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Getting to grips with birth certificates
Family Tree

Getting to grips with birth certificates

Posted Monday, July 4, 2016   |   1216 views   |   General Interest   |   Comments (0) Genealogist David Annal examines the history and reasoning behind birth certificates in England and Wales; and explains how understanding these can give you greater clues to your family’s past.

The basic layout of birth certificates in England and Wales and the range of questions asked remained exactly the same between 1 July 1837 and 31 March 1969.

Right from the start, quarterly indexes were created to allow easy access to the records created by the General Register Office (GRO). The legislation which established the civil registration system required, ‘that the Registrar General shall cause Indexes of all the said certified Copies of the Registers to be made and kept in the General Register Office’, but it’s important to note that the indexes contain only a small part of the information included on the certificates themselves.

From 1837, each entry in the birth indexes includes the full name of the child along with the name of the district in which the birth was registered and a volume and page number. This, along with the year and quarter of registration, is all the information you need to order a copy of the original certificate.

There were a few changes to the birth indexes over the years; from 1866, when the monumental task of producing handwritten indexes was replaced by a printed process, initials were used instead of middle names but in 1867 the first middle name was restored. In the third (September) quarter of 1910 middle names were dropped again in favour of initials and didn’t reappear until 1966. A major change was introduced from the third quarter of 1911; the maiden surname of the mother was included in the indexes for the first time, making identification of individuals much easier.

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