Researching the history of a house in Ōtautahi/Christchurch

How old is my house? How has it changed over time? Who else has lived in the house since it was built? The aim of this guide is to direct you to resources at Christchurch City Libraries that will help find answers to these questions.

Useful information from other sources can be found in How to research the history of a house in Christchurch by Jo-Anne Smith.

Library Catalogue

Search the library catalogue for books and other material (pamphlets, diaries, journals etc). Searching for the following topics can help you to find books which may give interesting information relating to your home’s history.

Architecture

Catalogue record for BungalowExplore changing trends in housing over time. These may help to tie your home to a particular period of time.

Christchurch suburbs

Learning about the history of your suburb can help you understand the development of housing in your area. It can also provide leads for further research. We have a rich collection of books on the history of Christchurch suburbs.

Search the library catalogue - use the suburb name as a search term and include the words "history" and "Christchurch". For example, Linwood.

Local History Bibliography - While no longer updated this resource still provides a useful pathway for finding books and materials relating to Christchurch areas and suburbs.

Buildings and institutions (Churches, Schools, Businesses, etc)

Valuable insights into the development of housing in a suburb can be revealed by reading about local heritage landmarks and the history of institutions such as schools and churches in the area. 

Search the library catalogue using keywords such as the name of the landmark or institution along with other terms like “history” and the city (e.g. Christchurch) or town (e.g. Lyttelton) where it is located.

Catalogue record for How to research the history of a house in ChristchurchSuggested Reading

Christchurch Street and Place Names index

Was your street always known under its current name? Many streets have changed their names. The Christchurch Street and Place Names index is a good place to look to find any previous names your street was known by. It’s essential to know this as it helps keep your research on track when using essential resources such as directories and historic maps.

Half of a panorama of Merivale and St. Albans from the spire of the St. Albans Methodist Church, Rugby Street running through centre [1922] File Reference CCL PhotoCD 3, IMG0043.

Directories

Directories are books that provide organised listings of people, professions and places. Usually they are updated and published every 1-2 years.

Directories, especially historical collections, can reveal a surprising amount of information about the history of a house.

Christchurch City Libraries provides access to two significant historical directory collections:

Wise’s and Stone’s are particularly useful for finding out who lived at the property. While both directories give the name of the person who was the “head of the household” (i.e. the person, often a male, who ran the household) Stone’s also includes the names of boarders living at the house. You can also find other details such as their occupations and trace how long they had lived at an address.

Other people living at the address can be found through using Electoral Rolls.

General advice about street directories

When you are using directories to find out who has previously lived in a house it’s useful to note down names of neighbours. This can be helpful for identifying when house numbers have changed.

For example, let's say you are tracking who lived at a house and checking Wise's or Stone's (or both!) year by year. So far you’ve found a Mr Stone living at 123 Everywhere Street and his neighbours include Mrs Lily at number 121, Mr Campbell at 125, and so on. When checking the volume for the preceding year you see that the Mr Stone is no longer listed as living at 123 Everywhere Street but neither do Mrs Lily and Mr Campbell appear. Do these occupants appear anywhere else in Everywhere Street? If so then this may be a clue that the house numbers in the street have been reassigned and so you will need to take this into account.

Street names sometimes change over time so remember to check Christchurch Street and Place Names index to determine if this has happened.

Directories should always be used in conjunction with Electoral Rolls especially if you are trying to establish when and who was living at an address for a given time. The data in any volume of a directory could be a year or two old by the time it got to print. This was due to the amount of time it took to gather, process, and publish the information. Electoral Rolls, because they were updated more often can give a more accurate reflection of when and who was living at the address.

Wise's New Zealand Post Office Directory

Wises is available online through Ancestry Library Edition which provides access to volumes from 1872 to 1955. The same period is available on microfiche at Tuakiri | Identity, Level 2, Tūranga. Later editions of Wise’s are available in print format at Tuakiri | Identity.

