Family History – Marriage and Divorce

From our photograph collection - click to view full image
New Zealand servicemen and their war brides shortly after their arrival at the Christchurch railway station. 22 Oct. 1946.

Details of births, marriages and deaths, from registration certificates or church registers, are the key elements to compiling your family history tree. Finding dates or details such as names of parents, spouses, children will often help you put together the pieces of your family history puzzle and lead you to your next path of research.

Hatches, Matches, and Dispatches - Finding a Marriage

Intention to marry files

  • Archives New Zealand (Wellington Office) holds Notices of Intention to Marry 1856-1956. There is also a national index available from 1856 to 1880.
  • The files tell how long each partner in a prospective union had been living at their present address.
  • Where a partner was a minor, the parent or guardian who gave permission for the marriage to go ahead is usually mentioned.
  • There is also information about when a parent or guardian was unavailable through being dead or overseas.
  • The information on an Intention to Marry file is not always accurate, either intentionally or accidentally.

Marriage registration

General Birth, Death and Marriage certificate information

Marriage certificates

Marriage microfiche date from 1854. Māori to Māori marriages were published in a separate sequence up until 1961 - see Māori Births, Deaths & Marriages 1911-1961.

Marriage registration became compulsory in 1856 though records on microfiche date from 1854. Earlier weddings were documented in parish records, many copies of which were eventually obtained by the Births, Deaths & Marriage Office.

Marriage certificates include the following information:

Until 1880

  • the date and place of marriage
  • full names and conjugal status of bride and groom, and their occupations
  • often there is a dash beside the woman's occupation. If she is described as having 'domestic duties', she worked in her parents' home. A 'domestic servant' would work in someone else's home.
  • when a prosperous couple married, they often appeared as 'gentleman' and 'lady'

From 1880

  • as above and include the birthplace, residence and usual residence of each party, occupation of fathers, and maiden names of mothers
  • if a mother married more than once, her first name, current surname, previous married surnames and her maiden name may appear
  • a divorced woman often reverted to her maiden name to avoid using her first married name.

Order of information:

  • Pre-1947 grooms whose surnames start with 'A' are followed by brides whose surnames start with 'A' and so on through the alphabet.
  • From 1947 grooms are together in one alphabetical list followed by alphabetical brides.
  • From 1957 an entry has the surname of the spouse beside it.
  • From 1981-1990 names appear alphabetically, with grooms and brides intermingled.

Original records held by churches and registry offices include witnesses and name the officiating minister. Precise ages may be given. Sometimes age would be referred to through the use of the words 'full age' (21 or more), 'under age' or 'minor' (both under 21).
The information on the certificate was provided by the couple getting married. Sometimes such details as age or place of birth are different from what is on other sources e.g. birth and death certificates. People were not always truthful about their age when getting married. A death certificate is often more reliable than a marriage certificate.

Matching Bride with Groom

From our photograph collection - click to view full image
The wedding of Mr Lewis Philip Hayman of Sydney to Mrs Lillie Marks at Beth El Synagogue, Gloucester Street, Christchurch. 15 Oct. 1901

The Family History computers are loaded with New Zealand marriages, 1836-1956. This CD-ROM, transcribed by genealogists, contains approximately 1.7 million names and helps identify the matching entry to a marriage in the Registrar-General's index of marriages.

The microfiche marriages index is the official record provided by the Registrar-General’s office. In this a husband and wife share a folio number. If the name of the spouse is not provided check all the people of the opposite sex until a person with the same number appears.

Varcoe's New Zealand Marriages Index is a web resource designed to be used with the microfiche marriages index. Enter the index number from the microfiche, select the correct year and the range of surnames to search for the matching entry for either the groom or the bride is given e.g. WILL - WILS for a bride with the surname Williamson. Varcoe’s also allows searching by name for the years 1854-1862 and has a separate search function allowing searches of Māori names.

Church registers - transcripts of marriage registers

General information about the Church registers.

Marriage entries

A subject search on our catalogue will provide a list of marriage registers that have been transcribed.


  • If the wedding did not take place in a church, the church code will refer to the church of the officiating priest.
  • Details of the groom go down the left-hand side of the entry, details of the bride down the right.
  • In those Catholic records we hold, details are provided when a person from a different faith is marrying a Catholic.
  • Details of divorce are mentioned where noted in the register.
  • The material in marriage registers is official and a duplicate is sent from the marriage place to the Registrar-General. The minister/marriage celebrant not only conducts the service but acts as the Registrar-General’s agent. Marriages are the only part of the church register scheme where the official document is duplicated.

Newspaper Information

Birth, Marriage and Death notices


Archives New Zealand in Christchurch holds registers/files for the Timaru and Christchurch Supreme Courts, including information for Greymouth, Hokitika and Westport.

Divorce registers and files from are restricted for 60 years from date of entry.

Divorce files give the title of the relevant Act of Parliament under which the divorce was allowed. The first New Zealand law allowing people to obtain a divorce was passed in 1867. The ground for divorce was adultery on the part of husband or wife, but only if there were additional aggravating circumstances. From 1898 a wife no longer had to prove that there were aggravating circumstances beyond adultery. The grounds were extended to include two further reasons: failure to comply with a decree for the restitution of conjugal rights; and desertion for five years, and, from 1919, three years.

When a divorce is granted, a stamp is placed on the original marriage certificate recording the date of the Decree Absolute and the geographical location of the Court where the divorce was granted.

A divorce file:

  • Names the judge, the parties’ lawyers, who got divorced, when a decree nisi was produced and when the decree absolute would come into force.
  • Names the petitioner and respondent. The petitioner states where he/she was born and lives and where the respondent was born and lives.
  • Sometimes names a person or persons with whom the offending spouse committed adultery.
  • Can sometimes include marriage certificates, photographs and correspondence and provide a great deal of information about the family involved.
  • Names children and their dates of birth.
  • Gives the reason for the divorce. Sometimes this is very brief.
  • Includes comments from a respondent about their spouses’ financial situation and about the alimony asked for. A petitioner usually asks for the respondent to pay the costs of the petition.
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