Civil Registration in England and Wales

This was introduced with effact from the 1st. July 1837. It became a legal requirement for all births, marriages and deaths to be reported to the local registrar. Especially in the early days, it was possible for events not to be recorded.

For births and deaths, a person would report the event to the local registrar. For marriages, the vicar or relevant minister would send copies of the marriages which occurred in the last quarter to the registrar at the end of the quarter. The local registrar would then send transcriptions of the locally-registered events to the General Register Office (GRO). It is possible that an event was registered locally but is not included in the GRO index. (The birth of Mister William Felgate on the 14th. June 1847 is in the GRO index, but the GRO does not hold a copy of the certificate.) I have found numerous examples of births not registered before 1851. There is also no trace of the birth registrations for 6 of the children of Edgar Barnard and Mary Ann Harvey who were born between 1874 and 1889.

Note that, unlike most other countries, the indexes contain even recent births, marriages and deaths.

The General Register Office "Frequently Asked Questions" page explains what information is provided on each type of certificate.

The General Register Office now offers electronic certificates for births (1837-1918) and deaths (1837-1957). These PDF (Portable Document Format) files are cheaper than the corresponding paper version (£7.00 instead of £11.00) and are delivered more quickly. See Other services we provide - PDF for further information.

If the father/husband was in the army or Royal Navy, or the event took place abroad, then it's likely that the event will not appear in the normal Civil Regstration index but in one of the other indices held at The National Archives, Kew. The page Events recorded in England and Wales and overseas gives a complete list of the available records.



Here's an overview of the indexes available online. If you plan to order a certificate, you should always check the transcription against the image of the index in order to avoid unnecessary expense and delay.

For births and marriages after 2005, the complete indexes can be checked at a small number of libraries - the help guide Q1. What is a GRO index reference, and where can I find it? lists the locations.

For Deaths after 2005, The General Register Office site is currently the only complete online source.


The New GRO Birth and Death Indexes

Following on from the closure of the Family History Centre in Islington, London, the General Record Office has re-analysed the records it holds and built new versions of the index of Births for 1837-1934, and Deaths for 1837-1957 and 1984-2019.

This section outlines the differences between the 2 versions of the indexes (comparing with FreeBMD):



  1. Especially in the early days, it is now clear that not all entries were registered.
  2. The problems of spelling described above (under Church Records) also existed for civil registration entries. So you must always consider alternate spellings when checking the indices.
  3. Registration districts don't fall perfectly in line with county boundaries. Therefore you may have to look slightly away from where you expected.
    A 1901 census example: Penge falls in London, Kent and Croydon, Surrey.
  4. The national indices do contain errors and omissions (there's a procedure for reporting them).
  5. Mistakes were sometimes corrected in later on. If you see a page number with a letter (e.g. 932a), then this is certain to be a correction entry.
  6. When searching for births, it's possible that the parents had not decided on a name for the child when the birth was registered, so you should also look for the entries [male] and [female] which appear at the end of the entries for each surname.


Useful web-sites


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