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Obtaining birth certificates

Armed with your background research, you should now to try to establish some concrete facts about your ancestors. The dates of births, marriages and deaths are crucial to establishing your family tree.

Civil registration for births, marriages and deaths began in England and Wales in 1837, 1855 in Scotland and 1864 in Ireland. However it wasn’t compulsory until 1871 when it became a legal requirement for every birth, marriage or death to be officially registered and a certificate issued as proof. Before these dates you will need to consult parish records.

You can purchase copies of BMD (Birth, Marriage, Death) certificates from the General Register Office ( if you are looking for registrations in England and Wales. There are equivalent offices in Scotland ( and Northern Ireland (

Adoption records date back to 1927. They do not hold information that would link it back to the original birth certificate.

A birth certificate will tell you:

  • Where and when born
  • Name of the child
  • Gender
  • Name of father if recorded (illegitimate births often omit this)
  • Name of mother, including maiden name if married.
  • Occupation of father if recorded.
  • Signature, description and residence of informant
  • When the event was registered.

The cost of a certificate is currently £7 from the GRO and they can be ordered online directly from the GRO or through your local county records office. The GRO are looking to digitise to scan and digitise birth, death and marriage records for England and Wales from 1837 to 2006 but there is no completion date for the project at the moment.

To order a certificate from the GRO you will need to know the GRO Index Reference, which consists of:

  • The year the event was registered.
  • The quarter of the year in which the event was registered
  • The registration district
  • The Volume and Page number.
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