Using Birth, Marriage and Death Certificates from the General Register Office (GRO) for England and Wales

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1 Using Birth, Marriage and Death Certificates from the General Register Office (GRO) for England and Wales Civil registration of births, marriages and deaths began in July At that time, England & Wales was subdivided into administrative areas known as registration districts. Within each district, a registrar recorded births, marriages and deaths. Four times a year, in March, June, September, and December, all the registers for England & Wales were collated into a single countrywide index, arranged alphabetically by surname. Each quarter covers the month itself and the two preceding months. By law, births had to be registered within 42 days. Note that, for the researcher, marriages, unlike births, have the advantage of being registered immediately at the time of the event. If you can t find your ancestors in the marriage records, it s possible they eloped or were in common law relationships. Or just perhaps it s a mistake and the record was omitted from the index. Stepping back in time in your family tree using certificates and indexes A birth certificate contains the names of the father and the mother. Using those and the birth date of the child, you are able to search for the likely marriage date of the parents. You may not know if this is the first child or final child in the family, or even if the marriage took place years after the first child was born, so you may have to search over a wide date range to find the marriage. The marriage certificate usually contains the ages of the couple. These give you their likely birth years. The fathers names are on the certificate as well. This information is sufficient to give you a starting point for finding the birth records of the couple. If the wife s surname is different from her father s surname, she may have been married previously. Note the entry in the column headed Condition on the certificate. With these birth certificates in hand, the cycle of stepping back in time continues, i.e. next find the marriage of their parents. Note the names of witnesses on marriage certificates. These may have been relatives of the couple and can provide resources for additional research. You can use these websites for finding the GRO index details The advantage of using FamilySearch to look up the index details is the ease of adding the result as a source in Family Tree. The latest years, in the index, may be different according to the provider and should be considered if searching for a recent event. The index details are in the form of volume and page numbers example: 9B 427. Also note the registration district, quarter and year. Most of the information with regard to a civil registration is only available by purchasing the certificate, although you can reach some conclusions as shown by the case studies in the following pages. If you do need to purchase a certificate, the GRO website is the least expensive option currently (March 2017) at 9.25 per certificate. Go to: Click Order certificates online then Order Certificates Online and search the GRO historic birth and death indexes. You will need to register to use this website, but registration is free. Then click Search the GRO Indexes.

2 Using the General Register Office search tool (for births and deaths ) A recent innovation is the ability to search for birth certificates using the mother s maiden name. This is useful for finding children who were born and died between census dates. The usage is best illustrated with the following real-life examples: Case Study 1 Information known by a sister in the family Ethel Worley: Two children were born in the five year period , but died in infancy. Their names and gender are unknown, but mother s maiden name was Smallman. Previous and later children were registered in Leeds, Yorkshire, England. Two searches are needed one for gender male and one for gender female. The year of registration is entered below as 1902 with a spread of +/- two years, to cover the period in question. Result for the male search. The child was George Worley registered in the June Quarter in 1901.

3 For the female search, two children were found. Ethel Worley lived in to her eighties and was the source of the original information. Therefore the second unknown child was Esther Worley registered in the June Quarter in Case Study 2 Finding children who were born and died between censuses, further back in time with no personal knowledge of the events. If the family had their children christened, then you may be able to identify all members by researching parish records. Where that is not the case, or as an additional corroboration, you can use the GRO search tool and include the mother s maiden name as shown below for the family of Joseph Britton and Hannah Ellison who were married in 1882.

4 The children were born at intervals of one to three years. On this basis there is an unexplained five year gap between Arthur Britton born in 1885 and Lily Britton born in In the 1891 Census I see both parents and the first three of these children. In the 1901 Census I see the father and all six of these children. Arthur Britton was registered in the district of Leeds. Lily Britton was registered in the district of Hunslet. Hunslet geographically is a suburb of Leeds. To search for a possible additional child born in the period 1885 to 1890, I used the GRO search tool with the criteria and results shown below. Not being sure of the registration district, I left that blank. The search has found two names. The first, Ellen Britton was in a location about 70 miles away and can be discounted. However, Mary Alice Britton was registered in Hunslet, the same district as Lily Britton, therefore I can be fully confident that Mary Alice Britton is a member of this family as I ve included the mother s maiden name in the search The result is shown at the left. Note there is a link on the screen: View list of registration districts.

