Amanuensis Monday:- Digitisation of UK's birth, death & marriage certificates?

When researching in UK, we have several websites to choose from to collect numerous different records to support our online research.

The documents that are at the cornerstone of our research of course, are civil registration documents otherwise known as birth, death and marriage records (BDM), and census records.

We have extensive census record images already digitised from 1841 to 1911, that provide real insights into our ancestors lives.

However, they need to be backed up by the proof derived from civil registration documents. Civil registration started in 1837 in England and Wales, and from 1855 in Scotland. Prior to that we must look in parish registers for baptismal, marriage or funeral/burial records.

Birth certificates prove that the person existed, what their name was at birth, their date of birth, and the mothers' name; often also the fathers. Other information given, would be the area that the family lived in at time of birth. From 1911 mothers' maiden names are included.

George William BOOTHER (b1851)
m 1874
Margaret SULLIVAN (b1857)
Marriage certificates prove that the marriage happened, when and provide the spouse's name. Also provides occupation and addresses at time of event. Fathers are listed also along with their occupation. Scotland also provides mothers details.

The age at time of marriage must be taken with a pinch of salt, unless you have the birth certificate of the person to back it up.
No proof of identity was required and a person may lie about their age if they are not old enough to marry, or they may have another reason for not telling the truth - or they may not even be sure when they were born.

Sometimes names on marriage certificates can differ from that on a birth certificate. Changes of first and surnames since birth are common.

Names of witnesses on certificates are handy - often they are family members.

Death certificates prove that someone died, when and gives a reason why they died. It may tell you where they were living, and it will tell you who the "informant" was (who registered the death). The informant is often, but not always a family member. Sometimes it is a friend, or someone like a doctor or lawyer. The other details such as names, date of birth, occupation, marital status etc may be incorrect as the informant is providing details that they think might be correct - but not necessarily so. And of course, the deceased is unable to correct the info.

When searching for BDM events online for England and Wales, we get only the indexes to the civil registration documents.

These indexes are available on FindMyPast, Ancestry, The Genealogist and FreeBMD. They help narrow down our search but mustn't be used instead of the actual certificates themselves.

The indexes provide name, year, which "quarter", and which volume and page number to find the registration on and what registration district the event was registered in. This is to help you order the certificate you require.
George William BOOTHER
registered 2nd quarter (April-June) 1851
Shoreditch, Vol II, p453
Note - although registered in the 2nd quarter,
George was actually born on 8 March

An index is missing quite a lot of valuable information. Sometimes that actual event occurred in the quarter or even year previous, but was registered later. Sometimes there are multiple people with the same or similar names registered for that event around the same time.

You can't be sure without a copy of the registration that you have the correct person.

So if we have a civil registration event that we want a copy of, we currently need to take the information from indexes and order your English or Welsh certificate through the UK's General Register Office. It currently costs £9.25 per certificate and the site suggests approximately two or three weeks between ordering and receipt (although I've known it to take much longer).

Its fairly expensive, especially as genealogists and family historians only want the historic research value that the registration, rather than proving a legal identity by having a legally certified registration that is a certificate.

Scotland has a much better set-up for researchers by having their indexes and document images available for you to view and download online at their ScotlandsPeople website. Cost for viewing an index and an image is approximately £1.50, although you have to have purchased a minimum of £7 worth of credits first to get started.

It has its downsides, in that it is very easy to run out of credits very quickly if you aren't careful. But you do get instant gratification if you find what you want, and for a much cheaper £1.50 than England's £9.25.

Of course England and Wales have far more registrations to digitise than Scotland. But it seems that there is a move a-foot to do so with a call to sign a petition. Gould Genealogy blogged about this recently.

So, if like me, you would like the UK to digitise English and Welsh registrations, join me in signing the petition. Note you do have to be a British citizen (which includes ex-pats) and/or a UK resident.

And how awesome would it be if the New Zealand Government also decide to digitise its civil registrations too!

Happy hunting


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