How to Begin Researching Your Family History

The Kippenberger Library at the National Army Museum Te Mata Toa provides a great starting point for families researching their military history. Our library staff frequently assist family members in seeking out information on an ancestor who has served in the armed forces and bringing their unique history and experiences to life.

To mark Family History Month this year, our library staff have shared some useful resources and advice for researchers beginning their family history journey.

NZ Troops in camp. 1988.1430.1, National Army Museum Te Mata Toa

  • Do you have an individual service number?

A helpful place to begin your family history journey is Auckland Museum’s online cenotaph.

The online cenotaph is a user-friendly platform which features individual profiles of men and women who’ve served Aotearoa, New Zealand. Researchers are able to use various search filters to find a person and important details related to their service, including in most cases their individual service number.

With a service number you will be able to access the relevant service record and it is here where a wealth of information can be found.

Lunch break at Featherston. 1999.2632, National Army Museum Te Mata Toa

  • Have you accessed their service record?

Service records are a detailed account of an individual’s personal history during service.

Service records include important forms such as history, attestation and casualty sheets alongside dates such as enlistment, embarkation or discharge. The numerous abbreviations and handwriting styles found in service records can make them difficult to read. Perseverance is the key!

To gain access to service records contact the following organisations:

Personnel who served prior to 1 January 1921 – Archives New Zealand

Please note: WWI service records have been digitized and are available to the public online at Archives New Zealand. A direct link to an individual’s service record can be found in their profile on Auckland Museum’s online cenotaph.

Personnel who served after 1 January 1921  – New Zealand Defence Force Personnel Archives

Please note: Service records of personnel who served in both WWI and WWII will be held at Archives New Zealand.


35858 Arthur P. Kidd and 35834 Richard Kidd in uniform. 2007.203, National Army Museum Te Mata Toa

  • Which actions or battles did they take part in?

Official unit histories compliment the personalised information found in service records.

To find out which actions an individual took part in, you will need to seek out the official histories of the unit they served in. These accounts were written by unit Commanders and give the dates and details of the battles in depth, where the units went and what they did.

The unit histories for WWI and WWII have been digitised and are available to the public:



  • Are you able to source material from a personal perspective?

Another important perspective to consider when researching is the personal, first-hand experience of service. For example, what did it smell like? What did they see? What did it feel like? For some individual’s this may not be possible, but if you have access to a journal, letters or a scrapbook related to your military person you are well on your way.

Talking with family is also recommended. A family member may have stories, photos to share, diaries, letters or recollections of the person who they remember from childhood.

Another useful resource is personal narratives. Found in libraries and archives, these accounts are written at a soldier’s level describing their everyday life. An individual may not have written their own account, however seeking out personal narratives by members of the same unit who may have shared similar experiences can also offer valuable insight from a soldier’s perspective.

Gathering material from a variety of sources, both official and personal, helps to build an individual’s unique story and bring their memory and experiences to life.


Professor Gary Sheffield researching in the Kippenberger Military Archives and Research Library, 2016

  • What other resources are available?

These additional resources also offer useful information to help with your research:

Paperspast – Digitized New Zealand newspapers which include articles about parades, training and departures as well as listings of those who were missing, wounded or killed.

National Library of New Zealand and Alexander Turnbull Library – These collections hold published and unpublished material including letters, diaries and memoirs of individual service personnel and a large photographic archive.

New Zealand History Online

Commonwealth War Graves Commission – This website lists all commonwealth service personnel who died on Active Service in WWI and WWII.

New Zealand War Graves Project – Over 11,000 colour photos of New Zealand war graves headstones and Primary Memorials.

  • Do you need assistance with your family research project?

Our staff at the Kippenberger Library take great pride and interest in helping families research their military history. If you would like assistance in conducting your own research or would like to find out more about our services and facilities please contact us by filling out our online enquiry form.