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Civil Registration in England & Wales

How to Get Birth, Death & Marriage Certificates


On July 1, 1837 a civil registration system for births, marriages, and deaths was introduced in England and Wales. These events were officially recorded by local District registrars, who reported to the General Registrar Office (GRO) in London, now part of the Office of National Statistics (ONS). In 1927 this registration was expanded to include stillbirths and adoptions. The events were registered at the local office, which retained a copy, so each document should be available in both the local registry office as well as the central office. These records are vital to family historians because of the genealogical information that they include.

The General Register Office maintains a national index of all births, marriages and deaths registered in England and Wales. The index for each year is split into quarters (March, June, September & December), and is arranged alphabetically by surname. From 1984 to the present, the Civil Registration Indexes are ordered by surname for the whole year. For births and deaths, the Index is organized by the date when the event was registered, not the date that the birth or death actually occured. Marriages are shown in the quarter in which they actually took place. After 1874, births were generally registered within six weeks, according to law, and deaths within eight days.

The GRO Indexes include the surname, first name, registration district and the volume and page of the General Register Office reference. Beginning with the September quarter of 1911, the mother's maiden name was added to the index for births. From 1912, the spouses name is included in the index for marriages. The age at death is included in the GRO Index beginning in 1866, and the date of birth for death registrations was added in 1969.

Civil Registration FAQ

What information is found on a certificate?

How do I locate a birth, marriage or death certificate?

How do I order a copy of a birth/marriage/death certificate?

My ancestor was born, married or died after 1837. Why can't I find his/her record?

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