Retirement is a great opportunity to learn more about the beautiful country we call home. The rolling hills shield stories and the rivers whisper of our shared past. Often, as New Zealanders, we dismiss our history due to our youth. Granted, we don’t have any 4,000-year-old castles or stories of knights in shining armour. Instead, our history is ever-evolving, with the opportunity for you to become apart of the tale. Connect with New Zealand’s history and your own past in retirement.
What is Genealogy?
Regardless of whether you are first-gen, or your family has been in New Zealand for years, genealogy is a great way for history to be personal. Perhaps you’ve heard the alluring ads online for family history or can recall making family trees in primary school, genealogy is the tracing of family lines. Beyond curiosity, genealogy is about your whakapapa and tying your family to your culture. Traditionally, whakapapa is the oral history of your lineage, from the start of the universe to today.
In writing this piece, I spoke to a few of my local family historians. When asked why they look into the past, they described it as becoming detectives as they pieced together the stories of their ancestors. It started with a curiosity to learn more about their family and resulted in a mission to find where they came from and to connect with others along their family tree.
One genealogist has traced his family back to 1780s Britain but tells me many can trace back to the English Reformation in the 16th century. At this time, Thomas Cromwell, King Henry VIII’s minister, ordered that every birth, baptism and burial was to be recorded in the Parish Registry. This was in part a way to prevent bigamy and consanguineous marriages, but also allowed the Church to have a better understanding of the English population.
England and Wales were the first to begin recording their population, and other European nations quickly followed suit. However, some of these records were lost to war or time.
So How Do You Start?
Many of these early records are available online. Pre-internet, genealogy consisted of hours spent looking over files and records at a family history office. Today, hundreds of records can be found online. Sites such as FamilySearch or Ancestry.com can help you piece together your family tree. To ‘flesh out’ the story, PapersPast contains New Zealand records and newspapers starting from 1839.
There are also locations, such as your local public library, where genealogists gather to discuss and help each other. Here is a sense of community, connected with a shared curiosity to unearth the past.
There is far more to discovering your family history than just names and dates. It is the stories of life, love and anguish that make history feel closer. When constructing family trees and timelines, genealogists also look at the historical context of their lives. One genealogist tells me how by looking at his timeline, he can see his late great-great-grandfather living during the American Revolution. Suddenly, history becomes a lot more personal.
History can be considered cold, impersonal or stuffy, but for these genealogists, it is anything but. It is an ever-growing story, as rich with details and warmth as our own lives. They see history and genealogy as a way to preserve their journey for everyone. They encourage looking into your genealogy and talking with younger generations. Next time you’re in a public library, check to see if they have a branch of genealogists. Their passion for discovery and wealth of knowledge may lead to a revelation of your own.