The office that manages the civil registration of births, marriages, deaths, and adoptions in England was previously known as the Public Records Office, or PRO. More recently, it has been called the General Register Office, or GRO. We use the term GRO on this web site, although you may find older pages calling it the PRO. This office, whatever it is called, keeps indexes to the civil registrations (starting in July 1837) of births, marriages, and deaths in England. (These indexes were formerly kept at a place called St. Catherine’s House, and were referred to as St. Catherine’s indexes.) These indexes are available at many libraries in England, on microfilm from the LDS, from a free online service called FreeBMD, and from several fee-based online search services, including Ancestry and FindMyPast. At this time (Aug 2014), the index at FreeBMD is considered to be complete through 1939 for births, 1951 for marriages, and 1969 for deaths; after that, it may be incomplete.
Under the categories Births, Marriages, and Deaths, we have tables of all the Wan*l*s and Wan*l*ce names extracted from FreeBMD, plus some added from later GRO indexes at other sites. We think we have them all through 1933; after that, there may be some incompleteness. If volume/page numbers are missing for the entry you want in the table below, check FreeBMD for the missing info. If there are parents listed in the Comments field of the Births index, it means somebody has seen the actual certificate, and the parents are listed in this format, with the father’s surname omitted to save space – assume it matches the child’s surname:
Father’s first name/Mother’s Full Maiden Name
Example: Thomas/Elizabeth Cowell
Some Comments are prefixed with “probably” – this means we haven’t seen the certificate, but are guessing based on other data such as a unique name, location, or other sources such as parish registers. (per PR) means “per the parish register”. Similarly, “per VRI” means this marriage or baptism is in the British Isles Vital Records Index (produced by the LDS Church), which is extracted from parish registers. Some other abbreviations you may see in the Comments field are:
- DarBMD site = Darlington BMD website
- DCC site = Durham County Council PRO index site
In the Deaths index, information in the Comments column enclosed in parentheses means the information was obtained from other sources but has a solid body of supporting evidence such as parish register entries, tombstones, probate records, etc.
The indexes tell when and where the event occurred, but do not give details. Each year is divided into quarters (3 months) and the month given is the last month of that quarter, e.g. September = 3rd quarter ( July, August and September). Here is a sample of a birth index for one quarter – the fields are Surname, Given Name of Child, Registration District, Volume, Page:
Search various PRO Indexes for free online:
- FreeBMD (incomplete)
- Durham County Council (not whole county)
- Darlington (Durham/Yorkshire border)
- Middlesbrough, Yorkshire (includes Middlesbrough, Hartlepool, Stockton-on-Tees and Redcar & Cleveland )
- Newcastle-upon-Tyne, Northumberland – births 1837-1870 and marriages 1837-1900
- Sunderland (marriages 1837-2005, post-1985 births & deaths; includes Houghton le Spring & Chester le Street)
- Yorkshire BMD
Search the entire PRO index online at various pay-per-view sites: FindMyPast Ancestry FamilyRelatives.com
Ordering a Certificate
Once you have a complete index entry (name, year, quarter, district, volume, page), a copy of the actual birth/marriage/death certificate may be obtained in one of two ways:
- if you’re in England, the cheapest & fastest way is to order the certificate from the local register office where it was recorded. Many (but not all) local registries have an online site; some have searchable indexes online; a few accept online orders, so you have to print out the order form and mail a cheque in pound sterling. Some offices (but not all) accept credit card numbers written on the form. The cost is £9.25 (in 2014), and you actually don’t need the volume/page number (they’re meaningless at the local reg office). However, due to changes in registrations districts, sometimes the local office is unable to find a record, in which case proceed to the next step.
- if you’re not in England or the local register office can’t find the certificate, order the certificate from the General Register Office website. The cost is £9.25 if you have the full reference (name, registration district, year, quarter, volume, and page number). They take credit cards, and you can place your order online, which makes overseas ordering simple. If you don’t find your person in the index and therefore don’t have the reference, they will search for you, but it costs a little more (see their Fees page; if ordering from overseas, go to the bottom and read “Postal Fees”).
What information will you get on a certificate?
Besides the usual “when, who, & where” of the event
- a birth registration usually includes the date & place of the child’s birth, the father’s full name & occupation, the mother’s maiden name, and the name & address of the informant, which is usually a parent, but can also be another relative, neighbor, friend, doctor, etc. (In some lucky discoveries, a previously-unknown grandparent or other relative has been found this way.)
- a marriage registration usually includes date, place, ages, occupations, residences, the names & occupations of the fathers of the bride and groom, and 2 witnesses. In the earlier marriages, the ages may be listed as simply “full age”, meaning over the legal age to marry without consent (21). It is common for the father of an illegitimate child to not be listed; sometimes the mother is listed instead, but more often, the father’s name is blank.
- a death registration usually includes the name, date, age, place, occupation, cause of death, and an informant’s name.For a deceased child, it is quite likely to identify the father, such as “son of James Moses, miner”, but this is not a requirement and its appearance varies over time and place. For a deceased married woman, her husband is likely to be identified, such as “wife of William Pratt, cobbler”, but again, this is not required and its usage may vary.