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?!

Getting started: An hour to get back to 1800

Get coffee!  This is a long post.  In it, I aim to show it’s possible to start with very little information, yet quite quickly and accurately progress your family tree.  You’ll find background information on my previous post.

We might call this a ‘skeleton’ tree. It will contain just names, places, dates and occupations.  It can be padded out later using other records, but for now, every new search is targeted to find this ‘skeleton’ of information.  So I’m restricting my searches to two categories of records on Ancestry: Census & Electoral Rolls, and Births, Marriages & Deaths; with additional searches on FamilySearch and the General Register Office website where needed.  All searches are on Ancestry unless otherwise stated.

As you read through, be aware of this cycle:
Search
* I start by entering the information I have: these are my Search terms.

Review and Compare
* I look to make sure information on the new record agrees with what I already have.  If there’s any conflicting information, EITHER it isn’t the right person OR I need to be able to explain the discrepancy.  In other words, I’m building evidence.

Note new information
* Every new record gives more information, and I harvest as much as I can from it. This might include names of parents and siblings, ages (which gives us approximate birth years), places of birth and occupations.

Search
* As the cycle begins again, in the next search I use this new information as my starting point.

So without further ado…  The clock is ticking!

First and second generations:

1. Starting a new tree on Ancestry, I type in the name of my ‘Home’ person: Cyril Rayner, with an estimated birth year of 1920 and an assumed birthplace of Leeds, Yorkshire.

2. Next I search for Cyril on the 1939 Register.  Created on the eve of World War 2, the Register recorded personal details of every civilian in Great Britain and Northern Ireland as at 29th September 1939.  It was then used to organise identity cards, rationing, and was later the basis for the National Health Service. The benefits of searching the 1939 Register are that it’s the most recent ‘census-type’ register; and it gives the exact date of birth of all recorded individuals.
I use the following search terms, limiting my search to Census & Electoral Rolls category:
Cyril Rayner, birth year: 1920 +/- 5 years. Birthplace: Leeds. Event: 1939, in Leeds.
Review/ Compare:
I find Cyril immediately, with his mother and brothers.  I note father was not present, but mother was not widowed, suggesting he may have been away with work for the war effort.  It does mean, however, I don’t have any information about Cyril’s father, not even his first name.
Note new information:
Names of Cyril’s mother (Dorothy) and brothers; exact date of birth and occupation for all of them; their present address.
I save this record to my tree, ensuring all named family members are now added.

3. Dorothy’s birth year of 1898 and that of her first child, 1916, suggests a marriage after her sixteenth birthday (1914) but at any time up to the birth of the baby.
I use the following search terms, limiting my search to Birth, Marriage & Death category:
Surname: Rayner; First name of spouse: Dorothy; Marriage year: 1914-1916.
This isn’t much to work with, and the Ancestry search is unsuccessful.  This is an example of the kind of search, with very limited information, that FamilySearch handles more successfully.  So I search again on that site – success!
Note new information:
Marriage between Alfred Rayner and Dorothy M Jagger in April/May of 1916.  I now have Alfred’s first name and Dorothy’s surname and middle initial as well as the marriage date.  (I can also now find the original record on Ancestry and save it to my tree.)

4. Next I look for Cyril’s birth.
I use the following search terms, limiting my search to Marriage & Death category:
Cyril Rayner, birth year 1920, Leeds.
Review/ Compare:
The birth record confirms mother’s maiden name is Jagger
Note new information:
Birth was registered in Hunslet, not Leeds.  (Hunslet is now part of Leeds but in 1920 was a separate Registration District.)
I now know I have the right family and all information is correct.  All information is saved to my tree.

Second and third generations:

I can now leave Cyril and start to look for Dorothy’s parents, siblings, place of birth, etc.

