LOCAL BMD CERTIFICATES
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.
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.
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).
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?