If you are serious about tracing your ancestors, one thing you will need to do at some point is to obtain a birth certificate of one or more of them. Registrations of births, deaths and marriages in England and Wales have been held by the General Register Office (GRO) since July 1837. Here is a guide for odering birth certificates online.
To order a certificate at the GRO you will need to have a name, the year of birth, the quarter of the registration, the registration district and the volume and page number of the registration. This means you need to search the Birth/Marriage/Death (BMD) indexes before you can order the certificate.
There are several places you can search the indexes online. The one I recommend is Ancestry.co.uk, because for a monthly fee you have access to all their other resources, including the census and as well as building your family tree online, and being able to search others that people have placed there. However, you can also carry out searches at Find My Past and FreeBMD (only partially complete).
At Ancestry.co.uk you will be able to search the FreeBMD records up to 1915 AND their own transcribed indexes up to 2005. Enter as many details as you can into the search box. Even if you are sure of the date of birth, always give at least 2 years each way because ages are not always accurate (I was always sure my grandfather was born in 1866, but it turned out to be 1865).
After clicking the SEARCH button, you should get one or more entries (usually depending on how common the name is) and then you can search through these to find the most likely. Make a note of the district, volume number and page number.
If no entries come up, try the search again, but use less search criteria. For example, try the search without a location and also make sure the EXACT boxes are UNticked. Names change over the years, and they are also often mis-transcribed, so mis-spellings are very common.
Once you are sure you have the right entry, go to www.gro.gov.uk. At the bottom of the screen click on Ordering Certificates Online. If this is your first visit you will need to register and then wait for an email with your password. After logging in, you can then choose the type of certificate you need (in this case, birth), click YES, for Is the General Register Office Index Known? and enter the year.
You will be asked to confirm your address and then you will need to enter the volume and page number details that you found in the indexes. Make sure all the details are correct and submit to arrive at the payment screeen.
For the UK you will pay £7, which includes postage, and they usually arrive within seven days.
If you are unsure of whether this certificate is the right one, you can ask for a check to be made (i.e. you enter the known father or mother etc) and they will check these details on the certificate. If it does not contain these details, they will only charge you part of the fee and will not send it.
However, mostly I prefer to skip this because even if the certificate is not for the person I want, it may give me some good clues if I am having difficulty finding the right one.
The process for finding marriage and death records is exactly the same, except with marriage certificates you can search under the bride or the groom and then cross reference them, which makes it easier to find the correct entry. After March 1912 it is even easier as the surname of the spouse was listed on each entry.
Ordering birth certificates online is very simple once you get the hang of it, and there is nothing like the excitement of seeing the details of your ancestors when they come through the letter box!