Births, Baptism and Adoption

Details of births, marriages and deaths, from registration certificates or church registers, are key elements in compiling a family tree.

A group of St. Helen's nurses with their charges [ca. 1910]
A group of St. Helen's nurses with their charges [ca. 1910], CCL PhotoCD 11, IMG0063

Hatches, Matches, and Dispatches - Finding a Birth

Birth registration

General Birth, Death and Marriage Certificate information

Birth registration microfiche

Entries are listed in alphabetical order of surname within each year; the names of males and females are interfiled. Post-1960 births include the mother’s given name.

Sometimes there are separate numbers, 1, 2, 3, 4, before the numbers associated with an entry
1 = Auckland, 2 = Wellington, 3 = Christchurch, 4 = Dunedin.

Section 14, sometimes Sect 14, handwritten after a folio number means the birth was registered late.

Births on board ship

Births and deaths at sea were recorded in the ship's log. The information was supplied to the Registrar of Births and Deaths, an official in a British government department, the Board of Trade. New Zealand also required details of births and deaths at sea. Therefore it is possible to find an event in the records of both countries.

Birth certificates

Births were required to be registered from 1848. Some births occurring as early as 1840 were subsequently registered in 1848. Details on a certificate are:

name, sex, date and place of birth, the parents’ names, mother’s maiden name, and father’s occupation.
1876 - 1915
as above with the age and birthplace of the parents and the date and place of their marriage were added.
From 1916
the age and sex of previous children of a marriage were added. This is available on request when ordering a birth certificate.

Delays in registering

People living in isolated areas may have registered several children all at one time. Children born late in one year sometimes had their birth registered the following year. Birth, Death and Marriage amendment acts were passed to allow for late registration.

Florence Henrietta Mahomet (wife of Icecream Charlie) and children [ca. 1930]
Florence Henrietta Mahomet (wife of Icecream Charlie) and children [ca. 1930], CCL Photo CD 18, IMG0045

Same surname, same number

If two children appear on the birth microfiche in a particular year with the same surname and the same number, they will often be twins. Sometimes siblings were registered along with the most recent arrival and they may all have the same folio number.

Sometimes cousins or other close relations may share a folio number. If members of a family had children close together and one person went to register both children, they were often grouped together under the same number.

Occasionally children with no relationship to each other were given the same folio number. There has been no official explanation for this.

Same name, different child

If a child appears on the birth microfiche for one year and then a child with the same name appears on the birth microfiche a few years later, it can be assumed that the first child has died. As late as the 1950s, it was part of the grieving process and a means of preserving family names, to give a child the name of a deceased sibling.

A child may also appear in official records with first names different from the names they used.

Ex-nuptial births

In the 21st century the father’s name usually appears on birth and baptismal certificates when the parents are in a long-term de-facto relationship.

In the late 19th century children could be registered under either the name of the mother or the father. Often the father’s name was omitted from both birth and baptismal certificates. When ex-nuptial (i.e. born of unmarried parents) children married, there could be a blank space where the father’s name should be entered and their death certificate may not have the name of a father or may contain the name of a stepfather.


An adopted child can be registered twice in the same year or in different years: under a birth name and also a name given by his adoptive parents. The entry which relates to the child and its birth mother will often look like any other birth entry. The second entry will often be handwritten and have a slash part way through the number. The number after the slash is usually the year when the alterations were finalised. After the 1960s, the slash is often absent.

Stack's book

This refers to unpublished material kept by Canon James West Stack (1835-1919), a clergyman. He helped write wills in Canterbury for Māori and kept the information in a volume. He also gathered, kept and used other information such as baptismal, marriage and burial documents.

Stack's "book" was used in the Native Land Court to determine succession orders: who were the successors and what land they were entitled to. His information was also used with Land Court minute books to verify details and was one of the few sources that the Court was prepared to use beyond its own records.

This "book" has not survived and is known only because it is quoted in court documents.

Church registers - transcripts of baptismal registers

General information about the Church Registers

Baptismal entries

A subject search on the library catalogue will provide the names of baptismal records that have been transcribed.

Baptism index [electronic resource] / Catholic Diocese of Christchurch
This database contains baptism details for individuals baptised in the Catholic Diocese of Christchurch before 31 December 1904. This CD is an index only and should be used as a finding tool. Full details of each baptism, available on a print-out, will usually include: full name, date of birth, date of baptism, address, father and mother’s names (often mother’s maiden name), parish, godparents and celebrant. Quote the ID Code number given and send a self-addressed envelope to:
Catholic Archives - Baptism Records,
PO Box 4544, Christchurch.
Each printout costs $10.00.

Registers of baptisms, marriages and burials are usually held by the local parishes. There are early baptisms for Akaroa, Lyttelton and Banks Peninsula, and for Shands Track held in the archives at the Cathedral of the Blessed Sacrament. Shands Track records were for people from the Rangitata River to Cheviot with the exception of the Christchurch area.


  • Some ministers included in baptism records the maiden name of the mother or the surname of her previous spouse (if she had been married before). Roman Catholic entries usually give the child’s full name plus the first name and surname of the father and first name and maiden name of the mother.
  • The ‘sponsors’ are the godparents.
  • The occupation given is usually that of the father.

Maternity hospitals

For details of private and public maternity hospitals in the city see Maternity Hospitals.

Newspaper Information

For details about finding information in newspapers please see Newspapers - Birth, Marriage and Death Information.

Print this page