One of the first things you need to do after you have noted all your own immediate family information, is to find records for birth, deaths and marriages in the civil registration records.
First make a note of any information that you do not have, such as your grandparents’ marriage, their dates of birth etc. Then you need to decide which certificates you will want to order.
To help you decide, you need to know what information is on the birth, death and marriage certificates so you only order what you absolutely need.
Birth Certificates will give you the following information:
• Date and place of birth
• Name of child
• Sex of child
• Name and surname of father
• Name, surname and maiden name of mother
• Occupation of father
As you can see, this can be a very useful certificate to have as you will find out the mother’s maiden name, which takes you to another branch of your family.
Death Certificates give you the following information:
• Age at death
• Residence at death
• Cause of death
• Name of person registering the death
This is fairly limited information, but can be useful if you want to establish an approximate date of birth (though age in death certificates can often be inaccurate), or if you are interested in the cause of death. The name of the person registering can also give a clue to family members.
Marriage Certificates will give you the following information:
• Place of marriage, including name of church
• Date of marriage
• Ages of bride and groom
• Status (i.e. whether bachelor/spinster or widower/widow)
• Occupation of both
• Place of residence at time of marriage
• Names of both fathers
• Occupations of both fathers
• Names of witnesses
This is very useful information, particularly the names of the fathers. This may sometimes be the first time you see the next generation back and so is always an exciting moment!
Names of witnesses should not be overlooked as they can be clues to other family members – often siblings or cousins.
Where to find the Indexes
There are several places online where you can search the indexes. The two main places I use are Ancestry.co.uk and FindMyPast.com. At Ancestry you need to subscribe to the site and then you can search the indexes for free (I recommend this as there is lots of other information on Ancestry you will be using) and at FindMyPast you register for free and then pay for search units.
Searching the Indexes
The indexes are divided into quarters for each year (Jan-Mar; Apr-Jun, July-Sept and Oct to Dec). In the past, you had to trawl through all the indexes for each quarter, and if you were not sure of the date of the event, this meant a lot of time spent searching! Name search indexes such as the one at Ancestry.co.uk have now made this much easier. However, do be careful – these indexes have been transcribed by human beings and are subject to error. If you still cannot find your ancestor, even after trying several name variations, it is advisable to go to the main indexes.
When you find your entry, you will find the district name and the volume and page number of the relevant certificate, like this for my grandfather’s marriage:
Manley, Francis Reid Prestwich 8d 755
The surname Reid in this case is the maiden name of the spouse. This does not show up in earlier records.
You must make a note of all these details for when you order your certificates.
Certificates can be ordered online at a cost of £8.50 each (at the time of writing) from The General Record Office. If you are not sure that you are ordering the correct certificate, you can ask for the certificate to be checked, if you have information that you know should be included. If it turns out to be the wrong certificate, the GRO will refund half of your fee.
Certificates should arrive within three days within the UK, five days in Europe and seven days for the rest of the world, unless they are extremely busy in which case it may take a little longer.
Once you have obtained all the birth, deaths and marriages certificates you need, the next step is to look at census records, which I will discuss in a separate article.