Obtaining English Civil Registration Records
August 5, 2022
If most of your genealogical research has been done in the United States, you’ll probably know that civil registrations of births and marriages have not been kept for very long. For example, Colorado has only kept birth and death registrations since 1904. Other states may have kept these records a few years earlier or later, but none of them kept them before the last part of the nineteenth century.
That’s why it has been so exciting to do some recent research in England. In England and Wales, civil registration was begun for births, deaths, marriages and divorces starting in 1837. That date applies to the entire country. The records are located at a central repository called the General Records Office. This makes locating and ordering English civil records much simpler than locating U.S. ones where dates and locales vary by individual state.
Indexes to these GRO (General Records Office) records are available at several online locations. These include MyHeritage.com, Ancestry.com and FindMyPast.com. In addition, there is a free website called FreeBMD.org. Indexes are searchable by name. If the name is common, it is helpful to know the approximate year the event occurred. You will need to have the information about a certificate that is contained on the index to order a copy of the actual certificate.
The pay for view sites will automatically generate a form for you to order a certificate once you find a name in the indexes. This is convenient, but it is pricey. For example, Ancestry charges 24.99 pounds for a record. If you want a digital copy, it will require an additional charge of 2.50 pounds.
If you go directly to the General Register Office website, you can order the certificate yourself. You will need to set up an account (free) to order. At the GRO website, certificates are 11.00 pounds if you want a paper copy or 7.00 pounds for a PDF.
Since a pound is worth about $1.22, Ancestry’s price is nearly four times as much as the General Register Office price for a virtual copy.
In my opinion, you should order a digital copy of any certificates you find. Not only are they cheaper, but they also come much more quickly. Paper copies can take weeks to arrive, but the digital copies show up in your inbox within four days – almost instant gratification.
Even though civil registration certificates are somewhat expensive, they’re worth the price. They contain specific information about an ancestor such as cause of death and exact date of birth and death. This information may not be available elsewhere.
I’m in the process of ordering certificates for birth, death and marriage for all of my ancestors who were in England in 1837 or later. They’re simple to order and no more expensive than similar U.S. records, if you order the PDF version. If you have English ancestors, you may want to do the same.