In 1788 a 15yr old boy was caught stealing a pair of leather boots in London England.

His defense was that he had seen a boy go in and take the boots, he ran after him and picked them up when the boy dropped them.

No one bought it and the young boy was found guilty and sentenced to be transported to Australia to the new convict colony on the second fleet of ships contracted from the slaving industry.

Whether the convicts arrived dead or not was inconsequential, and for this 15yr old he was one of the 70% of the passengers that survived but were near death who disembarked onto foreign country soil.

The 15yr old city kid was alone and thousands of miles from any family, he would have to learn how to build a house, create himself some work and make his own clothes if he was to survive.

It would take him some time, but eventually, after 10yrs of struggle, he would find himself a woman and reluctantly join the army.

After serving in the Royal Army he was given land (which they had stolen from indigenous tribes) in what is now known as Northern Sydney, he would sell this to his friend so he could establish a boat building business (once it became legal)  and settle in an area of Balmain now known as Darling Harbour.

There he and his wife would give birth to many children, one, in particular, a son named Nathaniel.

Meanwhile, in NZ an iwi (tribe) called Kati Mamoe, had recently been decimated in an epic battle of Samson like proportions.

Those who had survived the recent iwi war found themselves enslaved, those who escaped married back into the dominant iwi to secure their positions and lands.

Survivors were scattered and could be found re-establishing themselves and their livelihoods in the lower south island.

A few remained and returned to the old lands (now known as Fiordland) and were often spotted, while others moved far away to be connected to other iwis but not too far from the traditional homelands that they could be considered abandoned.

Survivors in the 1780’s had already begun setting up trading posts with American, Scottish, Spanish, and French whalers.

A son of the survivors, a prospective chief, would find himself with one of his original tribal woman who would give birth to a daughter named Hinepu; on the Island Rakiura (Glowing Skies) now known as Stewart Island.

Years would pass then one day a Sydneysider who had traveled to Aotearoa (New Zealand) with his brother in law would fall in love with a young Maori girl, they would soon move to Riverton and a town would be born.

That boy was Nathaniel son of an Australian convict, the girl was Hinepu daughter of one of the Ngai Tahu chiefs for Kati Mamoe.

This is the story of where two worlds collide, how the introduction of Pakeha (European or Non-Maori)  intertwines with my Maori heritage.

Its one of many instances of my Whakapapa (or family tree) where Pacific Nations meets Western World, but it’s not the beginning of my whakapapa or family tree and it’s not the most interesting of my family history.

My Maori heritage actually begins on the wakas (boat) Takitimu, Tainui and Arawa, were at certain drop off areas and certain voyages my whanau story begins.

My Pakeha heritage begins in the middle ages, as France, Scotland and England marry into each other to secure lands and strengthen alliances and in Germany where a wealthy family is stripped of its resources and slowly throughout the generations builds upon its successes.

These two strong ethnic lines are filled with murder, scandal, love stories, tragedy, extreme richness and extreme poverty.

It examines the societal struggles, fashion, the religious complications, the effects of drugs and alcohol, and sacrifice.

My whakapapa (pronounced fuck-a-papa means family tree) is also a source of knowledge of what not to do and what to do, teaching me lessons on love, life, money, and family.

It has taught me how having everything can so easily be lost by idiotic and spoilt children and how having nothing can be the beginning of an empire.

Its, for me, a constant reminder of always being willing to take hold of opportunities.

And your whakapapa is just as resourceful, scandalous and interesting if you only knew it.

Yes your whakapapa no matter what your ethnicity is going to be more interesting than any Games of Thrones episode.

  • 1Ask your Mum and Dad for their grandparents and your great-grandparents names and if they know anything about them.

Stories are the best way to find out more about your family tree and it can help you to make sure you are on the right track.

Don’t worry too much about the accuracies at this point, your research into your whanau (pronounced far-no means family) will often bring up more accurate information anyway.

Its important that you take any part of history with a grain of salt, one person’s truth is not another a persons truth and I’ll have examples of this later on.

  • 2. Find a good genealogical website like

I use which is why I recommend it, it helps to visualize your whakapapa as well as ensure you keep it in order.

Basically, it just records it for you in a place where you cant lose it.

The further you go back the more you tend to mix and muddle lines, so for me, keeps it crystal clear and lets me add biographical notes for each of my ancestors as I find them.

But any site that does this for you will be fine.

  • 3.   Start Googling

Sites like,, wiki family etc are filled with people who have already done most of the hard work in establishing connections.

You will probably find your grandparents in most whakapapa or family trees already and its just a matter of simply adding them to your own family tree

But beware, a lot have inconsistencies that need verifying.

  • 4.  Verifying

Verifying those family trees is the most time consuming and trust me you need to do this.

Linking into incorrect family members can mean wasting a lot of your time so making sure you do it right the first time can save you an extra lot of work later.

