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Civil Registrations of Births, Marriages and Deaths

The records of civil registrations are probably the most useful sources for family historians. These records are what family trees are made of, because you stand a good chance of being able to find birth, marriage and death certificates for most or your ancestors back to the commencement of civil registration. The major life events to which the certificates bear witness will form the structure of your family tree.

Tip

Birth certificates give sufficient information to enable you to search for the marriage of the parents. Obtain the parent’s marriage certificate and then by using the information provided on it you can then search for the birth certificates of the parents. The parents’ birth certificates will name their parents. That’s two generations back from your starting point!

Civil registration was introduced on 1 July 1837 in England and Wales and continues to this day. Legal adoptions have been registered since 1927. Registering a child’s birth did not become became the responsibility of the parents until 1875, when a penalty was introduced for non-registration. It is known that some births went unregistered and that there are omissions and estimates of non-registered births vary between 6% to 10% prior to 1875. Nonetheless, the majority of births were registered. If you can’t find a birth, look at the Parish Registers and Nonconformist records. On the whole, non-registration was a problem largely confined to births. It appears that very few marriages or deaths went unrecorded.

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Pay attention to the address where the events took place! The address is very important, as it fixes the family to a specific location at a specific time. This information may then serve as a springboard for research in other sources, such as the census.

England and Wales were divided up into registration districts for the purposes of registration and the registration districts were divided into sub-districts, for which registrars were appointed with repsonsibilities for the registration of events in their own districts. The registrars recorded details of all births, marriages and deaths in registers and were required to send copies every three months to the Registrar General’s Office in London. A single index of the quarterly returns was then prepared for England and Wales. The indexes are available for consultation, but the actual registers themselves are confidential and are not available for consultation by members of the public.

The entries in the indexes are listed alphabetically quarter of the year and by surname and then first name. The entry will provide surnames and forenames, the district where the event took place and the GRO Index reference number. Make a note of these details as you will need them to obtain certificates. It is important to note where the event was registered as this can help you to distinguish between people with identical names.

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At Gwynedd Archives we hold civil registration indexes for the period 1837 – 1910 on micro-fiche. Please note that we cannot issue certificates!

It is important to note that the indexes are arranged by date of registration and not the date of the event, which in the case of births could be up to 6 weeks later. Therefore, it can be useful to search the following quarter for births, if you fail to find one in the expected quarter. Once you have found the entry which interests you in the indexes you can then obtain a certificate.

What information will you find in an UK Civil Registration Certificate?

It is useful to know what information may be gleaned from civil registration certificates.

Birth Certificates

  • Date of birth
  • Place of birth
  • Child's first names
  • Name and occupation of the father
  • Name and maiden surname of the mother
  • Name and address of the informant for registration

Marriage Certificates

  • Names and age of the bride and groom
  • Their marital status and addresses
  • The names and occupations of their fathers
  • Date and place of the marriage
  • Names of witnesses

Death Certificates

  • Name
  • Date
  • Place of death
  • Name and address of the informant for registration


 

 

 

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