Ancestry Library Edition can only be accessed within the library (remote access is not available) through library computers, family history computers or using your own device and connecting to the library’s free wifi service. (Please note that Firefox, Chrome or Safari work better on this resource.)

The most useful section in the Wise’s Directories for learning about a house’s history is the Christchurch Streets Directory.

How to use Wise's directories

It’s useful to be aware of changes in the layout and content of the Wise’s directories over time.

From the 1878-79 volume to the 1904 volume only a selection of Christchurch streets were given their own entry. Streets belonging to Boroughs (and some suburbs) weren’t given their own – instead an entry would be included for the Borough but often this would just list individuals living there.

 A comprehensive Christchurch Streets Directory in which the vast majority of streets have their own entry along with the house number and head householder first appears in the 1905 volume. Also, house numbers in urban areas first appeared in the 1885/1886 volume. (Rural, predominately farming districts were not assigned house numbers).

House numbers for addresses continued to appear in each volume right up to the 1979 edition.

How to access Wise’s in Ancestry Library Edition

(Recommended internet browsers for this resource are Firefox, Chrome or Safari)

Select images in the gallery below for a step-by-step guide to finding Christchurch streets.

Quick Reference Guide for finding the start of the Christchurch Directory section for each volume of Wise’s
Year/ Vol No. Year/ Vol No. Year/ Vol No.
1872/1873 140 1907 99 1926 128
1875/76 82 1908 104 1927 129
1878/79 42 1909 109 1928 134
1880/81 53 1910 122 1930 140
1883/84 75 1911 123 1931 136
1885/86 84 1912 128 1933 128
1887/88 82 1913 124 1934 125
1890/91 88 1914 111 1936 130
1892/93 65 1915 120 1938 131
1894/95 102 1916 120 1940 140
1896/97 103 1917 122 1942 150
1898/99 105 1918 109 1943 558
1900 110 1919 421 1946 631
1901 96 1920 134 1947 675
1902 106 1921 136 1950/51 583
1903 115 1922 129 1953/54 666
1904 94 1923 125 1955 701
1905 97 1924 133  
1906 114 1925 129
Quick Reference Guide for finding the start of the Lyttelton Directory section for each volume of Wise’s
Year/ Vol No. Year/ Vol No. Year/ Vol No.
1872/1873 145 1907 266 1926 315
1875/76 89 1908 281 1927 315
1878/79 116 1909 295 1928 322
1880/81 105 1910 319 1930 328
1883/84 147 1911 328 1931 323
1885/86 158 1912 325 1933 310
1887/88 183 1913 313 1934 310
1890/91 182 1914 305 1936 323
1892/93 47 1915 306 1938 329
1894/95 250 1916 310 1940 350
1896/97 251 1917 311 1942 736
1898/99 269 1918 289 1943 746
1900 274 1919 602 1946 831
1901 273 1920 326 1947 895
1902 311 1921 331 1950/51 768
1903 298 1922 321 1953/54 857
1904 255 1923 312 1955 896
1905 258 1924 321  
1906 284 1925 316

Stone's Canterbury, Nelson, Marlborough & Westland Directory

Often referred to as "Stone's", this directory is similar to Wise's in that it too has a Christchurch Streets Index which is useful for determining the age of the house, who lived in the house (head of the household and boarders), and other interesting facts.

Stone’s is available on CD-ROM on library Family History Computers for the period 1904 to 1939.

You can choose any year within this period. The Christchurch Streets Index appears at the beginning of each volume. You can browse the alphabetical list for the street name you are looking for or you can do a keyword search by pressing ctrl+F and entering the street name in the search box.

From 1940 until 1955 Stone's is only available in book format. These volumes are available at the ANZC Research Collection at Tuakiri | Identity, Level 2, Tūranga.

Electoral Rolls

Directories help you to search for an address to find out who the head of the household was (usually a male) at that address. Other people living at the address are not included. This is where electoral rolls are useful. Electoral rolls let you to search for a person and see who else with the same surname was living at the same address. Only people who were eligible and registered to vote are included.