Now to verify, we can praise the Lord for the Latter-day Saints for this.

Those bike riding, non-caffeine bible talking hippies may not have the most reliable of bibles, but they did develop a need to keep and document EVERYTHING.

And no matter where you are in the western world, these guys own most genealogical sites and historical personal records.

The site    is a complete index of all records, census records, shipping and passenger lists, marriage, baptism and birth records sourced from other churches (can I get an amen) all from around the world.

The amount these guys have is crazy and you will need this to verify correct births and people, and when your family arrives somewhere.

Protip: Most Maori and Western Families have naming conventions, for some families you may find your grandparents or great-grandparents will have a middle name that is either the maiden name or first name of their parents or grandparents.

If you are having a hard time locating someone checks the middle names of your grandparents and their siblings, this will give you an indication as to whether you are on the right family line.

For Maori, however, this will only help to a certain decade and to a certain point and for this, you will have to refer to other resources such as Newspapers or personal accounts to identify locations etc.

It’s not hard and you can find some quite entertaining information but for this visit and biographies which contain historical accounts, whakapapas, and stories to get you started.

Maori ancestors could be known by their Maori names and their English names and some people have interpreted this as two different people.

Spelling variations can also be a problem and during the settlement days, you can find that their names have been shortened.

Again for this check their children’s middle names for their correct spelling.

Eventually, this will lead you to an area and from there you can easily hop on to Facebook to find the Maraes in that area.

They will actually help you find out more personal information, while if you go the Iwi, their whakapapa units will be able to help you locate ancestors as well.

For European lines, the naming convention as mentioned above is extremely relevant, and there a few resources to help you as well.

For NZ’ers this will also help you with finding passenger lists, but the historical births deaths and marriages will also help in verifying the names of parents and children.

Protip – the four-letter number is the year of birth or marriage

While the online search on BDM won’t give you all the details unless you pay, it will give you the correct first names of the parents, and depending on what you want to verify, this can be enough.

For Australians historical births deaths and marriages can be found online, where the indexes are mostly free, this is a link to some fantastic online resources that you have at your disposal.

  • 5.  Finding the stories

Discovering the stories of your whakapapa is the most interesting and rewarding aspect of researching your family history.

Most local museums in NZ and Australia have information on founding families both European and Indigenous.   Asking someone at your local museum in the area you have defined will give you amazing insights and priceless information.

War memorials like the Auckland Museum Online Cenotaph list every soldier who has fought in one of the wars and will give you their number which you can then use to ask the military historical records for the entire dossier.

The Australian War Memorial also has a series of lists available and you can also use these id numbers to request dossiers.

As mentioned earlier Newspapers especially in the colonies will give you the most entertaining stories and a huge insight into life back in the day

For NZ

For Australia

Biographies are also a great resource and while there are government resources for NZ’ers such as biographies

Marae’s and Iwi whakapapa units also contain some great stories.

In Australia, there is a myriad of biographical resources available and most state libraries actually have a genealogical room or unit to help you find some information.

In NSW there is a whole section of the state library dedicated to genealogical research and the founding colonies of Australia, as well as extensive pieces on indigenous individuals that are genealogical diamonds amongst a beach of information.

Protip: Just make sure you know who are you trying to find out more about first.

  •  6.  The Journey

Discovering your whakapapa can be quite an emotional investment but its a journey through time and history that I highly recommend.

Yes, you may strike a wall with one ancestor making you realize that you will actually have to make the journey to another country to your ancestor’s hometown to visit a museum because they haven’t digitized yet.

Yes, you may find out horrible things like your great-grandparents x8 were a result of an illustrious affair that resulted in an ex-husbands murder so that they could be together or your grandmother x5 was originally given to her brother-in-law also an uncle, at the age of 16 to be married, to ensure bloodlines were kept pure.

Yes, you will find how your family who worked so hard to build themselves an empire and secure their family a future resulting in extreme wealth would eventually be pissed against a pub wall by their own children after the parent’s death, because of YOLO.

Or that after your great-grandmothers death her children were put into an orphanage because the father was so heartbroken he couldn’t cope, and her family wouldn’t take them because they had been baptized Catholic.

But you will also find out stories about how your grandfather swore that once he was old enough to get them out of the orphanage he would reunite his siblings and pull any remaining out of the orphanage…and he did.

How your great-grandparents x8 met when your grandfather hid your soon to be grandmother in the sail of his ship when she and her father were hunted down for execution.

It’s the journey that is just as important for learning your whakapapa as is being able to connect with your pedigree.

I look forward to hearing about your whakapapa.  Feel free to share your insights and tips below.





Charis McAwesome, co-founder and manager of – Charis has worked in digital for over 10yrs specialising in digital management, analytics, digital advertising, social media, digital pathways, and CRM services.

She’s also most likely to call bullshit and get Hashtag in the shit.

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