5 To explain the absence of Mary Alice Britton from the 1891 census, I did a search in the death index. The age at death is given as three years, which appears to be inconsistent with the birth record. I searched again for births, but could find no other Mary Alice Britton with mother s name of Ellison, going back seven years. Sometimes the age at death in months was transcribed as years. I looked at the image of the index (shown below) and found the age given as zero. Birth in the December quarter 1887 death in the March quarter So three months old, not three years old at death. Therefore I am confident that I have the correct details and have now added this daughter to the Britton - Ellison family in Family Tree with Mary Alice Britton dying in infancy and only the sealing to parents ordinance being needed. Changes to the civil indexes as seen when searching using tools such as FreeBMD: Marriage records - spouse name included (1912 onward) Birth records - mother's name included (third quarter 1911 onward) Death records - age at death (1866 to first quarter 1969)) Death records - date of birth in death entry (second quarter 1969 onward) Case Study 3 Eli Charles Walter and Ada Louisa Racey were married in From the censuses up to 1911, I had found 12 children. The final child on the 1911 census was seven weeks old. To look for more children I used FreeBMD as that can search on the mother s name from third quarter 1911 onward. The equivalent search on the GRO engine currently only runs up to 1916 (at March 2017).The search criteria used and the results achieved are shown below.

6 The family lived in Hungerford and that district was selected. The start date was from the third quarter in 1911 to a date well past the normal child bearing age of the mother. Both parents surnames were entered. The child s first name was left clear so that the search could find all the children in this period. The results show an additional five children to be added to my family tree.

7 Case Study 4 Finding a marriage record 1912 and later. This is relatively simple as the spouse name is in the index. I entered the surname and first name of the husband, plus the surname of the wife. Then added a date range. One matching entry was found. I can click the page number (759) to show more details as seen at the foot of this page. This shows two marriages which were on the same page in the register, listed alphabetically by surname the spouses are not necessarily listed together. Each marriage is shown twice with the full name of each person followed by the surname of the spouse. For the marriage I m interested in, it s easy to determine that the wife s first name was Winnie. Depending on the time period and circumstances there can be four, six or eight lines, i.e. two, three or four marriages. If there is an odd number of lines, it can only be that one spouse is missing. In that case, if you know the spouse details, try a search using that spouse to see whether you can determine the cause of the problem, e.g. volume or page number unreadable on the image that was indexed.

8 Case Study 5 Finding a marriage record prior to The name of the spouse is not given in the index, but you are given a choice of possibilities and just need some other evidence, for example, from a census which contains the spouse s first name, in order to make a decision. I entered the name of the husband, the registration district and a date range for the marriage. The marriage was found, but this time there is no spouse name. However, I can click on the page number to see who else is listed on this page. This result tells me that John Brittain s wife was either Jane Hampshire or Frances Ann Hargreaves. The 1861 Census gives his wife s name as Frances A. Therefore I can be confident that her surname was Hargreaves. I can order the correct marriage certificate if still needed.

