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Civil Registration – Birth, Marriage & Death Indexes & Certificates

Civil Registration - Birth, Marriage & Death Indexes & Certificates. Civil Registration – Birth, Marriage & Death Indexes & Certificates. Today I am booked to help two people set out on their genealogy journey. I have asked that they gather together all the certificates and other documents that they have to hand and also all photographs. We will go through those first and then set out everything onto and online tree at either Ancestry or FindMyPast if they wish to keep their family trees online (you can keep your family history online with both companies even if you don’t have a subscription or we will fill in the charts that I shall take with me. The BBC website has charts that I print off.

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Civil Registration – Background

Then we will get started on the exciting bit ……… looking for information that they don’t have. Civil Registration is the recording of births, marriages and deaths by the government. It started on 1st July 1837, so that the government could monitor the population growth amid rising concerns about child mortality, overcrowding in cities and such like. Like many records they weren’t designed for genealogists, but we now  take full advantage of the information they hold.

The recording was undertaken locally and then copies sent to London where indexes were created. The indexes are issued quarterly – events that were registered in January, February, March are in what is know as the March quarter, April, May, June in the June quarter, July, August, September in the September quarter and October, November & December in the December quarter. Note that the indexes are compiled with the dates when the event was registered not when it occurred so if a birth happened on Christmas Day in 1876, but wasn’t registered until 2 January 1877 it would be indexed in the March quarterly index of 1877.

In the beginning it was the duty of the local official, the registrar, to seek out births and deaths and then record them. Remember he may well Civil Registration - Birth, Marriage & Death Indexes & Certificates.have been dealing with a large number of people who were not literate and who possible resented the government taking a close interest in them and their families. The churches recorded the marriages in two registers and one was sent on a regular basis to the Superintendent Registrar of the district in which the church was situated. So you can see that the recording of births and deaths was a rather hit and miss affair in the early years, in fact it wasn’t until a further act of parliament in 1874 that made it compulsory for families to visit the registrar in the district where births and deaths occurred and register the fact. From this date it became almost impossible for burials to take place without a death certificate.

The indexes are easy to use and have been indexed online so you don’t have to search through pages of information to find what you are looking for. Keep in mind that the indexes don’t give the mother maiden surname of the birth entries until September quarter 1911, the surname of the spouse isn’t given until March quarter 1912 on marriages and the age isn’t given on the death indexes until March quarter 1866. The age was included on the indexes until June quarter 1969 when the date of birth was included.

Read below for more details on how to find out how to discover the mother’s maiden name for births from the start in 1837 and also the age at death.

Also remember that until 1929 the age of consent for marriage was 14 years for boys and 12 for girls, parents had to give permission. It then rose to 16 for both sexes. Marriage without parents consent was set at 21 years until 1969 when it was lowered to 18 years. Lots of people are shocked at the thought of a 12 year old girl being able to marry, I understand it wasn’t common in the 20th century, but my mother remembered two instances where girls that young were married with consent of parents.

Civil Registration  – Searching the Indexes

To locate the events and order certificates you will need to search the indexes. The indexes are available online at several websites as you would expect Ancestry and FindMyPast have the indexes in their collections, but there are a couple of other websites that are free that I use a lot because they allow you to narrow down the search or they offer further information than Ancestry or FindMyPast.

FreeBMD started many years ago and is completely free, you are able to narrow down your search by using various options. It is easy to use and ideal for both beginners and more advanced genealogists. Good idea to have a quick read through the instruction before you start, but it is clearly enough set out that you can dive straight in.

The section of the Gov.UK website that deals with civil registration is a more recent addition, but is great news for genealogist as our needs have been factored into the design and content.  The downside is that at the moment they only have births and deaths indexes searchable, but I am sure that marriages can’t be too far away. You need to register, but this is quick and easy. The search page only allows you searches over a 5 year period so if you are unsure it will be best to use one of the other sites. However the great advantage is that this website gives you the maiden surname of the mother on births and the age at death from the start of registration in 1837.  There is a scheme being tested whereby you will be able to get your certificates delivered online, at the moment you can only get certificates delivered by post, but it generally takes only 10 days maximum and often much quicker. I have written a post given a How To on this website at

So what will you find on a certificate?

Note that the Registration district, sub-district and county of where the event is registered is always given.