The excerpt below is from the Riccarton Electoral Roll of 1919 and we can clearly see four people living at 149 Yaldhurst Road (The Wise’s Directory of 1919 only mentions Edwin Blakeway at 149 Yaldhurst Road).

New Zealand Electoral Rolls from 1853 to 1981 are available on Ancestry Library Edition which is available in our libraries. From 1984 to the present, New Zealand Electoral Rolls are available in print format at Tuakiri | Identity, Level 2, Tūranga.

How to access New Zealand Electoral Rolls in Ancestry Library Edition

(Recommended internet browsers for this resource are Firefox, Chrome or Safari)

Select images in the gallery below for a step-by-step guide to finding New Zealand electoral rolls in Ancestry.

Photographs

Finding a photo of your house is possible but the success rate isn’t very high. You may improve your odds of finding an old image of your house by including street names and suburb names as search terms.

You may also want to use the names of nearby schools, businesses, churches or heritage landmarks in your search. A photo featuring one of these landmarks or institutions may just happen to include your house! 

The map collection includes historic Christchurch maps which show the locations of long forgotten public buildings and businesses. A good example is this 1912 map of Christchurch. Some of these buildings may have been in your neighbourhood and so could also be included as search terms.

Here are some image collections and databases for you to start searching:

Digitised images 

Try searching the library catalogue. Enter your search terms then narrow your results using the format filter for "Photographs". 

The Discovery Wall 

The Discovery Wall website contains images, videos and text relating to the city’s unique history and identity, a digital cityscape made up of current and historical images sourced from photo archives spanning Christchurch City Libraries, the Christchurch Star, and submissions from the public including entries in the Christchurch Photo Hunt. 

Canterbury Stories 

Yaldhurst House under construction, colour photo
Yaldhurst House under construction, ccl-cs-7163, by Antonius (Tony) de Vries CC BY-NC-ND-SA 3.0 NZ

Canterbury Stories is our digital heritage repository. Here you can find images, videos and text relating to the province's history and identity, made up of current and historical images sourced from photo archives spanning Christchurch City Libraries, the Christchurch Star, and submissions from the public including entries in the Christchurch Photo Hunt.

Digital NZ

A useful resource for searching for images. It is an archive of digitised images from libraries, art galleries, museums and other organisations throughout New Zealand. It also offers the ability to restrict results to showing images only, and to a specific decade.

Aerial Photographs

Canterbury Maps allows you to look at historic and recent aerial photographs of Christchurch and surrounding areas. Use this to track how your home and/or the area you live in has changed over time from 1925 to 2019. May be also be useful in figuring out a rough date for when your house was built.

Historical Maps

Historical maps can help uncover interesting details about the area in which your house is situated.  For example, some maps of early Christchurch such as this 1954 map include house numbers – this can be helpful when using the Wise's and Stone's Directories for pinpointing the location of the house.

Maps can also be used in association with the Christchurch Street and Place Names index – they may provide a visual representation which leads to a better understanding of how the street has changed. 

Papers Past

Papers Past is an archive of New Zealand newspapers from the 19th and early 20th centuries. The major Christchurch newspapers currently available on Papers Past include:

Newspapers may provide a large amount of information about your house and its inhabitants over time.

Some suggestions for searches include:

  • House number and street name search – e.g. “1234 Colombo Street” (try variations of the search phrase so that you don’t overlook other useful results e.g. “1234 Colombo St”)
  • Search for names of inhabitants you learn have previously lived in the house.

Remember to use the filters such as setting a date search range or narrowing down to a specific region to bring up more relevant results.

CINCH

CINCH (Community Directory of Information database) is an online community directory containing information for around 6,000 community organisations, clubs and continuing education providers in Christchurch.

Use CINCH to find local history groups. Suburb-specific local history groups have members who have in-depth knowledge of the area and are generous in sharing their knowledge.  

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