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Ancestry.co.uk, the UK's favourite family history website¹, has launched online the largest online collection of more than 20 million records, which document the both early European settlers to New Zealand as well as many of the country's indigenous Maori tribes.
The new records will be especially useful to the two million² Brits with ancestors who immigrated to New Zealand and who can now uncover their 'kiwi' roots.
Yet despite our close ancestral links to the country, new research reveals that we know virtually nothing about the history and culture of our Antipodean cousins. Half of Brits (51 per cent) have no idea if New Zealand has a queen – unaware that the British queen Elizabeth II is actually also the reigning monarch of New Zealand.
Moreover, a quarter of respondents (25 per cent) are unsure whether Britain fought for or against New Zealand in the World Wars, despite the fact the two countries were in fact allies in both conflicts.
And when it comes to culture, sheep (54 per cent), 'kiwis' (53 per cent) and the setting for the Lord of the Rings films (31 per cent) are among the things Brits most closely associate with the country.
Surprisingly, more than one in ten (11 per cent) even associate Aborigines with New Zealand, rather than their actual homeland - Australia.³
But from today, the two million Brits with ancestors linked to New Zealand and the 4.2 million4 of us with living New Zealand relatives can uncover our 'kiwi' roots in more than 20 million historical records documenting early British settlers and Maori tribes in New Zealand, published online for the first time.
The 'Anne Bromell Collection', named after the woman who collated the original records, spans almost 140 years from 1842 to 1981 and includes electoral rolls, immigration records, directories and land records for New Zealand, providing a comprehensive history of early settlement in the colony – essential for anyone tracing an ancestor from the era.
From the records, Ancestry.co.uk has uncovered the diverse roots of actor Russell Crowe, who can name among his antecedents Maori tribeswoman Putiputi Heihi, a member of the Ngati Porou tribe from New Zealand's North Island. The Ngati Porou was best known for producing ferocious warriors throughout history, much like the bellicose Gladiator star.
Putiputi married Crowe's great-grandfather, Athol Stanley Wemyss, the son of Scottish immigrants who settled in Wellington. Through his paternal line, Crowe can also claim English and Welsh roots, with his welsh-born grandfather the son of a Shropshire family who emigrated in the 1920s.
In 1840 the British Government and leaders of the existing Maori tribes signed the Waitingi Treaty, establishing a British governor in New Zealand while recognising Maori ownership of their land and giving them the rights of British subjects.
Today, 'Waitingi Day' is commemorated on 6th February by a public holiday in New Zealand, with expatriate cultural celebrations taking place in London and across the world.
Ancestry.co.uk International Content Director Dan Jones comments: "This collection is a fantastic resource for anyone with links to the southern hemisphere and will allow thousands of Brits to explore their New Zealand roots for the first time.
"Many of us aren't aware of the close historical links between Britain and New Zealand and may be surprised to learn that they have 'kiwi' cousins – like Russell Crowe, who despite being known as an Australian actor, is actually a New Zealander with British heritage."
¹ Source: Based on market share of visits among all UK websites in the Hitwise Lifestyle - Family industry, 2009.
² 2 per cent of Brits had ancestors who immigrated to New Zealand. The UK adult population is 47.7 million: 4 per cent of 47.7 million = 1,908,000 or almost 2 million
³ Respondents were asked to indicate which of the following they most closely associate with New Zealand and were free to choose more than one answer (hence why the percentages will not total 100 per cent). The percentages quoted are the proportions that choose that answer (e.g. sheep).
4 9 per cent of Brits said they have relatives living in New Zealand. Current UK adult population is 47.7 million (according to ONS), therefore 9 per cent of 47,700,000 = 4,293,000 or 4.2 million.