FEDERATION OF FAMILY HISTORY SOCIETIES

FFHS - supporting family historians for over 40 years

Civil Registration Certificates

Background

The civil registration of births, marriages and deaths in England and Wales started in July 1837. Information can only be provided from the register as an official certificate for a specific event.

How to order certificates – England & Wales

You can order certificates online from the General Register Office (GRO), which is part of the Passport Office. The GRO provides detailed advice on the procedure for ordering documents such as the following documents and the details that you can expect to find in them:

  • civil registration certificates
  • an adoption certificate
  • a certificate for an event that took place overseas.

How to order certificates – Scotland

Scotlands People” is the gateway to details from civil registration and a host of other records relating to Scotland. It provides good accounts of the periods covered and the information that should have been included at various dates.

How to order certificates – Northern Ireland

Visit the General Register Office for Northern Ireland website to order their civil registration certificates.

Do you really need a certificate?

Civil registration certificates are expensive, so buy as few as possible.

The indexes to most births, marriages and deaths registered in England and Wales between 1837 and 1983 are now included in FreeBMD and can be searched in a variety of ways. If you search in these indexes and cross-check the results with census records, you may be able to avoid the need to buy a certificate.

If you are looking for marriage that took place in a church, scanned images of the register for may be available online. In that case, you will be able to find all the information that would appear in a GRO certificate, with the added bonus of seeing actual signatures of the bride, groom and witnesses.

Buying Direct Saves You Money

There are three ways to buy a certificate (prices checked in October 2016):

  • Order direct from the General Register Office, which charges £9.25 (including worldwide postage) for each certificate.
  • Buy direct from the Registry Office that serves the area where the event was originally registered.
  • Pay considerably more to a business that takes your order, passes the order on to the General Register Office, asks the certificate to be sent to the business and then forwards the certificate to you. For instance, one of the intermediaries charges as much as £39.99 per certificate for its supposedly "express" service.

The extra steps involved with an intermediary make the third option slower as well as more expensive than buying direct from the General Registry Office.

Some businesses that offer to order certificates advertise at the top of the results that appear if you put a subject like “birth certificate” into a search engine. The names used by these firms may include words like “official” that suggest they are appointed by the Government.

Remember. Even if you find the reference to an event at a website that offers to obtain a certificate for you for a higher price, there is absolutely no need to pay more than £9.25. Just use that reference when you order direct from the General Register Office.

Costs Likely to Fall

At present, the full details that appear on a certificate are not available from the Government in any other way.

Fortunately, that restriction is now likely to change. The Deregulation Act 2015 allows information shown on birth, marriage and death certificates to be made available in other ways. In October 2016, consultations were still taking place about the relevant issues. It is likely that 2017 will see detailed changes about how we can access these records, the formats available and the charges.

Clearly, reform will not happen overnight, but we seem to be moving closer to this valuable historical information becoming available in an uncertificated form at much lower prices than we have to pay at present.

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Page updated by the webmaster on 17 October 2016

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