5. Switching to the GRO website, I now look up Dorothy’s birth. This searchable register includes surname, forename(s), gender, year of birth (+/- 2 years), district where birth was registered and mother’s maiden name. If you don’t have all that information you can leave certain fields blank, and any likely matching records will give you the additional information.  It’s often quicker to use than Ancestry.  However, births are not included until 100 years have elapsed, which is why I couldn’t use this database to find Cyril’s birth.
I use the following search terms:
Dorothy Jagger; year of birth: 1898; female, Birthplace: Hunslet.
Note new information:
My assumption that Dorothy was born in Hunslet was wrong, but by searching again and leaving the district blank I find her: Dorothy Mary Jagger, registered in Wakefield.  Her mother’s maiden name was Hartley.

6. I now have enough information to find Dorothy on the 1901 and 1911 censuses. That should also give me her parents’ names.
Starting with the 1911 census:
I use the following search terms, in Census & Electoral Rolls category:
Dorothy Jagger, birth year: 1898, location in 1911: Wakefield.
Note new information:
By 1911, Dorothy and her family had already relocated to Hunslet.  Father’s name: John William Jagger, a widowed miner, born around 1873.  The birthplace of John William, Dorothy and her siblings was listed as Lofthouse rather than Wakefield.  I know Lofthouse to be a mining community close to Wakefield, but if I didn’t know this I would use Google maps to locate the towns.

7. The 1901 census:
Search terms as above.
Review/ Compare:
I confirm that not only Dorothy and her father’s details are the same, but also the names of her siblings.
Note new information:
In 1901 the family were in Lofthouse.  Dorothy’s mother was still alive and her name was Mary Ann.  (I already know from Dorothy’s birth record that Mary Ann’s maiden name was Hartley.)  Her approximate year of birth: 1873; place of birth: Lofthouse.

8. Before moving back a generation I find Dorothy’s baptism at Lofthouse in 1898.
Review/ Compare:
This includes date of birth as well as date of baptism, plus parents’ names and father’s occupation of miner.

Third and fourth generations:

I’m now ready to move back another generation.  Leaving Dorothy behind I now focus on her father, John William Jagger, born around 1873 in Lofthouse.  A few minutes ago I didn’t even know his name.  Now he’s one of my accepted ‘facts’!

9. The 1901 census has already revealed that the oldest of John William and Mary Ann’s children was born around 1893. This suggests a marriage around 1891-3.
I use the following search terms, in Birth, Marriage & Death category:
John William Jagger and Mary Ann Hartley; marriage in 1892 +/- 1 year.
I’m quick to find their marriage in 1892.
Note new information:
Luckily, this particular record set on Ancestry provides a digital image of the record, not just a transcript.  I see that John William’s father is Charles Jagger, and he too is a miner.  Their place of residence at time of marriage is given as Ouzlewell Green, Lofthouse.  Mary Ann’s father, also a miner, is Joseph Hartley.  The marriage takes place in a Nonconformist chapel – this may be useful information for finding earlier ancestors, and gives me a little wider information about the family’s life.

10. Switching to the GRO website I look for John William’s civil birth registration:
Search Terms:
John William Jagger, male, born 1873 +/- 2 years, birthplace: Wakefield.
Note new information:
Birth in October-December of 1872; mother’s maiden name: Newell.
Back on Ancestry I also find his baptism:
Review/ Compare:
The father’s name is Charles, and his occupation is miner.
Note new information:
Mother’s first name is Elizabeth.

11. We already know that John William married Mary Ann in 1892, but at the time of the 1891 census he would likely have been with his birth family.
I use the following search terms, in Census & Electoral Rolls category:
John William Jagger, year of birth: 1872 +/- 1 year, place of birth: Lofthouse and residence in 1891 of Lofthouse.
Review/ Compare:
I find John William, a miner, with his mother Elizabeth and siblings at Ouzlewell Green.
Note new information:
Elizabeth was widowed; names of John William’s siblings.

12. Using similar search terms, John William, aged 8, is located with both his parents in 1881 at Lofthouse.
Review/ Compare:
Charles, a miner, and Elizabeth; two siblings are also present, their names matching the 1891 census record.
Note new information:
Ages given on the two censuses indicate a birth year for Charles of around 1851, and for Elizabeth née Newell of around 1855.  We also now know that Charles died between 1881 and 1891.

