The author has published a guide entitled 'Birth and Death Certificates - England and Wales 1837 to 1969'. This is an invaluable reference for family historians trying to trace their English and Welsh ancestors. The publication is illustrated with sample certificates. A second guide was published in 2000 entitled 'Marriages and Certificates in England & Wales"
Each publication is available for 4 pounds (sterling) +
postage (50 pence within the UK, 1 pound international) from
If you are in the UK send a cheque for 4.50 pounds payable
to Barbara Dixon
If you are overseas (USA, Autralia etc.) send a cheque payable in pounds sterling for 5 pounds to Barbara Dixon.
Family History and Genealogical Societies in the United Kingom and other countries that wish to distribute the publications for commission are welcome to contact the author (links at the bottom of this page).
Emails can be sent by clicking on the links at the bottom of this page.
This Web site aims to help people tracing their family history by explaining the usage of the different entries on birth, marriage, and death certificates throughout the history of birth registration in England and Wales. The entries on the certificate and their interpretation has to have changed over the past 150 years, and the interpretation of certificates without knowledge of the legal requirements and practices of the period when the registration was made can sometimes be difficult. The birth registrations of Scotland, Northern Ireland, and Southern Ireland are different from those of England and Wales and are not covered here.
These Web Page has been written by a someone with lots of experience of birth, death and marriage registration in England and Wales and contains many details that are illuminating, obscure or not well known. The author makes every attempt to include only accurate information within this site, but makes no claims as to the truth or accuracy of the material contained herein. Accordingly, users of this site should not, in any way, rely on any of the information contained within this site. Review, use or utilization of the material contained within this site shall be deemed to constitute a waiver of any and all liability of the author. This should not be taken as a source of information approved by the Registrar General or by the British Government.
You can obtain your certificates from one of two sources
From the General Register Office
You can look at the GRO indexes free at the Family Record Centre at Myddleton Place in Islington London - or you can see the same indexes on microfiche and microfilm at LDS FH centres or many other centres such as the Society of Genealogists or local FH societies. You can also use a researcher to find references for you if you cannot do this stage for yourself.
Once you have the precise reference you can apply at Myddleton Place for the certificate and it should be sent to you within 4 working days. The price (1997) is 6 pounds per certificate.
If you send directly to GRO at Southport then it will cost 15 pounds (1997) even if you have supplied the full reference. It will be cheaper to employ a researcher to locate and order your certificates for you than to apply for a lot of certificates directly.
With GRO this is a mixed blessing. If you give added information eg that the father of a child is called William whose occupation is a blacksmith, GRO will not send the certificate if the father was William but occupation was down as labourer even though that might be yours. In other words if you give additional information you will only receive your certificate if ALL the information matches. And GRO will keep half your fee for doing some work for you.
First of all you need to know the current address of the Register Office which will hold the relevant registers. Use the website
which is a superb site. It gives all the names previously and currently in use for registration districts. If you have a GRO reference for a birth or death, you should find the proper address for it on this list. If you know the name of the place where someone was born or died but this is not the actual name of a registration district, then use a roadmap or Ordnance Survey map or a largescale atlas to locate the nearest large town or centre. Find this name instead on the website and send it to the address given. If it is not the correct Register Office and should have gone to an adjoining one, the Register Office will usually forward it to the correct one. When you write, you need to give as much information as you can such as date (or quarter) of the birth or death, full name, place, names of father or mother etc. You should enclose a cheque or postal order payable in POUNDS STERLING. Cheques in other currencies will be returned to you because the charges by the bank to change that into pounds are so high that the register office finishes up with no money to show for the certificate sold. If you are within the UK you should also enclose an sae - and it will certainly elicit a faster response if it is possible to do the same from abroad, although in most cases this is not going to be an option. It is possible that some register offices will make an additional charge for postage while others will not. The reason for this is that the fee for the certificate is laid down by Parliament and so will be the same for any register office in England and Wales, but offices are managed and paid for by the local authority and they may or may not give instructions to registrars about charging for postage, hence the different practices between various offices.
To obtain the certificate from the local office you need to write down all the information that you know of the event such as name of a child whose birth is wanted together with a date and place of birth and what you know of the parents and similarly as much as is known about a death. Certificates cost 6 pounds (1997).
