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 1847is 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
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.
FreeBMD - For 1837-1983, the
coverage offered by FreeBMD is almost complete and, since the site is free of charge, the site has
much to recommend it. The transcription effort is now working on the period 1984-1992.
Ancestry - The coverage is
split into several periods:
1837-1915 - This is an old copy of the FreeBMD data, so it is better to use the
1916-2005 - The indexes appear to be complete. The Birth and Death Indexes
claim to go to 2007 but there are significant gaps.
2007-2017 - England and Wales, Death Index, 2007-2017. As Ancestry explains:
This collection is a compiled index that covers approximately 55% of the total deaths that occurred in this time period.
This index provides death details for people in England and Wales, specifically their name, gender, date of birth or age
at death, date of death, and residence place at death. However, they do not include the General Register Office (GRO)
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):
For both Births and Deaths, the forenames of the individual are shown in full. This is especially
helpful for events after 1900 when the old index shows only the first name and then initials.
For Births, the mother's maiden name is shown on all records (i.e. from 1837 onwards).
For Births, following on from (2), if the parents are not married but the father is named on
the certificate, the entry is only indexed under the father's surname.
For Deaths, the age at death is shown on all records (the old index only shows this from 1866 onwards).
For Deaths between 1984 and 2005, the "old" index is better since it gives the exact date of birth for
For both Births and Deaths, if a certificate was corrected or the person was known by more than one name,
the old index will show both variants but the new index will only show one variant. For example, the death of
Esther Benezra alias Bennett on the 16th. October 1842
in Finsbury, London. The old index shows entries in the December 1842 quarter for both Esther
Benezra and Esther Bennett in St. Luke registration district with the reference volume 2 page 14. The new index shows only
the entry for Esther Benezra.
Please note that you can still obtain the cheaper, electronic PDF version of a certificate which appears in the old index but
not in the new one - if you follow the process to apply for a paper certificate (rather than going via the electronic indexes),
it is possible to choose to have the certificate in PDF format.
For both Births and Deaths, the entries show the Gender of the individual (and this is a required
choice when searching). For Births, if the child was not named when the registration occurred, then the old index
shows the forename as "Male" or "Female". In the new index, the forename field is blank.
You must specify a surname when searching, and wild-cards are not permitted. This can make finding
entries tricky, so it is worth checking FreeBMD for the spelling.
You can only search up to 5 years at one time (the specified year plus or minus 0, 1 or 2 years).
You cannot search by "County" - you can either search the whole of England and Wales, or a
specific registration district.
There are errors in and omissions from the new indexes - there is a correction service available.
(I have found this to be remarkably swift and painless.)
Especially in the early days, it is now clear that not all entries were registered.
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.
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.
The national indices do contain errors and omissions (there's a procedure for reporting them).
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.
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.
FreeBMD - A volunteer effort to
transcribe the Civil Registration indices. The site is free to use and the coverage for 1837-1915 is now