Canterbury Museum

Documentary Research Centre

Canterbury Museum's Documentary Research Centre is a rich source of written and pictorial documents with a focus on Canterbury and Antarctic Heritage.

The Centre can be used for many different purposes and welcomes everyone from students, to amateur and family historians, to those undertaking scholarly research in a wide variety of fields. Artists and authors also find the collection an invaluable source of information and inspiration.

Anyone who wishes to explore the collections is encouraged to visit or contact us.

Canterbury Heritage

Visit the Documentary Research Centre and discover a wealth of material documenting Canterbury people and places.

Letters and diaries offer intriguing narrative accounts from the past, while photographs and artworks capture our visual history in a compelling way. Maps and architetctureal plans record the landscape and built environment through time.

The Centre is home to many treasures, including the rare, the quirky and the unexpected. The collections have a Canterbury focus, however they also relate to broader topics including:

  • Our bicultural heritage
  • Immigration
  • Art history
  • Leisure and recreation
  • War
  • Work and education
  • Society and community
  • Alpine exploration

Whakapapa/Family History

Search for Maori and European ancestors using biographical indexes, written whakapapa, and passenger lists. These give information about birth, death and marriage dates, immigration arrivals and land transactions. Photographs of ancestors may be sourced using portrait indexes.

Factual information can often be enriched by personal perspectives from shipboard diaries, letters and other personal papers.

Two significant family history resources in Canterbury Museum's collection are:

  • The Clifford Collection of photographic portraits of Canterbury people, indexed by name.
  • The Macdonald Dictionary of Canterbury Biographies, comprising 22,000 biographical entries for Canterbury people, from prominent to less well known citizens.

Antarctic Collections

Canterbury Museum holds one of the world's premier Antarctic collections. Breathtaking photographs and artworks capture the landscape and human activity over time. Original sledging diaries, ships logs and correspondence provide information and personal perspectives. A wide range of published information supplements original documents.

Areas of research include:

  • Heroic Era expeditions
  • The International Geophysical Year
  • The Commonwealth Trans-Antarctic Expedition
  • Antarctic science
  • The historic huts
  • The Antarctic Treaty
  • Antarctica in art and literature


Reference Service

The Documentary Research Centre staff have an excellent working knowledge of the collections and are happy to assist with your enquiry. They will show you how to use the Centre's indexes, catalogues and finding aids, and can also search the Museum's collections database on your behalf.

For specialist advice, staff can refer you to one of our curators.

Copying and Image Service

Photocopies, digital images and photographic copies from the collections may be ordered for private research or publication.

Find out more

Family History Research Service

If you are unable to visit the Centre in person to research your family history we can do this on your behalf.

For further information about fees and conditions contact