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Post Info TOPIC: BMD Certificates

Senior Member

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RE: BMD Certificates

Wow!  Thanks to you both for all this information.  I'm printing it off and will sit down and digest it all at leisure.  I don't think you will be hearing anything from me for a few days now.

Hope others will find it useful too.

Bye for now - Linda



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Posts: 649

Hi Linda and Jane,

Linda I know you asked for input from Jane specifically but I'll put my 2 penneth worth in as well, based on my own experiences.

I personally always try to buy my certificates from the local County Registry Office:

The benefits

  • I have generally received them in the post the next day if ordering before lunchtime whereas the GRO is generally 3 or 4 days for their standard service
  • They charge £7.00 whereas the GRO have traditionally increased their charges if you are missing their reference etc, standard fee is now £9.25
  • They generally charge a flat £7.00, even if they have to do some extra digging around various parishes within a registration district - I've had way more than £7.00 worth of hunting on a couple of occasions!
  • Probably most importantly, I like that the money goes to the heritage service provided within the county that the BMD happened. Oxfordshire Heritage services for example are so under funded so I really hope that my £7.00s here and there help a little to ensure that we continue to have access to the fantastic resources like Oxfordshire Studies and the Oxford Records Office (not all counties are so good as ours)

Some downsides:

  • As Jane says sometimes you only get a handwritten copy rather than a photocopy of the original
  • Ideally, you do need to know more information, rather than just a GRO reference that can be easily located on ancestry etc


Basically, if you know the county/town search google for the Registry Office in that County/Town, typically it is part of the County Council websites and they generally have info on the service they provide.




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Posts: 254

Hi Linda

With the GRO indexes being so readily available online, it is easy to forget that there's a whole other system out there.  Here are some of the pros/cons of the two systems, and guidance on getting certificates from local registrars.  I hope it answers all of your questions!  Jane

How the GRO index was created

Each quarter, the local registrars sent hand-written copies of their records to the Registrar General in London.Some poor clerks had the huge task of abstracting the key details, probably onto index cards or slips of paper, and then sorting all of one quarter’s slips for the whole of England and Wales into alphabetical order.These were then copied out into the index ledgers, again by hand.

Thus there are numerous sources of error:

(i) the local registrar could easily miss out an entry when copying, or copy something wrongly, so that the information that arrived at the GRO was wrong.

(ii) a parcel of local registrar’s returns might get lost in the post, so records of those events would not be known of at the GRO, and not be in the GRO index.

(iii) the clerks in London might mis-read the local registrars’ handwriting and so index the names wrongly; sometimes for marriages, witnesses’ names are included in the GRO index instead of spouses’ names!In fact the GRO marriage indexes are so full of errors/omissions (if you can be full of omissions!) that someone whose name escapes me for the moment has written a book about it, called (or subtitled?) A Comedy of Errors.

Another important implication of the fact that the records are copied out is that marriage certificates obtained from the GRO do not have the original signatures/marks of the bride, groom and witnesses.

Local registrars and their indexes

There has often been merging/moving of register offices since the nineteenth century, so the registers are not necessarily held in the town where they were first registered.A really handy guide to what’s where can be found at, part of the marvellous GENUKI website.That page also gives a link to a list of addresses for current register offices.

For the Witney registration district, the registers are now held at the Oxford Register Office in Tidmarsh Lane (not to be confused with the Oxford Record Office in Cowley) even though there is still a register office in Witney.

A growing number of local registrars are putting their own indexes online.Cheshire was the first to do this, but others have followed (sadly not yet Oxfordshire).For a list and links, see the “Local BMDs” section of of these projects are ongoing, so do check the notes on dates/areas covered.If you find an entry of interest in the index, you can then apply online to the relevant local registrar.

Even if you don’t find your registrar listed there, it is worth checking the relevant local authority’s website for they may have online application forms etc.Some will also take orders on the phone.

In answer to your question about GRO reference numbers, these numbers (i.e. volume and page number) refer only to the national index and will not help the local registrar find the entry.You will need to tell them the year and quarter of the event.In the case of marriages they may need to know exactly where the marriage took place (i.e. which church/chapel/register office) before they can find the entry, as they may have separate indexes for each marriage venue.See also my separate note below about how you can use the GRO index numbers to narrow down where a marriage might have taken place.


Certainly, until around this week, local registrars charged the same as the GRO for providing certificates.Now the GRO prices are going up quite steeply.I guess the local registrars will do the same, though have not seen anything in writing about this.

Certificates provided by local registrars

Some local registrars have the facilities to provide a certificate including essentially a photocopy/scan of the original.But sometimes you will be sent a copy that is written out, by hand, by the present registrar.In this case you still won’t see the signatures of those marrying, and the accuracy of transcription will depend on how good the registrar is at reading the old writing.

Other ways of getting information (marriage certificates only)

If it is a marriage you’re looking for, remember that a post-1837 marriage register will have exactly the same information in it as a marriage certificate ... and that many of the old church registers are now deposited with county archives, where you can consult them free of charge.For the London area, huge numbers of marriage registers from London Metropolitan Archives are now scanned and online via Ancestry’s ‘London Parish Records’, which must be depriving the GRO of a lot of income!

GRO reference numbers and marriage location

This is something of an aside, but I thought would be worth mentioning.Now that we have FreeBMD etc. it is possible to search for all the marriages in one registration district in a particular quarter; I have tried doing this for the Witney district for a couple of quarters, then sorting the resulting marriages according to page number and trying to figure out how the entries are arranged by cross-checking against church records and newspaper announcements.It appears that within each quarter, the lowest page numbers refer to marriages in whichever parish came first alphabetically.So for the Witney district, Alvescot and Asthall would have lower page numbers than Witney.Marriages in non-conformist chapels areseparate from the C of E ones, though I can’t remember whether they are all clumped together at the end of the alphabet, or whether each comes after the relevant C of E parish.Then there will be the register office marriages.

-- Edited by Shane Bywaters on Tuesday 6th of April 2010 04:53:09 PM


Senior Member

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Posts: 183

Advice from Jane needed.

I have always ordered my BMD certificates online from the GRO mainly because it is so easy to do from home.  However, following your comments on my recent post regarding Mary Oliver's death certificate I am now wondering if it is better to get the local certificate.

It sounds as if they are more reliable/accurate.

What is the procedure in obtaining them? 

Do you still use the same reference numbers as for GRO or is is just basic information of name and date?

Is the cost the same as the GRO?

Thanks Jane

Bye for now - Linda

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