If you have British ancestry and have done any research on those family lines, you’ve probably noticed that the index information for vital records doesn’t provide you with a lot of details – usually not even the exact date of the event. However, the actual records themselves can contain quite a bit of helpful information, and are almost always worth the time and effort to obtain them from the General Register Office (GRO). In this article, we’ll share how to request these records in order to extend your family history.
Mandatory civil registration of births, marriages, and deaths in England and Wales began in 1837, and these records can be ordered online through the General Register Office (GRO). Before you can place your order you will need to create a free account. Once you’ve registered you can either order a record right away, or search the index for a reference number before ordering. Although supplying the GRO reference number when placing an order does not change the cost, it does change how quickly your order is processed. Records are processed by the General Register Office in 4 business days if you send them the reference number, while orders without the reference number take 15 business days to process. Once processed, the certificates are mailed out and take anywhere between three and ten business days to arrive, depending on the destination.
Indexes to General Register Office reference numbers can be found in several different places online. Currently, you can search indexes of births (1837-1916) and deaths (1837-1957) directly on the GRO website when you log into your account. One advantage of searching the indexes directly on the General Register Office website is that you can order a certificate directly from the index entry and reference information will be added automatically on the order form. The General Register Office does not have indexes of marriage records.
Another website to access civil registration index reference numbers is FreeBMD. Users can start searching immediately, as the website does not require a login. As expressed in its name, FreeBMD is a free website which contains indexed references for civil births, marriages, and deaths. Most birth and marriage entries have been indexed for 1837 to 1983, but index coverage after 1983 is only mostly complete. Index coverage of death records 1837 to 1974 is complete with partial coverage of 1975 to 1983.
For example, if you were looking for a marriage record for James Andrus in England between 1890 and 1900, you could not look on the index at the General Register Office website because they do not provide an index for any marriages. Instead, you could check another website such as FreeBMD. Enter the information you know into the search box and click “find”.
Be aware that dates in these indexes are recorded by quarter so James married sometime in the fourth quarter (October, November, December) of 1894, not necessarily in December. The entry below from FreeBMD contains all the information you would need to order the record, including the name of the individual, the quarter and year, and the district, volume, and page information.
To place the order, return to the General Register Office website and click “place an Order”. Select the type of event and indicate that you have the GRO index reference number. (If you were unable to find a reference to the event you are looking for, you can still place an order on the GRO website by indicating the year in which you believe the event took place. Workers will then review records for that year as well as one year before and after to try and locate the desired record.) You will then be asked to provide the name of the individual as well as the GRO reference details which includes the quarter and year, district, volume, and page information.
Some of the major genealogy sites (Ancestry.com, for example) also provide indexes to these records, and may have a link that says “order this record” somewhere on the page after you find an entry in the index. While these links are convenient and efficient, ordering the record directly from the General Register Office site yourself generally costs much less. So if you prefer a lower cost we recommend using the reference information you find on another site to order the record yourself. If you prefer convenience and aren’t as worried about cost, go ahead and click that link and allow the 3rd party site to order the record for you!
If you have British ancestry and need help locating birth, marriage and/or death information for your ancestors, or would like assistance with obtaining vital records for them, we would love to help! Contact us today to discuss your project goal(s).