While the local office will need to know the year and quarter of an event to look for it, the GRO reference is totally useless to the local registrar so don't bother to send it.
You will find that most local register offices will do their best to supply certificates of birth and death but you might well find them unable to help with marriage certificates unless you can give them quite specifically the church or building in which the marriage took place.
If I tell you how the system works at GRO and at the local level you will understand why.
Every quarter, every registrar in England and Wales sends copies of every registration done in their registers or their local churches (temples etc.) in the last quarter. The whole of England and Wales is divided into 12(?) areas. Within each of the 12 areas, the quarterly copies are placed in the same order and filmed and indexed. The GRO reference eg June quarter 1876 Vol 3 No 15 is a very precise one. It tells someone at GRO receiving an application for any registration to look first of all for the films for 1876, then find the ones for the June quarter, then find Vol 3 - put this film in the machine, turn to photo 15 and find which of the 5 births or deaths entries, or 2 marriage entries the person has asked for. It does not take more than a few minutes whether it is a birth, death or marriage entry being requested. This index is only of use in the central records of the General Register Office.
Now look at the situation within the local Register Office. As every birth, death or marriage register is completed it is handed to the superintendent for indexing and safe keeping. Every register therefore has its OWN index. Next you must remember that more than one register may be involved in a search since the books are completed and indexed on the date of REGISTRATION not the date of the event. Someone born on 15th June 1876 may be in the book that finished on the 30th June or may be in the next book which started the same day or the next. It would be quite possible for a registrar to complete more than one book in one quarter - my current rate is to complete one book of 300 birth entries every 7 weeks and the other registrar does the same so a reference that gives only the quarter might require 6 or more indexes to be looked at. The biggest office in England and Wales has 26 registrars and therefore a potential for about 90 indexes to be looked at for any one event. Not so fast and easy! Nevertheless most register offices would look for and locate a birth or death entry if given only the GRO reference.
Marriages are a different problem. There are a multitude of registers from a multitude of different churches and therefore a multitude of indexes to be looked at. There are not usually composite indexes for all the churches, and the bigger the population in the district the more books and indexes there will be. With the exception of Birmingham that had all its indexes put onto the computer by a youth training scheme, the indexes are not computerised because the cost in hardware, software and time would be far too great for the usage.
Every registrar is issued with a book of regulations which dictates what they should do in every circumstance. The instructions regarding the issue of old certificates is quite clear. If an entry has been identified with a precise reference then the Superintendent Registrar must issue a certificate. For a modern birth or death certificate that would require the name of child or deceased, date and place of event, parents names (for a birth), age and address for a death. Obviously for family historians, much of this is the information that the searcher wants to find out and so certificates, if they can be easily found, would still be issued with the limited information offered.
For a marriage, names of both parties, date and place of event would be required. Again, this is often what the family historian is trying to find out and again the certificate would be issued IF THE ENTRY COULD BE EASILY FOUND. But the instructions are quite explicit that SRs should not spend time looking for entries which have not been identified without requesting a search fee (16 pounds at current rates) which allows you, not the SR, up to 8 hours to search the indexes (but not the Registers). The indexes are only crudely alphabetical, eg all the T's lumped together in the order they are found in each book, and so you would have to look through the whole list for any particular letter. Therefore no identification (and in the case of a marriage that MUST include the specific church) - no certificate.
It is difficult for family historians to appreciate - but the job of the registrars is registrations and current marriages! Family history must take second place to all other aspects of registration and while most register offices will oblige wherever possible, it is asking the impossible for them to spend what could be a very frustrating half an hour looking for that elusive marriage request - that would be one sixteenth of their working day! Just not possible I am afraid.
So - by all means apply to the local office for your births and deaths but do not apply to them for a marriage certificate unless you can tell them which church to look at.
If you give additional information to the local registrar they will send you the certificate if it matches, and will return your cheque and tell you where the discrepancy lies if there are differences eg if fathers name and occupation were correct but mother had a different name from the one you were expecting, they would tell you so and ask if you still wanted the certificate otherwise they would return your money.