Family History – Death and burial resources

Details of births, marriages and deaths from registration certificates or church register, are key elements within a family tree.

G. W. J. Parsons, monumental and general mason, Manchester Street, Christchurch [1898]
G. W. J. Parsons, monumental and general mason, Manchester Street, Christchurch [1898] CCL PhotoCD 13, IMG0001

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Hatches, Matches, and Dispatches - Finding a Burial

Death registration

General Birth, Death and Marriage certificate information. Entries from 1848 are listed alphabetically within each year, with males and females interfiled.

Death Certificates

Death certificates include the following information:

Pre 1876

  • the date of death
  • full name
  • sex
  • age
  • occupation
  • cause of death

Post-1876 - includes the above as well as

  • the place of birth and length of time in New Zealand
  • the names of the deceased’s parents
  • father’s occupation
  • mother’s maiden name
  • the district where the deceased married
  • age of deceased at time of marriage
  • name of the spouse
  • name of a former spouse
  • sex and age, but not name, of surviving children
  • date and place of burial
  • the age of a surviving widow was added in 1912
  • until 1961 the name and denomination of the minister who officiated at the funeral was entered
  • the note "Verdict of Jury" on a death certificate means that an inquest took place


Church of the Holy Trinity, Avonside [1905]
Church of the Holy Trinity, Avonside [1905] CCL PhotoCD 9, IMG0085


  • In colonial New Zealand, death certificates were issued only when there was a body. Accident and murder victims whose bodies were not found had no death certificates.
  • Information on a death certificate is usually provided by relatives of the deceased.
  • Sometimes information on one certificate will conflict with that on another.
  • A partner may reduce his or her age on a marriage certificate so that it is approximate to that of the spouse. The true age is usually given on a death certificate.
  • A person whose spouse had been gone for seven years, could, as a widow or widower, re-marry. The seven-year rule still applies.
  • Deaths at sea were registered in the home country. Immigrants who died on the way to New Zealand were recorded in the British Isles or continental Europe.
  • In a death entry the slash means the entry is incomplete and not final. A death has been presumed, for example in a drowning, and no body has been recovered. The death may appear in a later year without the slash.
  • In peacetime a death certificate is not issued for a New Zealand citizen who dies overseas. Since 1995 however, relatives have been able to pay a fee and have the death recorded in New Zealand by Births, Deaths and Marriages.
  • After 1 January 1988, a death can be searched for on Births, Deaths and Marriages using either a woman's maiden or married name. However the deceased's date of birth must have been at least 80 years ago.

War deaths

When a person dies on active service overseas or when representing the state, for example, as a diplomat, he/she is recorded with Births, Deaths and Marriages in New Zealand. The South African War casualties are covered by New Zealand contingents to the South African War, which includes the 1903 casualty list. They may also be included, along with European New Zealand war casualties, in the microfiche resource Roll of honour 1840-1902: defenders of the empire resident in New Zealand. For information about service personnel who died in the two world wars see the separate pages on World War I and World War II. Service personnel who died in the Vietnam conflict are included in the normal death fiche with a note that they died in Vietnam.

Burials and cemeteries

Church Registers - transcripts of burial registers

See the general information about the Church Registers.

Christchurch City Council Cemeteries Database

Christchurch City Council Cemeteries database is easy to search using personal names, and includes interments for the following public cemeteries:

  • Addington Cemetery
  • Avonhead Park Cemetery
  • Akaroa (Anglican, Catholic and Dissenters cemeteries)
  • Barbadoes Street - incomplete
  • Belfast Cemetery
  • Bromley Cemetery
  • Diamond Harbour Cemetery
  • Duvauchelle Cemetery
  • Kaituna Cemetery
  • Le Bons Bay Cemetery
  • Linwood Cemetery
  • Little River Cemetery
  • Lyttelton (Anglican, Catholic, Public and RSA cemeteries)
  • Memorial Park Cemetery
  • Pigeon Bay Cemetery
  • Port Levy Cemetery (St Pauls Anglican)
  • Ruru Lawn Cemetery
  • Sydenham Cemetery
  • Waimairi Cemetery
  • Wainui Cemetery
  • Woolston Cemetery (Rutherford)
  • Yaldhurst Cemetery

The database is updated monthly with new records. Use the advanced search to find who else is buried in the same plot or in a neighbouring plot.

Paupers' Graves

In the database if there is no block number and the plot number looks unusual eg Block 0 Plot 1621C in the Addington Cemetery, this may be a pauper's grave. Also, if when an advanced search is done, there are dozens of people with the same block and plot number these graves were usually paid for by the government or maybe even the hospital if there was no family.

Cemeteries of Christchurch

Location, interment and historical information about a selection of Christchurch cemeteries.

New Zealand Cemetery Records

New Zealand Cemetery Records contain transcripts for the whole country and are available on microfiche. The microfiche need to be used in conjunction with New Zealand Cemetery Records: a list of holdings.

New Zealand burial locator.
This is a CD Rom held on the Family History computers. It helps locate a burial or death, generally in New Zealand. It helps locate a burial or death, generally in New Zealand. It contains over 1.3 million names and includes approximately 890 cemeteries. A list of the cemeteries included is given at the beginning. Some deaths that occurred overseas are included and are usually annotated by the name of the New Zealand cemetery where the record is found and with the actual cemetery noted. Searching is by surname or given name. Burials in the greater Christchurch area are not included. The resource is not a complete transcript giving full details of the burial but often points to other sources which may provide further details. This resource is very much a work in progress.

