Family history buffs now have access to a vast genealogy goldmine thanks in large part to the efforts of touring Mormon missionaries.
For the past 18 months, Tom and Ann McVey, of Denver, Colorado, have been volunteering as part of a joint venture between their church's FamilySearch International website - the world's largest - and Archives New Zealand.
Volunteers have been furiously archiving screeds of New Zealand probate records for the past four years and have digitised and indexed more than a million images.
Probate records are crucial to genealogical research and contain more than 30 types of documents including wills, affidavits, property records and death certificates.
The documents can now be searched by name after the index went live earlier this month.
Along the way, the volunteers made some intriguing finds, including probate records for Kiwi soldiers killed by Germans in World War II after the Great Escape from the German prisoner-of-war camp Stalag Luft III in 1944.
They also found records for a Kiwi soldier who died on the British battlecruiser HMS Hood when it was sunk after trying to block the German battleship Bismarck.
The volunteers worked for hundreds of hours at Archives New Zealand offices in Wellington, Christchurch and Auckland and plans are afoot to start mining data from Dunedin.
Shipping lists were previously digitised and the team's next goal is to index all intentions to marry.
Mr McVey returned home earlier this month and was delighted to see the index go live before he left.
As soon as he and his wife touched base back in Denver they were going to look for a new genealogy tour of duty at another far-flung locale. "It's been a fantastic experience," Mr McVey said.
Another volunteer couple, Steve and Cathy Stucki, have recently arrived from the United States, to replace the McVeys.
The New Zealand probate records are available on familysearch.org
- The Dominion Post