Callaeidae (wattlebirds) and Notiomystidae (stitchbirds) are New Zealand-endemic sister-taxa; while widespread before human settlement, they subsequently became critically endangered or extinct. Aside from presently managed populations, information about them is scarce and actual specimens even scarcer. Herein, we provide a snapshot of these families’ historical distribution during the critical periods of European settlement and expansion in New Zealand (19th and early-20th centuries), exploring new data and insights resulting from this approach. We include an extensive catalogue of worldwide museum specimens to facilitate future research. We report the last known record/specimen of huia Heteralocha acutirostris (Gould, 1837) and late 19th century specimens of North Island saddleback Philesturnus rufusater (Lesson, 1828) from Cuvier Island that confirm its occurrence there. We failed to find specimens of North Island saddleback and stitchbird Notiomystis cincta (du Bus de Gisignies, 1839) (with one and two exceptions, respectively) from named locations on the mainland.