Why do you need a birth certificate?

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01 November 2016
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Find out how birth records can help grow your family tree

Birth records have been kept since Victorian times and can help hugely in growing your family tree. Search the birth indexes online to start building your tree and then order a birth certificate once you’re as sure as possible that you have found your ancestor.

Birth indexes

The birth indexes can tell you the following about your ancestor:

  • First name and surname
  • Year the birth was registered
  • Quarter the birth was registered (January to March, April to June, July to September or October to December, referred to as the March, June, September and December quarters)
  • Name of the registration district
  • Volume and page number
  • From the September quarter of 1911 onwards, the birth indexes also include the mother’s maiden name.

Together the birth index details will give you a fairly good idea that you have found an ancestor. To be more certain that you have found the correct person, you may like to order a copy of the birth certificate.

Birth certificates for England & Wales

The cheapest website to buy a copy of an English or Welsh birth certificate from is the official government website, www.gro.gov.uk/gro/content/certificates. Each certificate costs £9.25 (be wary of any sites charging more than this). This may sound a lot of money, but a birth certificate should also name both parents, and so take you another generation back on your family tree.

The information on an English or Welsh birth certificate included:

  • When and where born
  • Name, if any
  • Sex
  • Name and surname of father
  • Name, surname and maiden surname of mother
  • Occupation of father
  • Signature, description and residence of informant
  • When registered
  • Signature of registrar
  • Name entered after registration.

Birth certificates for Scotland

Civil registration wasn’t introduced north of the border until 1 January 1855 – but the system that was adopted was far more ambitious than that in place in England and Wales. The range of questions asked in the first year of civil registration in Scotland was simply astonishing; in addition to the information recorded by the English GRO, the Scottish authorities required the time of birth; the date and place of the parents’ marriage; the father’s age and birthplace; his previous issue, living and deceased (numbers and gender only) and the mother’s age and birthplace to be recorded. This proved an impossible task to maintain and all but the first two were dropped in 1856. The inclusion of the parents’ marriage details is enormously useful to us as family historians. Visit www.scotlandspeople.gov.uk. Bear in mind that the digital copies of the registers – giving all the details of a certificate – are available for many years

Birth certificates for Ireland

Ireland was also behind England and Wales when it came to registering births. It wasn’t until 1864 that the Irish GRO began the process. The system employed and the layout of the certificates were, with the addition of an explicit requirement to include the ‘dwelling place’ of the child’s father, identical to England and Wales. From 1922, births occurring in the six northern counties of Ireland were registered by the newly formed General Register Office (Northern Ireland). For the Republic of Ireland order certificates from www.groireland.ie and for Northern Ireland go to www.nidirect.gov.uk/gro.

Birth certificates for the Channel Islands & the Isle of Man

Births have been registered by the civil authorities in Jersey since 1842, in Guernsey since 1840, in Alderney since 1850 (with some gaps) and in Sark since 1925. On the Isle of Man, the authorities began registration of non-Anglican births in 1849 but full civil registration wasn’t introduced until 1878 for births (and for marriages not until 1884).

Find out more about birth certificates and the clues they can reveal with David Annal's expert guide in the May 2016 issue of Family Tree.

Family history for beginners