General Register of births, marriages and deaths

Since 1 July 1837 all births marriages and deaths in England and Wales have been registered with the General Register Office. These entries can be found in the GRO Index.

Internet access to the GRO Index: (microfilm and fiche can be sent to your local Family History Centre)

Once you have found the relevant entry you’ll need to apply for a certificate. Copies of certificates can be ordered here: Certificates cost £9.25 (4 to 15 working days delivery) or £23.40 for next day delivery.

Notes on the GRO Index:
People who were born/married/died near the end of a quarter may appear in the index of the next because entries in the GRO index relate to the date of the actual registration not of the event itself.

When searching the index try alternative surname spellings. Surnames were spelt incorrectly for many reasons including mishearing a name due to regional accents/a snuffly cold/speech impediments, general illiteracy and transcription errors.

If a child was born illegitimate they were given their mother’s surname until 1926 when the name could be re-registered with the father’s name as long as the parents married after the birth.

Consider alternative first names, children who were named after a parent may have also been known by another name to prevent confusion.

Try other possible spellings for names. There may well have been transcription errors. The letters: M and W are easily confused. F, J and T look similar too.

When searching the GRO check up to 5 years on either side of a possible date as ages are sometimes inaccurately recorded.

If you have problems locating your ancestors in a specific registration district consider looking further afield. An event would be registered where it took place not where your ancestors lived. For example a woman may have stayed with her mother for the birth of her child and so the birth would be registered in her mothers registration district.

In the decade following national registration, parents were not obliged to notify the register of a birth and If a child’s birth was not registered within 6 months it could not be included in the records. Also, if a child had been baptised there was some confusion as to whether it was still necessary to register the birth.

During the period 1837-75 it is estimated that up to 20% of births were not registered in some areas and 1 in 40 marriages are missing for 1837-99.

In 1874, fines were introduced for non-notification of births and registration was made compulsory in 1875.

Should you have trouble finding an entry in the GRO index or locating a birth certificate it’s worth applying these handy tips:

Notes on certificates:
Be cautious of ages stated in certificates. People didn’t always know when they were born and our ancestors sometimes told little fibs about their age, particularly for marriage certificates!

Also ages stated on death certificates may have been incorrectly guessed at by the informant.

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