Thursday, 25 March 2010

Births, Marriage and Deaths - Finding family history in England

Births, marriage and death certificates and the information they contain, are a must when tracking your family tree.
Without them it is impossible to have a tree that you know is accurate.They also help to move forward when you have hit a brick wall and can not find that elusive branch.

First find the birth, marriage or death (BMD) index if in England. The index is needed to easily order the certificate, you can use many online sources or visit your local library.
Details and indexes can be obtained from the local BMD registration office, but it is time consuming for the staff and will cost more money. Use when you are unable to trace an index through conventional methods. You may also find that because you have assumed that all your family were born in one place - it may not be the case.

My own grandfather and his siblings, I had always thought were Yorkshire born and bred in one place, but no that was not the case. His brothers and sisters were born in Birmingham, Shropshire, Stafford, Barnsley, Thurnscoe, Rotherham and Doncaster. I also discovered the oldest William Ward, was not a Ward but born several years before my great grand parents married. Never been mentioned to any of the family that are now still alive - quite a big shock!

Online there are many places to obtain BMD's information but these are my favourite.

Free BMD  

BMDs indexes are slowly being added from 1837 up to about 1930 (at present), a massive undertaking. Easy to use site that can produce a wealth of information. Thanks to all the guys who do this voluntary. Not all the BMDs are here yet but its a good place to start. Easier if you have an uncommon surname to find but difficult if it is something like Smith or Jones.
Also a trick if you want to find possible siblings. Enter the surname, mothers maiden surname, place and in the from date box March 1912.  Provided they are born after this time, the soft ware can show a list of births. Which will need to be investigated further by obtaining the actual certificates.
As the maiden names were also indexed from around 1912. Easier to find both marriage names, because from 1912, they were indexed together. Before then the place and index number should match, if the index is different then they are not then registered together and the marriage is probably not the one you are looking for.

ie. Feege Gustav  Southwark 1d 311
    Wannicke Anna Louise Southwark 1d 311

All the BMDs indexes will give you the name, year and quarter , place of registration and a reference number. With that you can then order/obtain the birth, marriage or death certificate.
If you order a certificate online from any of the National offices or companies. The certificate will be a copy completed by one of the staff. However if you order from the actual registration office it will be an actual photocopy of the original certificate - showing the actual signatures or marks.

BMD Index

There are many companies that carry the full BMD index that you can access for free. Just google "BMD free" and millions of pages are available.Try out many sites and see what suites you first before taking out any subscription.

The BMD indexes are also available in your local library on microfilm or free access on the computers to some companies like Ancestory. But check availability. My local library had the world wide subscription to Ancestry and so saved money.

The indexes are in year and quarter for the whole of England. With indexes you can view all BMDs registered in that year under any surname. Useful if you do not know where registered and possible to view the years if you only have a vague idea. Also you can look at different surnames. As said previously our William Ward was in fact registered under William Johnson.  


From this certificate you will get your ancestors full name, mothers name and possibly fathers. Parent(s) occupation. Where born and full date. Note if you have a time next to the date, possibly a multiple birth and needs further research.


Information on this certificate includes, both the full names, their age at marriage*, occupation, where lived at marriage, fathers names,** whether still living and occupation. Witnesses names and signatures***

* Can say "of age" or something similar meaning over 21 years. Not a lot of help and tends to be on the earlier certificates.

** Most of the time there is a fathers name. 
It may be the actual father if the name is not on the birth certificate. My grandmother and her sister have their fathers name on their marriage certificates, but he is not on their birth certificates. Also her sister married under her father's surname when in fact her birth certificate has her mothers name on only. 
Be also aware that it may be a false name, if father unknown. As being born out of wedlock was at that time very shameful.

*** Witnesses are mainly close family and friends. Take note of the names.
From a marriage certificate. I found a sisters married name and subsequent marriage.
But be aware that many used a witness present that could read and write - to be one of the signatures to be legal. It was usually one of the churches staff. More apparent when looking at the actual church registers - more of them in a later blog though. 
Up until the early part of the twentieth century, many could not read or write. They used a cross as a signature in front of witnesses on legal documents.


The information from this certificate can be fascinating and can be very useful. Well worth obtaining.
They show your ancestors name, where died, who registered the death*, what they died of and age**

* Often someone in the family one of the children or can be their husband or wife. Again more clues for tracing
** Age is given by the remaining family member(s) and may not be accurate

This is just a brief blog on BMDs and I will be blogging on other information available, including church registers and The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (Family Search) shortly




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