Atlantic Crossings

Civil Registration System

by Phil Westwood

The obvious starting point to researching your Family History is to ask "has it been done before?" Assuming that you have asked all known relatives, the next stage is to look further and possibly discover distant cousins in the process.

Births, Deaths and Marriages in England and Wales.

Since 1 July 1837 the Civil Authorities have recorded all births, deaths and marriages. Certificates have been kept recording the event and issued to the person concerned. For Family researchers this means that it is possible to work back through the generations. Work back from what you know.

For example, you may not know who your Grand Fathers Parents were. By obtaining your Grand Fathers birth certificate you will find out his Parents names. Look then for his Parents marriage record, this gives ages of both parties. Deduct ages from marriage year and look for their birth records and so on back to 1837.

To help you do this there are indexes to Births, Deaths and Marriages. These are correctly refered to as "General Register Office B.D.M indexes" but are also sometimes called "St. Cath`s indexes". These indexes are useful because they confirm that the event was registered and that a certificate is available.

These indexes are widely available in the UK but are not so easy to get hold of in America and Canada; although they are available at larger Archive Libraries and are available to order at LDS Family History Centres. If you have a good friend in UK who is willing to help you may have to ask them or failing this consider use a researcher.

Before doing this take a look at the Free Births, Deaths and Marriages site as the indexes are being transcribed by volunteers. When complete this will make the process much easier, there is still a long way to go though. However, it is worth checking as your ancestor may be listed. See-

The indexes give the following information

  1. Birth index - Name , registartion district and reference number . The Quarter of any one year when the birth was registered .For example , Year 1841 , Quarter - March . Surname - Pallent Christian name - Philip Charles Registration District - Birmingham Ref No 6d 201.

  2. Death index - Name , reg district , ref number . Year and Quarter . Age at death is given from 1866 onwards. For Example , Year 1891 , Quarter June . Surname - Pallent Christian name - Philip Charles Age , 50 Reg District - Birmingham Ref No 7a 101

  3. Marriage index - Name , reg district , ref number . Year and Quarter . Both parties appear on the index from 1912 , before then you have to check whether the other partner has exactly the same ref no. and registration district . For example, Before 1912 - Year 1861 , Quarter June . Surname - Pallent Christian name - Philip Charles Reg District - Birmingham Ref no 6d 150 After 1912 - Year 1913 , Quarter March . Surname - Jones Christian name - John Surname of Spouse - Mills Reg District - Medway Ref no 2a 137.

More Resources

An excellent resource is the Genealogical Research Directory, an Australian publication which lists those with an interest in a paticular surname many from America, Canada and UK. For more details visit-

The Guild of one name studies (Goons) is well worth a visit to see if your surname is covered- Surnames interest lists are available on line. These usually list the surname, years and place of interest and the address / e mail of the researcher. Also see-

Search engines can be useful in listing references to a paticular surname. A very good search engine is - Type in the surname you are interested in followed by the word "surname" or "genealogy."

It is also well worth subscribing to a genealogy mailing list which covers the County of your ancestors. Here you can correspond via e mail with others who may have similar interests and a detailed knowledge of the area. From experience subscibers are usually very helpful in sharing information especially to those outside of the U.K. For available lists see -

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Additional Articles

  • Using the PRO catalogue
  • Locating Locations in the United Kingdom
  • British Strays in Canada

    Philip Westwood runs a genealogical service enabling Americans and Canadians to research their English Ancestors. For more details view his profile.

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