Family History – Inquest Files

The note “Verdict of Jury” on a death certificate indicates that an inquest took place. Inquest files usually include statements by witnesses, officials and family members, plus the coroner’s verdict. They record dates of death and lead to death certificates, death notices and cemetery records. The search process for finding coroner's inquest records appears in Family History at National Archives.

Inquests are held when death has been without known cause. Examples are:

  • where the death is or appears to be suicide,
  • unnatural or violent,
  • when the cause of death is unknown and a doctor has not recently seen the person,
  • when the person died in prison or in the custody of the police or a security officer,
  • when death occurred at a psychiatric hospital, foster home or social welfare support service,
  • when death occurred while the person was under anaesthetic or during or following a medical or surgical procedure.

Inquests were reported in newspapers. Sometimes there is no death notice when the person died violently, but details would be published in the inquest columns. Sometimes inquests were adjourned, and the full details were provided to the press some time after the death.

Inquest information at Christchurch City Libraries

The Index to coroners’ inquests 1888-1905 on microfilm can be found on Tuakiri | Identity, Level 2, Tūranga. It is not a complete record: the cards lists the name of the person who died, the place where the inquest was held and the year of death, with a reference to the number of the relevant file held at Archives New Zealand in Wellington.

The library also has on microfilm an index of Coroners’ inquests: index to record books 1901-25. This gives the name of the deceased and a file number. It continues from and overlaps the 1888-1905 index.

Both resources give the cause of death as determined by the inquest.

There is information in the Police Gazette - either the regional Canterbury or Otago Gazettes(the Library holds some volumes) or the New Zealand Police Gazette, which was published 1877- and is held by Archives New Zealand. The material in these volumes is useful but is for the information of the police. It lacks the detail which will appear in some newspaper articles and in the inquest files held by Archives New Zealand.

Inquest files at Archives New Zealand

Original surviving inquest files from the 1840s - 1988 are at Archives New Zealand, Wellington. These files include statements by witnesses, other legal and official documentation and the coroner’s verdict. Files may be incomplete.

All coroner’s reports (but not the indexes or the registers) are restricted for 50 years from the date of death for files from 1955-1978 only. Contact Archives New Zealand, Wellington to arrange permission to view. Permission must be obtained from the Coroner’s Court to use files less than 50 years old (Coronial Services Officer, Dept. of Courts, Private Bag 5094, Wellington).

The Department of Internal Affairs holds some early files.

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