Civil BMDs: Birth, Marriage and Death Certificates (Part 2)

In the last post we were discussing Civil BMDs.  In light of imminent increases in costs of Birth, Marriage and Death certificates, we were considering whether we need to buy them, or if the information can be obtained via other sources.  We started by considering Birth Certificates.  We will now conclude with Marriage and Death certificates.

Marriage Certificates

Civil Marriages records are not listed on the online GRO index.  You will, however, find them on Free BMD.  The listing will look something like this:
Marriages Dec 1907: CASS Charles Hunter; Leeds; 9b 882

You’ll also find them listed on your usual genealogy subscription website (Ancestry/FindMyPast, etc).  The advantage of searching here is that the name of both spouses will be included on a short list, like this one on Ancestry, in the England & Wales, Civil Registration Marriage Index, 1837-1915:
Name: Charles Hunter Cass
Registration Year: 1907; Registration Quarter: Oct-Nov-Dec
Registration district: Leeds; Volume: 9b Page: 882
Records on Page:
Charles Hunter Cass
Alice Howgate
Joseph Joy
Ellen Elizabeth Young

Unlike with the FreeBMD transcript, since the two parties, Charles Hunter Cass and Ellen Elizabeth Young are both listed, I can cross reference the wife’s name with future censuses and so I know I now have the correct marriage.

Of course, the full marriage certificate will include a lot more information, but to access that information I will have to buy the certificate.

The Marriage Certificate will record the following information:
Registration District
Date and Place of Marriage
Register entry number
Names of Parties
Age of Parties
Status and Occupation
Residence at time of marriage
Fathers’ names and occupations, and also possibly a note if either was deceased.
Method of marriage – banns, licence, certificate etc
Signature or mark of the couple and witnesses

However… there might be a way for you to see all of this information without having to buy the civil Marriage Certificate: the same information is recorded on the church register.  These registers will be available to view at the relevant county record office.  But if you’re very lucky they will also be available to view online as part of your subscription to your usual genealogy subscription website.  You’ll soon recognise which of the record sets give you only the transcript of the index, and which give you the digital image of the original church register record.  For example, many of my family’s marriage records are available on Ancestry, in the West Yorkshire, England, Church of England Marriages and Banns, 1813-1935 record set.  The above-mentioned marriage of Charles Hunter Cass and Ellen Elizabeth Young is to be found in that record collection.  If you have a subscription to Ancestry you can see the full record here.

Interesting, isn’t it, so many different versions of the same event, and if you know where to look you can access so much more information!

A few things to bear in mind about marriage records:
Ages can be inaccurate or downright false, e.g. given to avoid a minor having to obtain parental consent, or even to avoid disclosing the true age to the other party.  A recording that the bride or groom is ‘of full age’ is taken to mean aged 21 or more.

Address may be the same for both parties, but this was often done to avoid paying two sets of banns fees if one party resided in a different parish.  (Unless you are a certain branch of my family where literally everyone’s children in the street inter-married!)

Father’s name and occupation may be left blank, and this may indicate that he was unknown, but could have been left blank for other reasons.  It may, for example, suggest he was deceased by the time of the marriage, although in such cases it was more usual to include the word ‘deceased’ alongside the father’s details.  Having said that, the absence of the word ‘deceased’ does not necessarily mean he was alive at the time of the marriage.  These are all merely clues – they liked to keep us guessing!

Death Certificates

As with Birth Certificates, the easiest way to find a death certificate is on the General Register Office online index.  Here’s an example:

MOSS, ALFRED, age 0.  GRO Reference: 1841.  S Quarter in LEEDS.  Volume 23  Page 186
Here we see Alfred Moss.  The 0 indicates that he died before his first birthday, rather than that he was stillborn.  (At this time a stillborn would not have been registered at all.)  To get more information we will have to buy the certificate.

The Death Certificate will record the following information:
Registration District & Sub District
Register number
When and where Died
Name and surname
Sex
Age (including statement of parentage in the case of a child)
Occupation (including that of the husband of a married woman or widow)
Cause of Death
Description & Residence of Informant
When Registered

From 1875 the registration had to be supported by a medical certificate.
From mid-1969, date and place of birth and usual address are included.
Also from 1969, if the deceased was a married woman, her maiden name was included.

A few things to bear in mind about death records:
The age on the index is really important.  It helps us to discount lots of certificates and home in on the right one – as with the Mother’s Maiden Name on the Birth Index.  But be prepared to allow a few years out either way.  Often informants were not sure how old someone was and had to guess.

Although civil registration was introduced in 1837, it wasn’t until 1875 that the onus of registering a death was placed on the next of kin or closest relative of the deceased person.  This may explain why some deaths were not registered in the earlier years.  It’s possible that ordinary people, used to registering everything through the church, just continued to do so via the burial service, and thought this new system was a fad!

What other records might give you some of this information?
There are many potential sources of information for deaths.  They won’t all give you exactly the same information as the Death Certificate, but finding a couple of these might mean you don’t need the certificate:
Notices in the newspaper
Cemetery record – it may seem strange, but the Beckett Street Cemetery records in Leeds is one of my very favourite record sets!
Church Burial record
Gravestones (and websites dedicated to this, like Find A Grave or Gravestone Photographic Resource.)
Wills and Probate documents, e.g. Probate Calendar
Military Service records
Commonwealth War Graves Commission – the website and the actual cemeteries
Military pension files at The National Archives – you have to visit to see the actual files, or you can pay for them to photocopy the contents (- that can be quite expensive.)
Coroner’s Report – in case of violent deaths, etc.  (In such cases, it is the Coroner who is the informant, rather than a family member.)
Newspaper reports of unusual deaths.
Obituaries – if your ancestor was particularly grand or achieved something noteworthy in their life.
Monuments, epitaphs, etc, in churches

Paradoxically, whereas the Birth and Marriage Certificates will help us to take our family trees back a generation, the various Death records, including all those ‘alternatives’ listed above, can tell us a lot about how the individual lived his or her life.  I’ll do a post on this in the future, including some examples from my own research.

And that’s it!  Have you selected some must-have BMDs yet?
Good luck!  🙂

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

  1. Pingback: What can death records tell us about life? | English Ancestors

  2. Pingback: Genealogy on a budget | English Ancestors

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