Burial Entries

A subject search on our catalogue will provide a list of burial registers that have been transcribed. The transcripts may help establish a date of death. Some entries will include information on the place of burial, either in the church’s graveyard or elsewhere. The church register collection includes cemeteries which are now in Christchurch City Council ownership but which were once church owned. There are burials for the Anglican section of Barbadoes Street, 1851-1973; the Non-conformist section of Barbadoes Street, 1972-1905; and Addington, from 1858-1918.

Christchurch burial books

Christchurch City Libraries has a number of Christchurch City Council burial books available on the microfilm Christchurch Cemeteries. Search these if burial sites have not been found in the Christchurch City Council Cemeteries Database. More about burial books and plot plans.

Tombstone transcripts

Since the 1970s the New Zealand Society of Genealogists has created many tombstone transcripts. Tuakiri | Identity, Level 2, Tūranga holds bound volumes of transcripts for cemeteries within the Christchurch City Council area and, to a lesser extent, for other parts of Canterbury. There are also transcripts for two Dunedin cemeteries and for the Symonds Street cemetery in Auckland. Finding and using tombstone transcripts

Christchurch undertakers’ records

Undertakers’ records often contain information that is on a death certificate and other information about the conduct of an individual funeral. The information which undertakers hold varies and they are not obliged to provide information to the public and may only respond as time allows. The cause of death is not usually recorded. Finding and using funeral directors' and crematoria records.

Newspaper death & burial notices

Respect for a well-known citizen [20 Aug. 1930]
Respect for a well-known citizen [20 Aug. 1930] CCL PhotoCD 13, IMG0050
Newspaper death notices after about 1940 contain the announcement of a death and, usually, the place of interment. Prior to the 1940s, death notices and funeral notices appeared in different parts of the newspaper. Death notices announced the death, while funeral notices included details about where the funeral service would be held and in which cemetery the interment would take place. There is no requirement that a death notice be placed in a newspaper. If a funeral is private, the place of interment will not be recorded. Sometimes there is an interment notice but no death notice. Newspaper Information - Births, Marriages and Deaths.


Local Government Burial Information (outside of Christchurch)

Some local authorities now have their cemetery material in online databases. Included are the WaimakaririHurunuiSelwyn and Timaru district councils. Links to further information on New Zealand cemeteries can be found on our website. If an ancestor is buried in a public cemetery outside Christchurch, contact the relevant local authority. Some local burial books are also held at Archives New Zealand, Christchurch. Included are the Belfast Public Cemetery records 1904-1976 and the Waimairi Cemetery records. For North Island burial records contact the relevant Council or the Family History Research Centre at Auckland City Libraries.

Other ways of finding a death date

If a date of death cannot be found through the usual sources check the following:

Electoral rolls and Wise’s directories

Tuakiri | Identity, Level 2, Tūranga holds Christchurch City Council electoral rolls from 1907. Until the 1930s the rolls were annotated by council clerks who checked daily newspapers and noted dates of death against voters’ names. Until 1955 Wise’s directories record heads of household, usually men, in a single alphabetical nationwide list. If a person is listed at the same address over a lengthy period and then disappears, it is likely that s/he has died. If a man is replaced in the list by a woman of the same name at the same address, then it is likely that the husband has died. See further information about Wise’s Directories.

The G.R. Macdonald dictionary

Between 1951 and 1964 George Ranald Macdonald researched and wrote the G. R. Macdonald Dictionary. This contains biographical material on Canterbury pioneers, mostly men. The dictionary has been digitised by Canterbury Museum and a searchable version is available online.

Tuakiri | Identity, Level 2, at Tūranga, also holds the index to the Macdonald Dictionary which may include information on the year of death.

Accident Resources

The grave at Stillwater Cemetery, Brunner mining disaster [1896]
The grave at Stillwater Cemetery, Brunner mining disaster [1896] CCL PhotoCD 6, IMG0075
New Zealand river drownings, 1840-1887; Drownings in the Avon River, Christchurch, 1850-1900
A list of people who drowned in rivers arranged by surname, on microfiche.
Machinery accidents, 1879-1919
A list of accident victims arranged alphabetically by surname, on microfiche.
Mining accidents, 1879-1958
A list of accident victims arranged alphabetically by surname, on microfiche.

Coroners’ Inquests

The nationwide files of coroners inquests into accidental or suspicious deaths from the 1840s-1988 are held at Archives New Zealand in Wellington. Inquests are carried out on bodies where it is thought that the death is unnatural and also when a person dies in a psychiatric institution. Finding inquest files.

Deceased Estates

Probates and Wills

A will or probate file contains the date of a person’s death which can lead to newspaper death noticesdeath certificates and other relevant items. Wills and probates are public documents and are available for viewing. Finding wills & probate files.

Try this first - FamilySearch - New Zealand, Archives New Zealand, Probate Records, 1843-1998

Death Duty Registers

The Inland Revenue Department’s Testamentary Registers, sometimes known as 'Death Duty Registers' were a record of the tax payable on a deceased person's estate and give death dates, the value of estates and executors’ and legatees’ names. Holdings are listed in Archives New Zealand’s Personal Identity Reference GuideArchives New Zealand, Christchurch holds the legacy, residuary and succession duty registers for 1867-1876. Death duty remains in existence but at a nil rate.

Index to the Canterbury death duty registers, 1867-1914
This lists dates of people who died 1867-1914. It leads to files formerly at the Canterbury Museum but now at Archives New Zealand, Christchurch.
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