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Wednesday, 3 October 2023

Using the General Register Office to research family history

The General Register Office (GRO) holds birth, adoption, marriage, civil partnership and deaths records, which can help with your family history research. Find out how the GRO works and how it can help you

Why use the General Register Office (GRO)?

The GRO is an excellent place to start your search. The GRO has the records of every birth, marriage and death registered in England and Wales available in one place. Private companies can also sell these certificates, but they charge more and use the GRO’s records. So, it’s cheaper and quicker to order direct.

Discover your ancestry using the GRO index

Every birth, adoption, marriage, civil partnership or death registered in England or Wales has a GRO index reference number. It usually consists of the year, volume number, page number and district in which the event was registered.

GRO provides a public index that lists basic details of every event (birth, marriage, death etc) recorded in England and Wales. You can use these records to order certificates and build your family tree.

The GRO index reference number is a separate reference number to the Census or International Geneological Index (IGI) number and helps GRO locate the correct certificate for your family research. Using the certificate index reference reduces the time it takes to find what you want.

Understanding the GRO index reference number

From 1837 to 1984 the index information for each year is divided into quarters. The quarters are split as follows:

  • March quarter – events registered in January, February and March
  • June quarter – April, May and June
  • September quarter – July, August and September
  • December quarter – October, November and December

The earliest index is for September quarter 1837. After 1984 the indexes are organised by year only.

The indexes are arranged in year order, and in each quarter or year the entries are listed alphabetically by surname, and then by forename.

Marriage records

To search marriage records, you can use either the surname of the married man or maiden surname of the married woman.

Adoptions records

Adoptions records start from 1927, and are listed alphabetically by surname and then by forename.

Civil partnership records

Civil partnership records start from December 2005. They are listed by surname, together with the:

  • surname of partner
  • year of formation
  • registration authority
  • registration entry number

What information does the index contain?

Index information varies depending on the type of event and the year it was registered but will provide you with basic information to help identify a record for your relative. You can then use the index reference number to order certificates and piece together your family tree.

For examples of the indexes, use the link below to the ‘Index information’ table. The table lists information recorded in the index for the year you are searching for.

Ordering certificates using GRO 'index reference numbers'

Using the certificate index reference reduces the time it takes to find what you want

Every birth, adoption, marriage, civil partnership or death registered in England or Wales has a General Register Office (GRO) index reference number.

The GRO index number usually includes the:

  • year
  • volume number
  • page number
  • district in which the event was registered

When ordering a certificate, quoting the certificate index reference reduces the time it takes to find the record. This means you will receive your certificate sooner. Once you have the index number it is quick and easy to order your certificate online, by telephone or by post.

Viewing the General Register Office indexes

You can view GRO indexes online through several specialist organisations and websites. You can also view the indexes at a library or office in your area.

View the indexes online free of charge

To view the indexes online, visit freebmd using the link below. This website contains over 250 million records. There is no charge for using this service.

Once you have the GRO index number you can then order a certificate from GRO for £9.25.

View the indexes online for a fee

Some commercial companies also make the indexes available online but please note that you will have to pay for these services. Remember - it’s cheaper and quicker to order your certificate directly from the General Register Office.

Viewing full copies of the indexes

You cannot buy copies of the indexes, but complete sets are available to view at:

  • Birmingham Central Library
  • Bridgend Reference and Information Library
  • City of Westminster Archives Centre
  • Manchester City Library
  • Newcastle City Library
  • Plymouth Central Library
  • The British Library*

These locations get regular updates for you to view in person. This is expected to continue until free, online access can be provided. Opening hours for each centre varies and you are advised to check individual opening times before making travel arrangements.

* Please be aware that customers at the British Library will need to undertake a pre-registration process. Two forms of identification showing a signature and proof of address will be needed to gain entry into this location.

The indexes held in the seven sites listed above include:

  • 'Births, Deaths and Marriages from 1837 to 2009'
  • 'Overseas Index: Births, Deaths and Marriages from 1761 to 2009'
  • 'Civil Partnerships from 2005 to 2010'
  • 'Adoptions from 1927 to 2010'
  • provisional indexes for 'Births and Deaths from January 2010 to June 2011'

Viewing the indexes in your area

Some indexes, although not complete, are also available at other locations including libraries, family history societies, or local record officers.

For the latest information on information available in your area, contact the library or office concerned by viewing the PDF below.

GRO makes every effort to ensure the accuracy and legibility of its index information, but does not guarantee it in all cases – some entries are taken from archive material and the quality of reproduction varies.

Need help deciphering your index reference?

All General Register Office (GRO) indexes are stored on microfiche. If you need help reading the record or microfiche, contact the General Register Office by:

  • Post: Contact Centre, GRO, PO Box 2, Southport, Merseyside PR8 2JD
  • Phone: +44 (0) 300 123 1837 - Monday to Friday 8am to 8pm, Saturday 9am to 4pm

You will be contacted within one working day of receipt of your request. Note that GRO checks the information available in the indexes, but cannot confirm it is the correct entry.

Other help available

If you don’t have a reference number you can still order a certificate from GRO but it will take a longer to arrive and you will need to provide identifying information to help find the correct record.

The following documents may help you understand your reference. They detail the registration district and volume number information. There is no charge for using these references.

For events in Scotland or Northern Ireland

You can contact the relevant General Register Office using the links below.

Additional links

Order certificates online

Apply for birth, marriage and death certificates

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