Hidden Histories - Jason Gunn - Day 6

Death certificates and obituaries can tell us more about our family.
We can find out about our ancestors medical history and we may find out about the lives of our ancestors but it's important to remember that the person with the first hand knowledge is not the one giving the information.

Researching using records of death

Newspaper Death and Funeral Notices and Obituaries

When you know the date of death it is worth searching the newspapers to see if there is a death notice and/or a funeral notice. These may give you details about other family members or where the person lived. In some of the earlier newspapers the death notices are found in a different area to the funeral notices, so you may need to scan the newspaper to get an idea of how it is laid out so that you know where to look.

Obituaries may appear anytime in the couple of weeks following the death. Unless the person is famous they are more likely to appear in the local newspaper.

Cemetery Records

There are two main types of cemetery records; Burial Registers which list who is buried in a grave and Cemetery Transcriptions that give details from tombstones.  Where possible it is best to check both. Sometimes a grave will not have a headstone, or the marker for the grave has been destroyed over time. Sometimes the tombstone will include details of others in the family that have died and that are not buried in the actual grave.

Christchurch City Council Cemeteries Database

This online database of Christchurch City Council cemeteries can be searched here:


It does not include cemeteries associated with churches in Christchurch.

New Zealand Society of Genealogists Cemetery Collection

For the last 40 years the members of the NZSG have been transcribing burial and cemetery records from around New Zealand. These were originally published on microfiche and more recently on Ancestry.com.

Outside of Canterbury

Many city and regional councils publish their burial databases online. The amount of detail which can be found varies from council to council. Some include locations and photos of the graves.

Death Certificates – Causes of death

The cause of death is an area that can warrant more research. It may be worthwhile putting together a medical family tree where instead of details about the people on the tree you look at medical information. This could include ages at death and cause of death.

If the cause of death shows a “Verdict by Jury” or that a coroner’s inquest occurred, then you may find that Archives New Zealand (Wellington) holds a coroner’s report. These can supply fuller details about the death. These are closed for 50 years from the date of death.

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