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Ordering Birth Registration Certificates
from England and Wales

Using the LDS Family History Center's Resources

By Mark Howells - June 1996


How To Use The Family History Center's Resources Civil Registration Index Minutiae How To Order A Birth Registration Certificate By Mail

New Information - 2004

For those of you who already have the index reference numbers for the certificates you seek, the General Register Office has a online certificate ordering service which is now open to everyone.

An alternate method to the one described below for finding the index reference numbers for certificates is to use the 1837Online or BMD online services. These pay-for-use services allow you to search their sites to find the index reference numbers for certificates and pay using a credit card. I have not used this service so I am providing this link for informational purposes only.

Please be aware that the FreeBMD project continues to provide index references for certificates which are entered by volunteers. The coverage of the indexes is not yet complete however.


Centralized government registration of births began for England and Wales in July 1837. Parents were required by law to register the birth of their child within 42 days (6 weeks) of the birth. A fine for not registering a birth was instituted in 1875 and compliance with the law improved after that time.

Copies of birth registrations for both England and Wales are available by mail from the General Register Office, a division of the Office for National Statistics, in England. If you have an ancestor who was born in England or Wales after 1837, you may be able to further your genealogical research by ordering their birth registration. Note that local Register Offices often charge less for obtaining a birth registration recorded in their locality than does the General Register Office. You can obtain the same information from either source. An excellent source of information for contacting these local offices is the English and Welsh Register Offices web site. I have had experience with ordering from the General Register Office only so this article with focus on using that central repository.

While this article focuses primarily on obtaining birth registration certificates, the process for obtaining marriage and death registration certificates is identical save for the different Civil Registration Indexes consulted.

What you will need to know beforehand

You will need to know your ancestor's name at birth and an approximate birth month and year. Knowing what locality your ancestor was born in is helpful, especially if they have a common name such as John Smith.

This article was written to assist researchers in obtaining birth registration certificates from the Office for National Statistics (ONS) directly in the least expensive manner possible. You may attempt to obtain a birth registration certificate without the Civil Registration index numbers described below. However, the cost from the Office for National Statistics will be higher than that quoted in this article. See the section What to do if you must have the certificate quickly below for direct contact information regarding the Office for National Statistics.

Be sure to check the growing database at FreeBMD to determine if the index reference for your ancestor may already be available online. The project's objective is to put the entire civil registration indexes from 1837 to 1900 on the Internet. To see how much of which years and which events they have already placed online, see their project's progress.

Be aware that the Office for National Statistics has set its fees for ordering certificates by mail higher than the fees for obtaining these certificates in person from the ONS. Because of this, professional genealogy researchers with access to the ONS office in the UK often offer services to obtain certificates in person for less than the ONS mail order fees. These services can be cheaper so long as the professional researcher accepts payment in US funds and does not charge an additional currency conversion fee. The ONS will accept payment in US funds by money order with no currency conversion fee.

What you will receive

A birth registration certificate includes the following information: date & place of birth; child's name; child's sex; father's name; mother's name (including maiden name); occupation of father; the signature, description, and residence of the person giving the registration data; and the date registered. The copy of the birth registration is a certified copy.

Please note that that new certificate designs have been developed which will be introduced after January 1, 2000. For information, see New design for birth and death certificates from the ONS (you will need the free Acrobat reader in order to view this ONS press release).

For a column by column description of the information provided on birth registrations (as well as those for marriages and deaths), see Barbara Dixon's England & Wales Registration Certificate Tutorials. Paul Smith has also provided an excellent overview of the process of death registration in the United Kingdom. Be sure to read about the "(chance of error)" issues noted throughout the process.


Information On LDS Family History Centers:

This article was originally written with the patrons of an LDS (Latter-day Saints, or more fully, the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints) Family History Center as its intended audience. Since placing this article on the World Wide Web, I have found that many readers are asking me "What is a Family History Center"? To answer that question, may I recommend you visit LDS Family History Centers. This site will help you understand what an FHC is and why they are so useful to the genealogist. To find the Family History Center nearest you, visit Cyndi's List of Genealogy Sites on the Internet - LDS & Family History Centers then look under the Family History Centers section for many links to lists of FHC locations such as Family History Center Locations World-Wide.

The Family History Library Catalog:

Note that the Family History Library Catalog is now available via the Internet. Using the Locality File on microfiche, look under "E" for England (this includes Wales). The fiche are arranged by subject alphabetically. Go to the fiche that contains "England - Civil Registrations - Indexes". This fiche contains a list of birth registration indexes that are on microfiche & held by the Family History Library in Salt Lake City. These indexes are organized first by year, then by months, then by the last name of the child whose birth was registered.

Look on the fiche and find the microfilm number which corresponds to the birth year, birth month, and last name of the child's birth. Ask the librarian for help to order that microfilm roll number from the Family History Library in Salt Lake City.


The LDS Family History Library in Salt Lake City now has the Civil Registration Indexes for England and Wales available on microfiche. While they have previously been available on microfilm, the microfiche versions are significantly less expensive to order through your local Family History Center. Microfilms cost US$3.55 for a short term loan. Microfiche cost only US 16 each and remain on indefinite loan at your local FHC.

