Birth Marriage and Death Certificates
England and Wales

For many people with English/Welsh ancestry the search for their ancestors begins with birth, marriage and death certificates issued by either the General Register Office (GRO) from Southport or from the appropriate local Register Office. The GRO index books are no longer available at the Family Record Centre, Myddelton Street, London but fiche images of the indexes are available in various libraries and archives around the world including The National Archives at Kew and scanned images are on-line at freebmd, Ancestry and findmypast. Once a birth marriage or death has been identified in the indexes it is necessary to purchase the certificate to obtain any further information.

Certificates can be ordered on-line from the GRO for £9.75 but because the GRO indexes have been compiled from copies of local Register Office registers there is always the possibility of transcription errors creeping in, so if you know which local office holds the original register it is preferable to order the certificate from there although the cost of a certificate from a local office is £10.00

The GRO reference number will not mean anything to a local Register Office, but the year and quarter of the registration should be enough for them to find the appropriate record. Some register offices have on-line indexes.

When civil registration in England and Wales began on 1st July 1937 and the onus was on the Registrars to collect information about all the births, marriages and deaths in their district. Payment per event was his incentive. Church marriages had been recorded in printed registers for over 80 years so the change to the new style of register should not have been too difficult. Deaths at that time were nearly always followed by a burial in a churchyard so co-operation with the clergy helped establish full registration of deaths, but births were somewhat more difficult. Many sources estimate that in some areas up to 10% of births went unregistered, but in time the proceedures were tightened up and virtually all births were registered by the end of the 19th century.

The format of a marriage certificate is essentially the same today as it was in 1837. Birth and death certificates were completely altered in format in 1969, but for family history purposes it is generally the old style certificates that are of interest. All certificates are "certified to be a true copy of an entry in a register in my custody" and signed by a Registrar. It may be a handwritten, typed or scanned copy of the register entry, and very recent events may have computer generated certificates. Unless you happen to receive a scanned certificate from a local Register Office you will not see original signatures. Very few local offices have the financial resources to purchase the necessary scanning equipment!

Many people think that the informaton on a birth, death or marriage certificate is "the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth" but this is far from reality, a combination of mistakes, inaccuracies and lies mean that certificates cannot always be taken at face value! Of course many of them are correct, and over the years registrations proceedures have been tightened up and and errors are far fewer nowadays.

Four times a year, at the end of March, June, September and December, every superintendant Registrar was required to make a copy of all the birth and death register entries from the previous three months and to send those copies to the Registrar General. Also every CofE minister (and Jewish and Quaker celebrants) were required to make copies of each marriage register entry in their posession for the quarter, and every Registrar to do the same for the Register Office marriages he had officiated at and the non-conformist marriages he had witnessed. When these copies reached the General Register Office they were collated into district and sub-district order (and then parish order for marriages) and copied again into the GRO registers and indexed (the GRO indexes mean nothing to a local register office). Lots of possibilities here for errors to creep in - not to mention inaccurate information given to the registrar!

Birth Certificates
Marriage Certificates
Death Certificates

My collection of certificates with inaccurate information

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