Researching New Zealand Newspapersby Marie Hickey
From experience, many family historians search newspapers for particular items. The most popular being birth, marriage and death notices, obituaries and passenger lists. Occasionally they look for an article that Aunt Agnes had but has now crumbled with age and they want to replace it.
However, newspapers can give you so much more. For instance, you will get a taste of what life was like for your ancestors as you read about events which occurred locally, nationally and internationally all of which will have had an impact on their lives to a lesser or greater degree. Articles in newspapers have the advantage of having been written at the time that events happened and have not been sanitised by political correctness or a hindsight view of history.
Unfortunately, newspapers were not produced as something to keep and so, have been printed on paper using inferior material that adds to their deterioration. There is also the issue that as with any business, newspapers come and go and then just to add to your frustration, like any other record, they are subject to the elements and are least likely to survive fire, flood, storm etc.
The first newspaper published in New Zealand was the second issue of the New Zealand Gazette 18 April 1840 printed in the Bay of Islands.
Starting your search
We now live in a technological age and as such, it is natural that you will most likely start your search of newspapers using the internet. The National Library of New Zealand has a website which contains digitised copies of a number of newspapers from their collections 1839-1945 called Papers Past http://paperspast.natlib.govt.nz/cgi-bin/paperspast; new titles are still being added and the date coverage of some titles already included are being expanded. Not every newspaper in the National Library’s collection has been digitised but there is at least some coverage for most regions of New Zealand.
To search Papers Past you can search just using a name which can be either a full name, surname or initials and surname. If you want to limit your search to just titles and a particular time period you can do so by selecting the “more search options” in the top right-hand corner of the Search Newspapers box on the home page.
There is a short history of each title on the Papers Past website that you can view when you choose the title and click on the “Read More” button.
You may not know or be sure of which publications were produced for the area your family lived; just choose the “By Region” button and click on the part of the map of New Zealand where they lived and you will get a list of the newspaper titles on the website for that area along with the date coverage currently available on the site. However, some events were reported in many newspapers around the country so you may find articles in publications in different localities.
To find out what newspapers were published for your place of interest, the book - Union list of newspapers preserved in libraries, newspaper offices, local authority offices and museums in New Zealand by D.R. Harvey (pub. National Library of New Zealand, Wellington, 1987) is an excellent resource. This book should be available for you to consult at most larger libraries and will give you the titles of newspapers, the date range of publication and where in New Zealand you may find copies.
If more than one newspaper was published in your area of interest, then check all available titles as they will most likely have differing editorial styles eg NZ Herald is quite formal and conservative whereas the Auckland Star had a more informal approach and appealed more to the “everyday man in the street”. As a result, you may get details in one newspaper not published in the other.
Apart from the more commonly known newspapers for cities and regions around New Zealand, consider other periodicals, such as, the Weekly News, NZ Women’s Weekly, The Ladies Mirror, New Zealand Observer, Sporting Illustrated and Dramatic Review etc. These all include items of social, local and national interest that may not have been published in the bigger newspapers. Some of the larger libraries have a range of such publications in their collections on microfilm and while these may not have been indexed they are worthwhile consulting. There is an index of the NZ Women’s Weekly produced on CD of the social news and children’s pages (Index of New Zealanders in the New Zealand Woman’s Weekly).
Apart from articles, passenger lists, birth, marriage and death notices newspapers contain other material you may not have considered in your research.
During times of conflict, newspapers often lists of names of those killed and/or awarded medals for gallantry etc. The Armed Forces produced newspapers for the troops overseas that can be quite informative. Those for WWI (New Zealand) were titled Chronicles of the N.Z.E.F. and have been published on microfiche; your library may have a set of these microfiche.
Weddings and divorce
Up until the 1970s/early 1980s some newspapers would publish reports on one or two recent weddings giving details of the bridal party’s outfits, perhaps mentioning guests and usually accompanied by a photograph. The New Zealand Truth published articles relating to couples filing for separation prior to divorce. Some years have been digitised and appear on the Papers Past website. Some newspapers also used to publish engagement notices on week-ends and these are worth looking for as a marriage did not always follow – who knows, granny may have been engaged several times before marrying grandad.
Have you considered looking at advertisements? This may seem strange but it could be that you find an illustration of the biscuit or jam factory where grandma worked – something you may not find elsewhere. We also forget that the furniture, clothing, household goods such as vacuum cleaners, fridges etc in use when we were children or by our ancestors will be quite foreign to our descendants. For this reason, advertisements are a good source for this sort of detail. Do not ignore items such as foodstuffs as this gives an idea of the cost of living at the time.
Various newspapers are included in the findmypast.com.au datasets. To view a complete list of what is included, simply click the “Search records” tab, located in the top menu, click onto "full list of records" from the drop down menu.
Many libraries subscribe to findmypast.com.au and/or The British Newspaper Archives so do investigate what is on offer through your local library.
You should now have an idea some of the “extra tidbits” to be found in newspapers and are hopefully inspired to find out what is available and use this wonderful resource. You just do not know what treasures, scandal or truths you will discover.