Family history

One of Grey's Māori manuscripts: it's a whakapapa account of the ancestors of Ngāti Kahungunu.Whakapapa

Want to research your whakapapa but not sure where to start? Auckland Libraries can help.

Researching your whakapapa is an exciting journey which delves into your relationship with whānau, hapū and iwi. Your ancestor’s life stories will unfold to reveal how they lived and what they believed. 

By acquiring your whakapapa, you will attain a sense of belonging and the right to participate politically and socially within your whānau, hapū and marae setting. 

With this honour, you are obligated to act in a mana-enhancing manner to uphold and maintain the gift passed down from the ancestors – taonga tuku iho: life itself. 

There are two types of whakapapa – traditional and modern. Find out more about the different types of whakapapa below, or check out our recommended resources.


Traditional whakapapa

Traditional whakapapa embraces oral history pertaining to Te Ao kohatu (the ancient world) which is pre-European. Tangata whenua believed that everything in the natural and spiritual world is connected by a family relationship of whakapapa.

Whakapapa establishes a holistic view that every human being is connected to the natural environment and the living things within it. 

Whakapapa therefore promotes care of the environment and all living creatures and the interdependent relationship between these. Its awareness acknowledges the ultimate gift – taonga tuku iho – life itself.

The ability to retain and recite whakapapa in the past was an art form reserved for certain individuals. This capacity to recall and recite generations of one’s whānau, hapū, iwi and even waka connections illustrates a depth of skill, honed memory retention and extraordinary intellect.

Whakapapa was passed down through the generations via oral recitation was considered a privileged gift. And as such, and because breath is the vessel that carries mauri (the essence of life), some whānau believe that whakapapa should not be written down.

On marae around the country, the oral recitation of whakapapa is a revered custom that is still very much alive.


Modern whakapapa

Modern whakapapa relies on written documentation held in various formats in government departments, museums, archives and libraries.

Early missionaries, ethnographers and prominent political figures realised the importance of capturing, recording and retaining iwi or hapū traditions, whakapapa and stories.

Historians, writers, journalists and the tangata whenua have built on this whakapapa corpus to provide a valuable taonga (treasure) for us to read, research, review and add to.

Not sure where to start? 

Try this approach:

  • Start with the whakapapa you already know – your parents, grandparents and the other relatives that you know and love.
  • Chatting can be a great way to get information – have you considered talking to family and friends?
  • Record any information about your relatives, names, dates of birth and so on. Collect any papers, certificates, diaries, photographs, personal and official letters that may be in the family.
  • Gather information on related family names, locations, marae, names of important ancestors and significant events.

Once you have collected and recorded all relevant details, come and see us at the Central, South or North Auckland research centres. We’ll help you work out your next steps on your whakawhanaungatanga journey. 

Te Whare Runanga/Māori Research Room

The Whare Runanga is a special room off Tari Tohutoru/ The Reference Department in the Waitakere Central Library. This room has been blessed by our kaumatua and is a space dedicated to Māori research, in particular whakapapa.

© Auckland Council