cemetery should get you useful results. You could also use Ancestry from home at the moment, using your library card & PIN to access the database of New Zealand Cemetery Records 1800-2007 that has been compiled by the NZSG.

For Christchurch we have a handy list of cemeteries.

A useful resource held on Tuakiri | Identity, Level 2, Tūranga are the large physical plot maps of some cemeteries in Christchurch (Addington, Barbadoes, Bromley, Heathcote and Linwood). Once you’ve got the plot number from the CCC cemeteries database, then you may use it to help pinpoint the plot in the cemetery map.

The Tombstone Transcripts (great work again by the NZSG) are another good resource for locating information about your Canterbury ancestors. Fondly known to library staff as ‘the purple books’, they detail transcriptions that society members noted down in the early 1980s, from tombstones still standing. These books are treasured even more now since some cemetery headstones suffered damage in the earthquakes.

The transcripts might contain information from a headstone for your ancestor. If there’s not one, at least those transcripts that are there can help you get the general location of your ancestor by working from tombstones on either side of the burial place. These transcripts have been created for other cemeteries around New Zealand and we have this information stored in microfiche, again on Tuakiri | Identity, Level 2, Tūranga. Another thing to check out once we are open again!

A key treasure on the same floor at Tūranga are the church registers, housed in beautiful wooden cabinets containing card transcripts of baptism, burial and marriage registers from local churches. A joint venture between Christchurch City Libraries and New Zealand Society of Genealogists volunteers, these cards, in particular the burial cards, can provide handy information on the age of your Canterbury ancestor, where they were buried, parents names/next of kin and name of the minister.

When life returns (hopefully) to something resembling normal, and Tūranga is open, we look forward to seeing you return to explore the treasures held on Tuakiri. In the meantime, make the most of other online resources you can access at home!