The CD-ROM version of the Family History Library Catalog is available for private purchase or can be used at your local Family History Center. Within this catalog, the Civil Registration Indexes are titled: "Index to the civil registration of births, marriages, and deaths for England and Wales, 1837-1983". They are contained on 21,537 individual pieces of microfiche. Their catalog numbers begin with 6101911 and end with 6103671.

Each year has four indexes, one for each quarter (March, June, September, and December). Each quarter within each year has its own individual catalog number. A quarter will contain multiple pieces of microfiche, anywhere from 4 to over 30.

You can find the record type (birth, marriage, or death record), year, and quarter of interest in several ways. The CD-ROM catalog allows you to enter a catalog number to view the description of that item. Enter a number from the range of catalog numbers containing these records (6101911 to 6103671) and then scroll up or down the listings to find the record type, year, and quarter of interest. The entry will tell you how many microfiche comprise the entire quarter. Alternately, you can do a locality search by entering England or Wales, and then looking under Civil Registration - Indexes to locate these records. Once you have the exact microfiche number for the index you are interested in, you can then order it through you local Family History Center. Once you have the index itself, you can proceed with obtaining the records of interest.

Microfilm or Microfiche:

When the microfilm or microfiche arrives you will see that it lists the registered births in alphabetical order for the year and months covered by the index. Look on the section which contains the year and month of birth & the last name of the child. The index should show you their name, the district where they were registered, a volume number, and a page number. Copy all the information on the line which contains your ancestor's name. Be sure to copy the name and date of the index you are using. For example: General Index of Births Registered in England & Wales for July, August, and September, 1879.

There may be several children listed during the same time period that have the same name (i.e. John Smith). If so, you can use your knowledge of where your ancestor was born to select the correct child. For example, if you know that your John Smith was born in Yorkshire, you can eliminate the registrations of all the John Smiths who were registered in London or anywhere other than Yorkshire for that month and year.


Here are some additional details regarding the Civil Registration Indexes that you might find helpful when you use them.

Range of FHL Catalog Numbers:

A complete listing of the quarter-by-quarter FHL Catalog numbers for births, marriages, and deaths is available from the Family History Research Helps.

The complete range of Family History Library catalog numbers for the Civil Registration Indexes microfiche from 1837 to 1983 are:

BIRTHSSept. Qtr.1837# 6101914(on 6 'fiche)
BIRTHSDec. Qtr.1983# 6102499(on 15 'fiche)
MARRIAGESSept. Qtr.1837# 6102500(on 4 'fiche)
MARRIAGESDec. Qtr.1983# 6103085(on 12 'fiche)
DEATHSSept. Qtr.1837# 6103086(on 19 'fiche)
DEATHSDec. Qtr.1983# 6103671(on 11 'fiche)

Transition to Printed Indexes:

From 1837 to 1865, the Indexes to Births, Marriages, and Deaths are handwritten. Some of the earlier years in this period are typed rather than in manuscript form. Beginning with the March Quarter of 1866, the Indexes are printed. Besides increasing the legibility of the Indexes, the printed versions also allowed for more entries per page and thus reduced the number of microfiche required to microfiche a Quarter's worth of Indexes. This fact can save the researcher money as it becomes cheaper to order the Indexes for the years after 1865. Here are the FHL numbers and the number of microfiche in each quarter for the transition period between 1865 and 1866:

BIRTHSDec. Qtr.1865# 6102027(on 13 'fiche)
BIRTHSMarch Qtr.1866# 6102028(on 6 'fiche)
MARRIAGESDec. Qtr.1865# 6102613(on 31 'fiche)
MARRIAGESMarch Qtr.1866# 6102614(on 3 'fiche)
DEATHSDec. Qtr.1865# 6103199(on 32 'fiche)
DEATHSMarch Qtr.1866# 6103200(on 5 'fiche)

Other Interesting Details:

From 1837 to 1851, the volume numbers recorded for each entry on the Civil Registration Indexes are given in Roman numerals. There are 27 volumes from I to XXVII. Beginning in 1852, the volume numbers change to 33 volumes total numbered from 1 to 11 with the addition of the letters a, b, c, and d - thus volumes 1d, 4b, etc.

Beginning in September Quarter, 1911, the mother's maiden name is included in the Birth Registration Indexes. This is an added detail of genealogical information which benefits the researcher prior to ordering the birth registration certificate.

Beginning in March Quarter, 1912, the surname of the spouse is included in the Marriage Registration Indexes. This added detail makes locating the correct marriage registration entry even easier. Prior to 1912, it is a good research technique to confirm that both the bride and the groom's names (when both are known) share the same index number reference. For example, both the bride and the groom's index reference are Volume 4b and Page 114. This is not a perfect matching technique as multiple individuals appear on each page of the actual registrations. However, it usually will help confirm a correctly identified marriage before the registration certificate is ordered.

