Birth, marriage and death certificates issued by the General Register Office (GRO) are the most effective way of identifying ancestors (and other relatives) and making the crucial links with earlier generations. Registration was introduced in England & Wales in July 1837. Whilst many BMD registrations were made voluntarily from 1837 onwards, it worth keeping in mind that registration was not made compulsory until 1875. This still did not guarantee comprehensive and accurate registration as, in some cases, inaccurate dates were provided to registrars as a means of avoiding penalties for late registration.
Most of the content of the GRO website has now been incorporated into the UK government website at Directgov
, but certificates can still be ordered from the Identity and Passport Service website
. Charges for online orders are £9.25 or £23.40 for the express 24 hour service. If you do not have the GRO Reference, but do have full details of names, dates and places, certificates can also be ordered from local Register Offices at a charge of £10.00. Response times vary, but enclosing a s.a.e. is a good way of minimizing delays. For marriages, it is necessary to know precisely where the marriage took place so that the relevant register can be identified. For births and deaths, some registrars will search for a year or two either side of the date provided if there is some uncertainty. Changes in registration districts can make it difficult to identify the office which hold the appropriate registers. GENUKI has a useful list of registration districts in England & Wales
. Most registration districts offering online search facilities provide a facility to download the partially completed application form to be posted to them with the fee.
The Registrar General's Indexes to Birth, Death and Marriage (previously known as the St. Catherine's House Index) take the form of quarterly lists giving names, ages (except early death indexes), registration district and GRO Reference. They are widely available on microfiche and can be consulted at the The National Archives at Kew
, main libraries, local archive and records offices and at LDS Church Family History Centres
site has been of enormous help in easing the process of identifying GRO Birth, Marriage and Death registrations and obtaining GRO references. Coverage now extends into the 1950s and is almost complete from 1837 to 1939 for births and up to 1949 for marriages and deaths. When searching, it is always useful to know whether a negative result arises because the relevant time period is not yet fully indexed. Click here
to see current FreeBMD coverage.
Cheshire was the first county to set up its own index of Birth, Marriage and Death registrations some years ago. A number of other counties have since followed in their footsteps and some are now making significant progress. The UK BMD
site allows you to identify whether there are such sites covering areas in which you are interested. Searches of local BMD indexes are free and, in most cases, certificates can be ordered by downloading a form and posting it with your cheque to the relevant Register Office.
In the case of death registrations, local BMD indexes for the early years of registration can be better than FreeBMD or the GRO indexes as they may provide the age of the deceased.
There are numerous sites providing access to GRO registration indexes for the period not yet covered by FreeBMD. We refer to some of them on our Getting Started