Civil Registration – Birth certificates

  • When and Where Born. The date and address of birth. Early certificates might only give the name of the village and formal addresses for small town and villages didn’t come into force until around 1911. If a time is given this indicates that the event was a multiple birth and you should go back to the indexes and search for an entry for the same surname, place and quarter. The reference code will be identical.
  • Name. If parents haven’t decided on a name it may just state female or male with the family surname. This can, but not always indicate that the baby died shortly after birth.
  • Male or female.Thomas Elliott Birth certificate
  • Name and surname of father. Sometimes if a child is illegitimate this column will be blank. If the parents weren’t married and the father didn’t attend the registering of the birth then the registrar might decide to leave this blank.
  • Name and maiden surname of mother. This will give the mother full name and then other surnames that she has been known by. If she has been married previously it will also include those surnames.
  • Rank, profession or occupation of father. Useful for tracing the rise and sometimes fall in the families fortunes. Occasionally these can be given a higher status than was actual true.
  • Name, description and residence of the person who registered the birth. If it is a name with which you aren’t familiar it would be worth search more to find out who this person was and their connection to the family. Occasionally a midwife might register a birth, or a workhouse official might if the event occurred in the workhouse infirmary.
  • When registered. The family had six week in which to register the birth.
  • Name of the registrar
  • Names entered after registration. If the child hadn’t been named at the time of registration or  the parents decided to change the names given then that would be recorded here. The child would be registered and indexed under both names. If adopted after 1926 then this would be noted here and the date of adoption, but the new name of the child and the adoptive parents are not recorded on the certificate.

Civil Registration  – Marriage Certificates

  • When and where married. The name of the Church, Chapel or other venue will be given or the marriage might have taken place in the registrars office and this will be noted.
  • Full names and surname of the bride and groom. If the bride had been married previously the previous married surname might be noted.
  • Age. Sometime this will be recorded as Full Age, this means over the age where parents consent is required.
  • Condition. This will state whether the groom is a bachelor or a widower and if the Hallett Whiting Marriage Certificatebride is a spinster or a widow. If either had been through a divorce this would be noted.
  • Rank or Profession. Right into the 20th century it was common for this column to be left blank for the women as it was regarded as unseemly for a woman to work. This isn’t to say that the bride didn’t work.
  • Residence at time of marriage. Sometimes just a village name is given for the same reasons as given in the birth explanation above. You may find that both bride and groom give the same address, this was often done when one of them lived outside of the parish, but the expense of getting a special certificate could be avoided by parking a suitcase with a few clothes in in the hallway of future in laws!
  • Father’s name and occupations. Sometimes, but not always if the father is deceased then it will state that. If a child is illegitimate then a fictitious name might be given. The occupations might also be given a higher status than what in reality they did for  a living. My grandmother stated that her father was a Commercial Travellor (deceased) as far as I can discover he was nothing of the sort!
  • It will be noted if the marriage was by banns, licence or according to the religious beliefs of the Quaker, Jewish or other religious communities.
  • Both bride and groom will have signed or made their mark if they couldn’t write. This might be the last time the bride signed her name using her maiden name.
  • At least two witnesses  will sign or make their mark. These names should be investigated as they may be family members or could be simply friends.

Civil Registration – Death Certificates

  • When and where died. Take into account that the death may have occurred in a hospital, infirmary, workhouse, relative or friends home or at the deceased’s home. I have ever seen a certificate where the place of death is recorded as being on the upper deck of a London Bus, the street location of the bus was also given!
  • Full name of the deceased.
  • Male or female.
  • Age. Remember that the person who is registering the death, and it may be an undertaker, might not know the actual age and gave what they thought was the age. Also the deceased may have lied about their age to their nearest and dearest for years. From 1969 the date of birth will be recorded and that no doubt will have made families look harder for a birth certificate to find out an age.
  • Occupation. This may simply give retired or housewife, but often a occupation is given. Sometimes on women’s death certificates it will give the name of her husband in the occupation column.
  • Cause of death. Early records may only give the vaguest of causes or a cause that you don’t recognise. The Archaic Medical website is helpful in translating these causes into more modern illnesses and conditions. After 1874 the name of the doctor who confirmed cause of death is given. if an inquest was held this will be recorded here as well. If you find evidence of an inquest undertake a search of a newspaper archive, FindMyPast has the best range of online, indexed newspapers, as it is almost certainly been reported in the local paper.
  • Name, description and residence of the person who registered the death. This might be family, a friend, an undertaker or the coroner who presided over the inquest. Coroners records might be found in local archives, but many have been destroyed over the years.
  • When registered. Registration was supposed to happen not more than 5 days after the death and before the burial took place. If an inquest took place then this ruling was void.
  • Name of registrar.

It would be nice to have limitless funds so that every certificate could be purchased for every ancestor, but most genealogist can’t afford that luxury! Think carefully before purchasing, check if you can get the information another way. For instance if a marriage register has been digitised and placed online on Ancestry, FindMyPast or similar websites then you can view and download a copy of a marriage certificate without paying for the certificate. Has someone scanned and place on one of the online trees  a certificate is another avenue to explore. If you really need the information that only a certificate can provide and it can’t be obtained any other way then go ahead and purchase it. Use the  Gov.UK website as that will be cheapest way to get the certificate, other companies can charge quite a lot more as an admin fee. At the time of writing the Gov.UK website is offering certificates online at a reduced price of £6 instead of the normal £9.25.

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