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Overheard in GenForum: Death Certificate in England
by Rhonda R. McClure

Each week Rhonda answers a question from the GenForum message boards and gives her expert answer here. We'd love to hear anything you have to add. Go ahead and leave your comments on GenForum with the original message.

July 22, 1999
See Rhonda's Previous Columns

Q: I have a 4-great grandfather who died in either Hampshire County, Wiltshire County, or London, England in 1852. Could someone tell me the best way to check all three locales for a death certificate? -- David

A: Civil registration for England and Wales was begun in July 1837. A law was passed requiring the parents to register the birth of a child within 6 weeks of the date of birth. In 1857, a fine was put into place to force compliance of this law. Because of the cost charged to the individual registering the birth, it is suspected that not all births were registered as they were supposed to, and thus the institution of the fine.

For genealogists, the index to civil registration is a dream come true. This is because it is for the entire country of England and Wales. While you certainly need to know specific information about your ancestor, if a case such as yours, you won't need to order separate indexes for each county in which you suspect your 4-great grandfather dying. This massive index is available on microfilm and microfiche at the Family History Library.

The Index to Civil Registration for England and Wales is a dream come true for genealogists.

Working with the Index

The index to civil registration is broken up into four indexes for each year. That is because each year is divided into four quarters: March, June, September, and December. This is important to keep in mind, when working with the indexes. Depending on when the event took place, you may find yourself needing to look in more than one quarter. For instance, if your 4-great grandfather died toward the end of March, 1852, it is possible that his entry may appear in the March quarter (which includes January, February, March) or in the June quarter (which includes April, May, June). The reason for this is that the quarters are not necessarily for the date of the event, but for the date it was recorded. So when an event takes place toward the end of a given quarter, it is possible for it to not be recorded until the next quarter.

The indexes for births, marriages and deaths cover the following years:

  • Births: September Quarter, 1837 to December Quarter, 1983
  • Marriages: September Quarter, 1837 to December Quarter, 1983
  • Deaths: September Quarter, 1837 to December Quarter, 1983

The indexes include the following information:

  • Surname (surname of parent for birth index)
  • Name (name or sex of child for birth index)
  • Registration District
  • Volume
  • Page Number

Understanding What the Index Tells You

As is seen above, the indexes are pretty standard. After March, 1912 the marriage index did begin to include the surname of the spouse as well. Prior to that year, it is necessary to search the entire index if you do not know the surname of the spouse. What this means, is that once you have located your ancestor, you would need to search for another entry with the same registration district, volume and page number. For births, beginning in the September, 1911, the mother's maiden name is included in the index. And beginning in the March Quarter, 1866 death index, the age of the deceased at the time of death is included.

The volume numbers listed in the indexes change. From 1837 to 1851 the volume numbers in the indexes are recorded in Roman numerals. There are 27 volumes in all that you are likely to see referred to in Roman numerals. In 1852, the volumes are recorded in numerals. While there are 33 volumes, they are number from 1 to 11 and have letters that follow them. I have seen up through the letter e included with the volume numbers when I have searched the indexes.

Microfilmed Records

As was mentioned, this index is available on microfilm at the Family History Library. To supply the indexes from 1837 through 1983, it takes over 1300 microfilm reels. Prior to 1866, the indexes are all hand written. This means that they take up more space, as less names can be included per page. Beginning with the March Quarter of 1866, pages are printed in each index. What this means for the researcher is that prior to 1866 it is likely that you will have to look at four or more microfilms for a given year.

In addition to the microfilms, the index to civil registration is now available on microfiche as well. This is good for the researcher, because the cost for ordering can be different. Ordering of microfilms can run about $3.25 per film. Where as the ordering of a microfiche title is $.15 per fiche card. When determining which to order, you will want to determine how many cards are in the title on fiche. Sometimes it is cheaper to order the films.

Ordering The Certificate

Once you have located your 4-great grandfather in the index, you will want to order a certificate. Certificates are ordered via postal mail. You would send your request to:

General Register Office
PO Box 2
Southport, Merseyside
PR8 2JD

The costs range from £5.00 to £11.00 depending on the type of certificate wanted and the amount of information supplied when sending the request.

It is now possible to e-mail the Office for National Statistics to request copies of certificates. To do this, you need to supply them with a credit card. To order, you can e-mail them at certificate.services@ons.gov.uk.

See Rhonda's Previous Columns

Rhonda R. McClure is a professional genealogist specializing in celebrity trees and computerized genealogy. She has been involved in online genealogy for fifteen years. She is the author of the award-winning The Complete Idiot's Guide to Online Genealogy, now in its second edition. She is the author of four how-to guides on Family Tree Maker. In late 2001, she wrote The Genealogist's Computer Companion. She is a contributing editor to Biography Magazine with her "Celebrity Roots" column and a contributing writer to The History Channel Magazine. Her latest book is Finding Your Famous and Infamous Ancestors. She may be contacted at rhondagen@thegenealogist.com.

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