News – New Indexes for civil registration birth and deaths in England and Wales that are a game changer. Plus for a short time period there is the option to order cheaper digital versions of the certificates. Read on for more details.
On November 3rd the General Register Office put online at www.gro.gov.uk completely new indexes for births (1837-1915 – 100 year closure) and deaths (1837-1957 – 50 year closure). These are completely new indexes created from the original registers made during the now abandoned DoVE project (Digitization of Vital Events). For these time periods these new indexes will certainly replace the other indexes that are readily available on free and commercial websites. All other national indexes have been created by transcribing the existing national indexes, which are at least two generations away from the original certificates, and thus transcription errors do exist.
It is the additions to the indexes that make for exciting news here. In the birth indexes the mother’s maiden name has been added to all records, originally this information was not added until 1911. In the birth indexes the age of death is now included in all records, something not added until December 1865. Also in both indexes all forenames have been extracted. There are no initials used here as in the published national indexes.
Urgency – What is time sensitive here is that on November 9th the General Register Office started offering digital copies of the birth and death certificates, in these periods only, for a reduced price of 6 Pounds (US$7.45), as opposed to the regular price of 9 Pounds 25 Pence (US$11.49) for the paper copies. This a trial offer and is only available for 3 weeks or 45,000 pdfs, whichever comes first. It will probably be the number of certificates as this is a bargain. So do your searches now. What the government will choose to do after this is a complete unknown. I personally ordered 4 certificates yesterday on the first day and have ordered another 10 this morning. I will be ordering more.
How to Access the new GRO Indexes and Order Certificates
Go to the website – www.gro.gov.uk. Click on the link for Order Certificates Online – this will take you to a certificate ordering service notice. Click on the link for Order Certificates Online and search the GRO historic birth and death indexes.
At this point you will first need to register. If you have done this in the past you will need to sign in and then you will be sent a validation key to your registered email address. If they are going to send you digital pdfs they want to guarantee that they have a valid email address. My validation key came quickly, but online discussion groups suggest that it might take an hour. If it still has not come check your spam folder, or check old email addresses you may have used in the past.
Once in you will be asked if you want to search the birth or death indexes. Making the choice opens up the appropriate search template.
There are three fields that are required – surname, gender and year. With surnames you can search for: exact matches only; phonetically similar variations; or similar sounding variations. Personally I have had good luck with the similar sounding variations especially when dealing with my easily corrupted names like Finnigan and Callaghan. With gender you have to select male or female which means you will probably be repeating all searches twice if you are looking for the children of a particular couple rather than an individual. Then you choose a year of registration – remember this may not be the year of birth if the even occurred towards the end of the year. You can choose to select +/- 0, 1 or 2 years. So when searching for the children of a couple open the range to 2 years, and repeat the searches at 5 year intervals to pick up all the intervening years, repeating again to pick up both sexes.
Your most likely search will be the addition of the mother’s maiden name, and again you have the three same variations as you had on the surname field.
Let’s do a search for the female children of a Callaghan and Hagan couple. For Callaghan I am choosing similar sounding names, and in this example I am choosing exact name for Hagan. I am searching in 1882 +/- 2 years. I get to two results. Mary Callaghan – mother’s maiden surname Hagan – GRO Reference: 1884 S Quarter in Gateshead Volume 10A Page 887. I also get Bridget Callighan – mother’s maiden surname Hagan – GRO Reference: 1881 J Quarter Volume 10A Page 932. Note the difference in surname Callaghan and Callighan. I knew of Mary’s existence as she lived long enough to be in next census, but not Bridget. I thus checked the death indexes for Bridget and have ordered those certificates. Currently on the same line as the relevant search result you can choose to order a certificate or pdf.
Selecting either one prefills the order template. Scroll down the screen and ensure that you are ordering the less expensive pdf by email and not the standard certificate (unless you want to). Further down the screen you can also select the number of copies and you can add a personal reference number.
Illegitimate Births – To find an illegitimate birth, father unknown, you put the child’s surname which will be the mother’s surname in the surname at birth field (a required field) and leave the mother’s maiden name blank. I tested this with a couple of certificates I already had in my files and it found them.
Here the age of death is a real bonus but you still might have to get creative with your searches and watch for some errors. Again you have to provide a surname, gender and a year to search. In this example I was searching for a Mary Ann Callaghan born in the June Quarter of 1879 in Gateshead district but was not found in the household in the 1881 census. So I searched on Callaghan – similar sounding variations, first forename Mary, female 1880 +/- 1 year to catch all between 1879 and 1881. There were 111 Mary Callaghan’s. Since Mary was born in Gateshead district I assumed she might have died there, so I limited the search district to Gateshead. There was only one result for a Mary Ann Callaghan in the March Quarter of 1880 aged 11 years. I still think this is mine and I have ordered the certificate but it highlights another potential problem. Evidence is appearing online that in some case if a child dies at age 11 hours or 11 days or 11 weeks or 11 months they may get indexed as 11 years rather than a 0. Obviously this can happen for any infant so be careful and you may have to order additional records to confirm.
District Geography Issues – On the search screen there is a good listing of all registration districts by name and when they were used by time period. For many people outside of England or Wales you may not be familiar enough with local district names to know if a name is close or far from where you expect to find an event. If you are not familiar with the district names and the places within the districts look to the Registration Districts in England and Wales page on Genuki created by Brett Langston. You can see here the names of the districts within each pre and post 1974 county. You can also download a pdf Place Name Index from the same page.
On the GRO website you are limited to searching in one district. You cannot select multiple districts or counties as you can with FreeBMD so sometimes it may be better to search on other sites first. There is a workaround for this limitation to pick up a wider geographic area. For any given time period the registration districts are combined into volumes. So for example in my 1880 death search Gateshead is in Volume 10A. I can omit anything in the district field but put 10A in the Volume field and it will pick up, in this case, all entries from County Durham, giving me 4 options. District 10B would be for Northumberland. The volume numbers vary by time period so you can use the List of Registration Districts provided on this site to find the relevant numbers for the time period of interest. Note that for numbers less than 10 add a 0. So Kent which is district 2A, on this site you search on 02A
Marriages – Nothing has changed here. Marriages were not indexed or digitized as part of the DoVE project before they ran out of money. You therefore have to use the existing images and order full paper certificates.
The Future – Unfortunately we don’t know what will happen at the end of this 3 week trial period. The results will be evaluated, but that does not mean the government will act on it.
The Opportunity right now is to have access to great indexes (likely to stay) but also to be able to get lower priced digital certificates. This is a golden opportunity to find those missing children and dead ancestors that you have not been able to locate yet. Take advantage of it.