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How to order a birth certificate & why you need to


Starting out on your family history journey, and wondering why you need to buy birth certificates for your ancestors? Professional genealogy researcher David Annal explains how these important documents will help you find those vital clues...

How does a birth certificate help our family history research?

Our ancestors’ birth certificates (along with the associated records of their marriages and deaths) form the basic outline of our research into their lives. In England & Wales, the records begin on 1 July 1837 and cover the whole of the population, unlike the earlier parish registers which (generally) just cover those who were members of the Church of England. With nearly 180 years of material available we can expect to find information about our ancestors stretching back several generations and the details on the certificates can provide useful clues to help guide us on our journey back into the 18th century and beyond.

Why is a birth certificate more useful than the index entry?

The information in the General Register Offices’ birth indexes is quite limited. Initially, just the name of child and the name of district in which the birth was registered are given; it wasn’t until the September quarter of 1911 that the mother’s maiden name was added. While it’s usually possible to identify the correct entry in the indexes, it’s only after getting hold of a copy of the certificate itself that you will discover all the crucial genealogical information that it contains; the date and place of birth, the father’s name and the mother’s name and maiden surname.

How do I order a birth certificate?

The first step is to search for the full GRO index reference for the certificate you want to order. You can do this online at FreeBMD which, as the name suggests is free, or you can use one of the commercial websites such as Ancestry or Findmypast. Once you’ve got the reference, you should order your copy through the General Register Office website. The cost of certificates is currently £9.25 – if you use any other website to order your certificate you will be paying more for exactly the same service! The GRO will despatch your certificate within four working days (fifteen days if the GRO reference is not supplied). There is also a priority (24 hour) service which the GRO offers at the higher cost of £23.40.

David Annal has been involved in the family history world for more than 30 years and is a former principal family history specialist at The National Archives. He is an experienced lecturer and the author of a number of best-selling family history books, including Easy Family History and (with Peter Christian) Census: The Family Historian’s Guide. David now runs his own family history research business, Lifelines Research.

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Get your hands on our Family History Notebook, a handy resource to help you keep track of your findings with charts and research logs. Simply sign up to receive our free monthly emails (packed full of even more advice) and you'll receive a link direct to your inbox to download your notebook. 

Tracing your family history is a hobby which will give you many years of enjoyment, and with our expert tips, it’s easy to get started today.

Want to find out more about those precious clues found on birth certificates? Try a copy of Family Tree magazine for the latest how-to guides and research tips.

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18/07/2019 Share this story   Share on Facebook icon Share on Twitter icon Share on Pinterest icon Share on Google Plus icon Share on Linked In icon Share via Email icon

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