9 Notes on the GRO search tool If you set the year range to +/- 2 years, you are actually searching a five year span. For example, if you type 1850 with +/- 2 years, you are actually searching 1848 to 1852 inclusive. A strategy to look for missing children could be to start searching with the closest year ending in 0 or 5 before the parents' marriage. Try every five years for male children, until the end of the mother's childbearing years or the death of one of the parents. Then repeat the process for possible female children. This is not a fool-proof system as it is still possible to have families with exactly the same parents names in the same registration district. You could also look for these families in the censuses and consider the timing of births of other children which are recorded there to determine to which family any new child belongs. Sources for purchasing certificates As well as ordering certificates from the GRO, you can also contact the register office for the area of the country in question. They may perform a hand search for you if you tell them what you know. If they are not successful in finding the record you want and issuing a certificate, you may receive a refund. Check the current situation and cost with the office in question. You can locate a register office here: or Guidance on when to purchase certificates Cost is always a consideration and needs to be justified. You may want to develop a plan to help you decide when to purchase certificates. Here s a plan to consider: 1. Will a certificate prove a relationship that can t be determined by searches of other records? 2. Will it lead to performing ordinances for a family member? 3. Will it prevent duplicate Temple work? How to enter birth dates in Family Tree (from the civil indexes) If you just have the quarter that a birth was registered (March, June, September, December) and you want to enter the birth date as accurately as possible, you can use the following format on Family Tree: from 20 November 1880 to 31 March 1881 This would be correct for a birth registered in the March quarter of The birth could actually have taken place from 20 November 1880 (since they had 42 days in which to register) to the end of March If you also have a christening date, then it would limit the latest that the birth date could have been. Family Tree also accepts as standard, entries like: about January 1881 In the Reason This Information Is Correct field, you could enter the volume and page numbers together with the district, quarter and year. In the Source - Notes field you might want to add what criteria you used to search for the record, e.g. mother s maiden name etc.

10 Alternative to civil marriage certificates Where Parish records of marriages have been indexed, you may be able to obtain the full details of the marriage (the same as appears on a civil marriage certificate) by searching on Ancestry or FindMyPast. This is a welcome cost saving, assuming you are already subscribed to these providers. Reproduction of certificates on websites Guide for the reproduction of Birth, Marriage and Death Certificates in Family Tree: Less is More You may have heard this phrase in the past for other subjects. In the case of researching your ancestors using search engines, the less criteria you enter, the more results you ll get. For example, if you don t include a registration district in the GRO search tool, it will return matching entries from all over the country. Then it is a matter of your judgement to decide which ones are relevant. However this kind of approach will pick up a family that has moved between registration districts or where the names of districts have changed or districts have merged over time. It is not uncommon to see surname changes as we travel back in time through the generations for our families. So if you don t get the result you expected, you could try a variation of the family name. An alternative is to let the search tool look at possible alternatives for you. In the case of the GRO search tool, the default for names is Exact Matches Only. But click the down arrow at the right of the field and you are offered a number of variations. If you don t get a result at first, try these variations. However this is where the More comes in. With less restrictive searches, you can get several pages of results, needing more time to examine them. For some search tools such as FreeBMD, you can enter wild cards. The? symbol can represent a single letter and the * symbol can represent any number of letters. If you are getting few or no results, try entering different combinations of the facts you know and see what else you can find. For surnames you could try a combination of the parents names and possibly with them hyphenated as well. For example a child could have been registered as John Copley-Smith where the father s surname name was Copley and the mother s surname was Smith. General Advice The purpose of this document has been to show you some possibilities for your research. At first, all these possibilities may seem complex and a little overwhelming. The answer is to try it step by step and keep a note of your results as you go along, so that you don t waste time by repeating your research exactly the same when you come back to it a week or a month later. Please remember, you can have lots of fun doing your family history. So make sure you enjoy it and know that you re not alone. Help is there when you have done your best with the records you can find. Perhaps some patience will be required as well, for more indexing to be done and extra records to come online in the future. Never give up.

11 The following images illustrate birth, marriage and death certificates and are from the GRO website.

12 Try this link for a comprehensive explanations of certificates: I hope to create and publish similar guides for Scotland and Ireland. Also some hints and tips for using the Censuses. If you have anything written on these subjects that you feel will be useful for other researchers, please let me know. Well done for getting this far. Please send your corrections or suggestions for improvement to: Publication date: 4 th March 2017.

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