Most BMD cer­tifi­cates for Eng­land and Wales are bought from the Gen­eral Reg­is­ter Of­fice, but us­ing lo­cal of­fices has many ben­e­fits,

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A ny­one who has ever watched an episode of Heir Hunters on BBC One will have mar­velled at how quickly the re­searchers build a fam­ily tree. In­stead of wait­ing pa­tiently, like the rest of us, for an en­ve­lope from the Gen­eral Reg­is­ter Of­fice (GRO) to drop through the let­ter­box, they are on the phone to agents who rush off to lo­cal reg­is­ter of­fices to pick up birth, mar­riage and death cer­tifi­cates, de­liv­er­ing re­sults in a mat­ter of hours that would take days or even weeks via the GRO.

What are the dif­fer­ences?

Most cer­tifi­cates or­dered by fam­ily his­to­ri­ans come from the GRO. This has the great ad­van­tage that, as a cen­tral repos­i­tory, you can search across the whole of Eng­land and Wales with one search. It is also cheaper than or­der­ing a cer­tifi­cate from a reg­is­ter of­fice. Lo­cal cer­tifi­cates cost £10 each – not a lot more than the £9.25 of a GRO cer­tifi­cate. How­ever, since you can now or­der un­cer­ti­fied reg­is­ter en­tries for most births and deaths in a dig­i­tal for­mat from the GRO for just £6, it makes a lo­cal cer­tifi­cate seem a bit pricey ( www.gro.gov.uk/gro/con­tent/ cer­tifi­cates).

So why would you or­der from a lo­cal reg­is­ter of­fice if it costs more?

There are four rea­sons why pay­ing a lit­tle bit ex­tra is a good idea.

1 Ac­cu­racy

The cer­tifi­cate you re­ceive from a lo­cal reg­is­ter of­fice will be a copy taken from the orig­i­nal reg­is­ter writ­ten in front of your an­ces­tor. What you re­ceive from the GRO, on the other hand, has been taken from copies sub­mit­ted to the GRO ev­ery quar­ter from reg­is­ter of­fices across Eng­land and Wales. Although these copies are pretty ac­cu­rate, mis­takes oc­ca­sion­ally slip through. So, if you have or­dered a GRO cer­tifi­cate and some­thing doesn’t quite fit, or you can’t find some­one in the GRO in­dex, it might be worth check­ing a lo­cal ver­sion.

2 Sig­na­tures

Stan­dard GRO cer­tifi­cates are copies, so even though it says “sig­na­ture” they have all been filled in by a sin­gle per­son. In con­trast, lo­cal cer­tifi­cates usu­ally in­clude the ac­tual sig­na­tures of your an­ces­tors (check first that the reg­is­ter of­fice in ques­tion uses scans of the orig­i­nal). Apart from the sheer ro­mance of see­ing your rel­a­tives’ hand­writ­ing, be­ing able to see the ac­tual sig­na­ture can be very use­ful if you need to match up an an­ces­tor with an­other signed doc­u­ment (see the case study be­low for an ex­am­ple).

3 Leg­i­bil­ity

If there’s a word on a cer­tifi­cate that you just can’t make out, per­haps a cause of death or an oc­cu­pa­tion, it is worth know­ing that you can or­der ex­actly the same cer­tifi­cate from else­where

The cer­tifi­cate will be a copy from the orig­i­nal reg­is­ter writ­ten in front of your an­ces­tor

writ­ten by a dif­fer­ent per­son who may have more leg­i­ble hand­writ­ing.

4 Dif­fer­ent in­dexes

The in­dexes that ap­pear on the main fam­ily his­tory web­sites are copies of printed quar­terly GRO in­dexes. If you wish to or­der a lo­cal cer­tifi­cate, you will need to use a lo­cal in­dex if they have one. Long be­fore the GRO’s new in­dexes added mother’s maiden names to pre-1911 births and age at death to pre-1866 deaths, many lo­cal in­dexes al­ready sup­plied this in­for­ma­tion, mak­ing it eas­ier to iden­tify a cor­rect en­try.

Even with the new ad­di­tions to the GRO in­dexes, there is ex­tra func­tion­al­ity to some of the lo­cal in­dexes that might help you to trace a cer­tifi­cate. For ex­am­ple, you can search for births us­ing only mother’s maiden name, and in­clude the spouse’s sur­name when search­ing mar­riages.

So how do you or­der a lo­cal cer­tifi­cate?

You can al­ways take a leaf from the re­searchers on Heir Hunters, and just turn up at the reg­is­ter of­fice with the de­tails of the event you are look­ing for. How­ever, some of­fices will charge an ex­tra fee for that, while others keep their his­toric reg­is­ters off-site. So do check be­fore vis­it­ing. You can find con­tact de­tails for reg­is­ter of­fices in Eng­land and Wales via bit.ly/genuki-reg-of­fices. A sim­pler first step is to visit

ukbmd.org.uk, a web­site set up and man­aged by Ian Har­tas. The site has been run­ning for about 15 years now, and con­tains a wealth of in­for­ma­tion about or­der­ing lo­cal cer­tifi­cates in­clud­ing a sec­tion set up and man­aged by Brett Langston that pro­vides re­gion and dis­trict de­tails of all of the reg­is­ter of­fices in the UK, and de­tails of when his­toric of­fices closed or merged with others ( ukbmd.org.uk/reg).

More im­por­tantly, the site of­fers links to lo­cally cre­ated in­dexes across Eng­land and Wales, many of which en­able you to search, or­der and pay for cer­tifi­cates on­line, which will ar­rive by post.

In 2000, work­ing with two reg­is­ter of­fices in Cheshire, Ian and Brett launched the Cheshire BMD web­site. Not long af­ter that Ian was con­tacted by other ar­eas in the north-west who wanted to use his soft­ware to put their own in­dexes on­line, and so fol­lowed York­shire BMD, Lan­cashire BMD, North Wales BMD and Stafford­shire BMD. There are now 11 re­gions that use Ian’s Lo­cal BMD soft­ware. While they run their own sites, the multi-re­gion search fa­cil­ity at

ukb­md­search.org.uk can search them all to­gether.

Most of the lo­cal BMD in­dexes have been com­piled by vol­un­teers, of­ten mem­bers of fam­ily his­tory so­ci­eties work­ing with the lo­cal reg­is­ter of­fice. Although many use Ian’s Lo­cal BMD soft­ware, some do not. Re­gions that have put in­dexes on­line us­ing their own soft­ware in­clude Caer­philly ( bit.ly/caer­philly-bmd), Cam­bridgeshire ( camdex.

org.uk), Gateshead ( on­line. gateshead.gov.uk/bmd), Kent ( bit.ly/kent-gov-bmd) and Warwickshire ( bit.ly/ warwickshire-bmd). These in­dexes are not in­cluded in UKBMD’s search, but they are listed with hy­per­links at ukbmd. org.uk/lo­cal_bmd.

The main en­trance to Winch­ester Reg­is­ter Of­fice, Hamp­shire Who Do You Think You Are?

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