Civil BMDs: Birth, Marriage and Death Certificates (Part 1)

News broke over Christmas that the cost of civil Birth, Marriage and Death certificates (Civil BMDs) is to increase from £9.25 to £11 (paper copy, postage included) or from £6 to £7 for an emailed pdf.  The increases will take effect on 16th February 2019.

If you don’t provide the full index references, there will be an additional charge of £3 – but don’t worry; these are easily found.  All the information in the following example, including Volume, Page, etc. was obtained from the searchable index on the General Register Office website.
TALENT, ADA.  Mother’s maiden name: WOOD
GRO Reference: 1865, M Quarter, in LEEDS, Volume 09B Page 493

These prices refer to the purchase of certificates from the General Register Office, but local register offices may also provide this service, and for this they set their own charges, usually about £10.  Some genealogists prefer to use local offices because this is where the information was originally obtained from the informant.  In the days before photocopying, carbon copies, etc, the only way to get that information to the central General Register Office was to copy it out by hand, meaning possibilities of transcript errors, firstly in reading and transcribing the original hand-written record, and later, when that central record was transcribed for the online register.  However, not all local offices will send you a facsimile of the original; it may be a typed copy, created upon receipt of your request.  It’s for you to decide what you prefer, and to place your orders accordingly.

But do you need a certificate at all?
Now that my research is well progressed, I do buy the odd certificate out of curiosity, but initially my approach was to order only if I believed the certificate would give additional information to help me take my tree further back.  To adopt this approach you need to have an idea of what the certificate will include.  You also need to know if that same information might be available on another record, accessible without additional charge.

So let’s start by looking at Birth Certificates.  Marriage and Death Certificates will follow in my next post.  Remember – when we talk about Civil BMDs, we’re referring only to the Birth, Marriage and Death Certificates available since 1837.

Civil Birth Certificates
Information included:
Registration District & Sub District
Register number
When & where born (time may also given – see note below.)
Name
Sex
Name & Surname of Father
Name & Maiden Name and previous married surnames of Mother
Occupation of Father
Description & Residence of informant
Date Registered
Details of name/s entered after Registration

Getting as much information as possible from this record:
Sometimes a time of birth is given.  When you see this, it’s normally an indication of twins, triplets, etc. so you should look for more births.

The omission of a father’s name suggests the child is illegitimate.  From 1875, in the case of illegitimate births, the father had to be present at the registration to consent to his name being added.  The recently deceased father of a legitimate child would still be included.

If the mother has previously been married, the entry will say something like ‘Jane Smith, formerly Jones, previously Brown’.  In this example, Smith is her married name, Jones her name by the former marriage, and Brown was her maiden name.

Use the address to cross reference with census returns, directories, etc.

Do you need to purchase this record?
It depends what you want to know.  The General Register Office online index provides an overview of this information – just enough to help you decide if this is the right person.  Let’s look again at that example given above:
TALENT, ADA.  Mother’s maiden name: WOOD
GRO Reference: 1865, M Quarter, in LEEDS, Volume 09B Page 493

Without even purchasing the certificate, we can see the baby’s full name; the mother’s maiden name; the year the birth was registered, and in which quarter (M = March, and refers to Jan-Feb-March); the registration district (Leeds) and where exactly in the GRO’s system this record is to be found.

You don’t see the actual date of birth.  Remember that a birth must be registered within 42 days.  It’s entirely possible, then, that this child may have been born in December or even November of the previous year.  You have to buy the certificate to get the exact date.

Most importantly, the mother’s maiden name is included on the GRO online register.  Often, I find this information is all I need to help me progress; I don’t need the actual certificate.

Knowing the Registration District means you can look on the GRO register for more births from the same family.  Search using just the surname, mother’s maiden name, registration district, and try every year for a decade or so on either side of your confirmed birth.  You will have to do this twice – once for female, once for male registrations.

Other records providing similar information
The 1939 Register includes the actual date of birth of all individuals recorded, but not the place of birth.  All censuses from 1851 to 1911 (and before long, 1921) include the year and place of birth but not the actual date of birth.  If you’re sure you have the right person this combination may be sufficient for your needs.

The child’s Baptism record may provide you with most of this information.  If you’re lucky, you’ll find digital images of the original records online, but this depends on the specific county your ancestor was born in, and whether that county has made digital images of their original records available to Ancestry, FindMyPast, etc.

The introduction of a pre-printed parish baptism record book in 1813 means that by the period we’re discussing (post-1837) entries were standardised, including as a minimum the following information:
Register entry number
Date of Baptism
Child’s name
Parents’ names
Abode (Not usually the actual address)
Quality*, Trade or Profession of father  (*e.g. ‘Gentleman’)
By whom the ceremony was performed
(The actual date of birth wasn’t required until around 1860, although some clergymen did include it before then.)

Birth Notices in newspapers will include child’s name, parents’ names, date of birth and possibly their address.  Although, infuriatingly, I have at least one ancestor who only went to this trouble for the births of his sons.

You might expect to find the date of birth on military and penal process records.  However, historic records tend to record age rather than date of birth of the individual – presumably originally in expectation that many didn’t know their date of birth, or even their age.  However, service records may request a person’s age in terms of years and months, and where I’ve been able to check against the actual date of birth, I have found the information given to be accurate.

So what do you think? 
Is it worth ordering a few birth certificates now before the price increases, and save yourself a few quid?  Of can you find most of the infomation using other sources, and save even more?!

2 thoughts on “Civil BMDs: Birth, Marriage and Death Certificates (Part 1)

  1. Pingback: Civil BMDs: Birth, Marriage and Death Certificates (Part 2) | English Ancestors

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