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Wednesday, 3 October 2023

Researching family history using official records

Birth, marriage and death certificates are crucial for piecing together your family history. Find out where to order the certificates and what they can tell you about your family history

Family records held by the General Register Office

It’s quick and easy to order birth, marriage and death certificates online from the General Register Office (GRO) and start to build your family tree. The General Register Office for England and Wales oversees the registration of births, marriage, civil partnership, deaths, stillbirths and adoptions for England and Wales and holds a wide range of records starting from 1837.

GRO also holds overseas records containing details of births, marriages and deaths of some British citizens that have taken place abroad since the late 18th century. These include those registered with British consuls, High Commissions, HM Forces, the Civil Aviation Authority and the Registrar General of Shipping and Seaman.

There’s a range of certified records you can access yourself, or you can get professional help from a genealogist with your search.

What information will I find on a birth, marriage or death certificate?

Certificates are a valuable source of information. They provide a link back to the next generation by giving details of a relative’s address, occupation or cause of death.

As well as the full names of the individuals, you will find the following information on certificates:

  • birth certificate – includes date and place of birth, the name and residence of the mother (and sometimes the mother’s maiden name). The name and occupation of the father is also shown on the certificate
  • marriage certificate – includes the full names of the bride and groom. It will also normally include their occupations, residences and the date and place of the marriage and in addition the names and occupations of the fathers of both bride and groom
  • death certificate – includes the date of death, age, occupation, final residence and cause of death, as well as the name and relationship of the person who informed the authorities

For events in Scotland or Northern Ireland

To access records of these events, you can contact the relevant General Register Office using the links below.

Divorce or civil partnership dissolution records

If you need a copy of a decree absolute or final order of the dissolution of a civil partnership, contact the court in which the divorce or dissolution was granted, or:

The Principal Registry of the Family Division, First Avenue House, 42-49 High Holborn, London, WC1V 6NP
Tel: +44 (0) 207 947 7016 to receive an information pack.

Abandoned Children Register

Since 1977 the births of abandoned babies whose parentage is unknown have been recorded in the Abandoned Children Register. Before this, these births were registered at the register office in the district where the child was found.

Applications for certificates can be made by writing to:

General Register Office, Adoptions, Trafalgar Road, Southport, PR8 2HH
Tel : +44 (0) 151 471 4830
Fax: +44 (0) 151 471 4755

Thomas Coram Register

The Thomas Coram Register is a list of children given into the care of the Foundling Hospital between the years 1853 and 1948. A charitable refuge for abandoned children, it was set up by Thomas Coram in 1739 for the 'education and maintenance of exposed and deserted young children' in central London. Previously known as the Thomas Coram Foundation for Children, today the charity is known as Coram Family and still works with children separated from their parents and to support vulnerable families.

All enquiries about children raised in the Foundling Hospital, and applications for certificates of register entries, should be made via the charity:
Coram Family, Coram Community Campus, 49 Mecklenburgh Square, London, WC1N 2QA
Tel: +44 (0)20 7520 0300

The charity will organise a copy of the certificate from the General Register Office. Please note that only short versions carrying the child’s details - but not those of the parents - are issued from this register.

Getting professional help

You may wish to consult a professional genealogist or genealogical records agent. Alternatively, the Society of Genealogists has a selection of reference resources.

Additional links

Order certificates online

Apply for birth, marriage and death certificates

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