13. John William is the oldest child. His birth in late 1872 suggests a marriage of around 1871-72 for Charles and Elizabeth:
I use the following search terms, in Births, Marriages, Deaths category:
Charles Jagger, Elizabeth Newell, 1871 +/- 1 year; location: Wakefield
Note new information:
The marriage took place on 16th June 1872.  Fathers’ names are Joshua Jagger and Joseph Newell, both miners.

Fourth and fifth generations:

We now have all the information we need to get back one more generation, so we will leave John William and focus on his father, Charles.

14. Switching to the GRO website, Charles’s birth is found in the first quarter of 1851.
Review/ Compare:
There is a discrepancy in the place of birth.  We already know from the 1881 census that Charles was born in Ouzlewell Green, Lofthouse, which comes under Wakefield.  However, the birth was registered in Hunslet.  Fortunately, I know from previous research that the Hunslet Registration District originally covered a huge area.  Checking with https://www.ukbmd.org.uk/reg/districts/hunslet.html I can see that in 1851 Hunslet did indeed include Lofthouse.  Therefore both places of birth are strictly speaking correct, but Charles was actually born in Ouzlewell Green.
Note new information:
Mother’s maiden name is Thackrah.

15. Back on Ancestry I can now follow Charles’s life back through the censuses of 1851, 1861 and 1871. Starting with 1851:
I use the following search terms, in Census & Electoral Rolls category:
Charles Jagger, born 1851, Wakefield; father: Joshua Jagger.
Review/ Compare:
I find Charles aged 1 month.  His father’s name and occupation, together with the location, confirm I have the right family, but the stated birthplace for Charles is Carlton.  Google Maps confirm that these places are all within a mile or two of each other.
Note new information:
The family is in Rothwell.  Father Joshua’s age is 33, suggesting a birth year of 1818, and his place of birth is Crigglestone (Google Maps confirms this is in the Wakefield area, therefore consistent with previous findings).  Charles’s mother’s name: Isabella, her age of 30 (= birth year of around 1821) and her birthplace of Carlton.

16. The 1861 census provides names of more siblings,

17. By 1871 Isabella is widowed, meaning a death for Joshua of between 1861 and 1871. Using search terms: Joshua Jagger, Wakefield and a death year of 1866 +/- 5 years, Joshua’s death and burial are located in 1869.

18. 1841 Census:
I use the following search terms, in Census & Electoral Rolls category:
Joshua Jagger, born 1818
Note new information:
Joshua and Isabella are both approximately 20 years old.  They have no children.

Fifth and sixth generations:

We can again move back a generation, so we will leave Charles and focus on his father, Joshua.

19. Assuming Joshua and Isabella are newlyweds, their marriage must have taken place around 1839-1841.
I use the following search terms, in Births, Marriages, Deaths category:
Joshua Jagger, spouse: Isabel Thackrah, Wakefield, 1840 +/- 1 year.
Note new information:
Marriage date: 25 Dec 1840, in Rothwell.  Father’s names: John Jagger and Charles Thackrah, both miners.

20. Joshua’s baptism.
I use the following search terms in Births, Marriages, Deaths category:
Joshua Jagger; birth year 1818 +/- 2 years; Father: John Jagger.
Review/ Compare:
Joshua’s baptism took place in the same Nonconformist chapel that future generations would use – an extra confirmation that I still have the right family; name of father: John.
Note new information:
Birth Date: 1 May 1818; Baptism Date: 7 Jun 1818; Baptism Place: West Parade Wesleyan, Wakefield.  Mother’s name is Hannah.

This is the first record we’ve identified that predates the new record regime of 1837 and 1841.  We now have the father’s name and the mother’s first name.  Undoubtedly, their births would take this line back to around 1800 or just before.

That’s it – my hour’s up!

I hope you followed all that. In the next post we’ll consider some issues arising from this exercise.