Beginning in March Quarter, 1866, the deceased's age at death is provided on the Death Registration Indexes. Beginning in June Quarter, 1969, the deceased's date of birth, if known, is provided on the Death Registration Indexes. This is another excellent piece of information to assist the research in confirming the identification of the correct death before ordering the certificate.

For an extremely revealing study of the pitfalls and perils of the civil registration system in England & Wales, see the two excellent books by Michael Foster - A Comedy of Errors. These books are available by postal mail from their author.

What if you can't find your ancestor?

Remember that a parent had 42 days after the birth to register the birth. The indexes are in date order based on the month and year the birth was registered, not by the actual birth date. If you don't find your ancestor registered in the month of their birth, try looking at the next several months. Perhaps the parents of this ancestor were slow to register their child.

Last names may have been mis-heard or mis-spelt by the Registrar. Or the person giving the information on the birth may not have known the correct spelling of the last name. Try looking for alternate spellings of the last name such as Smyth or Smythe for Smith.

Birth registrations did not require the child being registered to have a first name. In some cases where the first name had not been decided upon by the time of registration, only a last name is given.

Some births simply were not registered due to the parents concerns over invasion of privacy, ignorance of the law, or remoteness from registration offices.


Write a letter:

Prepare a polite letter requesting a FULL birth registration certificate for your ancestor. It is important to specify that you want a FULL certificate because there are also short certificates which give no information on the parents. When requesting the FULL certificate, first give the name and date of the index in which you found your ancestor. Include your ancestor's full name as it appears on the index, the district, volume number, and page number. For example:

From the General Index of Births Registered in England & Wales for July, August, and September, 1879:

ANCESTOR, Long LostWest Blobshire4b166

By providing this information from the index, you make the job of finding the correct certificate easier and you also get a price break since the General Register Office doesn't have to do this part of the research for you.

Purchase a money order:

As of April 1998, FULL birth registration certificates when you provide the above index information cost US$16 for each individual. This price is obviously subject to change due to currency fluctuations. Send a U.S. money order payable to the General Register Office. They accept money orders denominated in U.S. dollars - you do not need to send your payment in pounds sterling.

Note that the General Register Office has a variable fee schedule for certificates depending on the amount of information which you can provide them with and how quickly you require the certificate. See their web page on Certificate Fees for current pricing information.

Send your letter & money order to:

General Register Office
Smedly Hydro Trafalgar Road
Southport Merseyside PR8 2HH
United Kingdom

The General Register Office usually mails out a certificate within 28 days of receiving a request. What if I don't know the Registration Index information?:

Yes, you can order a certificate from the ONS even if you don't have the Registration Index information described above. The ONS has a graduated schedule of Certificate Fees which describe the cost of certificates based on the information which you can provide.

Obtaining certificates of living individuals (such as your own birth certificate):

Contact the The Office for National Statistics for information on obtaining your own birth or marriage certificate or those of other living persons. You can e-mail them at See the next section for what to do if you need the certificate quickly.

What to do if you must have the certificate quickly:

The Office for National Statistics has a web site which provides telephone and fax numbers for the General Register Office. The web site indicates that they will accept telephone and fax orders for certificates. They accept credit cards and debit cards as methods of payment. You can e-mail them at

Using the Internet to Order Certificates:

In 1998, I was able to e-mail my orders to the ONS using their e-mail address at I provide them with all of the same information as I do in a snail mail letter. The difference is that I have previously provided them with my credit card information and I have asked them to keep this information on file. With each e-mail order, I simply request that they bill my credit card and remind them that they have my information on file. In this way, I don't have to transmit my credit card details over the Internet with every order. Also, using a credit card ensures that you receive the most favorable exchange rate available at the time. Your card is charged 8 sterling for the service and your monthly credit card statement will show you the amount you were charged in US dollars.

Please note that in 2004 the ONS is now able to handle online orders directly over the Internet. I have not had the opportunity to try this method.

Scottish, Isle of Man, & Channel Islands Certificates:

My ancestors left Scotland before Civil Registration began there in 1855. Therefore, I have no direct experience in obtaining Scottish birth, marriage, or death certificates. The General Register Office for Scotland - GRO(S) will provide birth, marriage, and death certificates by post for a fee. For further information on this service from the GRO(S), see their web page on birth marriage and death certificates. E-mail inquiries to the GRO(S) may be sent to

The GRO(S) now has a huge amount of record index information, including civil registration from 1855 to 1897, available online for both searching and for ordering extracts. They provide a fully searchable online database of Scottish births from 1553-1903, marriages from 1553 to 1928 and deaths from 1855 to 1953 Please see the Scotland's People web site for information on this service. It requires the use of a credit card to obtain services.

For information on civil registration on the Isle of Man, see The General Registry / Oik Reccortyssee.

For information on civil registration in the Channel Islands, visit Alex Glendinning's informative page on the topic.

About the Author

Mark and Cyndi's Family Tree Return to Mark and Cyndi's Family Tree

Ordering Birth Registration Certificates from England and Wales
Created & maintained by Mark Howells.
Updated October 16, 2004
Copyright © 1996 - 2004 by Mark & Cyndi Howells. All rights reserved.