Tracing your Family Tree

Researching your family history can be a fascinating and rewarding undertaking. However, doing so is likely to be quite difficult – you will need to utilise a number of different resources, as different records on family history are kept by different offices and organisations across the UK. Understanding how to use these resources is crucial.

Using register offices should be a key component of your plan to research your family history. Here are a few reasons why.

Register Office Research

A register office should be your primary resource for researching births, deaths and marriages. After all, register offices oversee the registration of all of these events, and have been keeping records of them since 1837. For any birth, death, marriage, civil partnership or adoption that occurred in the UK from July 1st 1837, there should be a record of it.

Some records of overseas events are also kept – these include births and deaths and sea, as well as deaths of British army personnel serving in the First and Second World Wars.

These records are kept in full at the General Register Office (GRO). By contacting the GRO, you can order birth, death and marriage certificates for the family members you seek, provided that you have sufficient data to identify them, or you have the GRO index reference for that person.

Alternatively, if you know the district in which the event was recorded, you can contact the register office for that district directly. This should narrow down the search considerably.

GRO Index References

The GRO Index Reference is a unique reference number, assigned to every event registered at a register office. This number includes information about that registration, including the year and district in which the event was registered, and the volume and page number on which the registration appears in the records.

There are a number of different resources that you can use to view the index. A number of public libraries offer the index in microfiche format, including the British Library, the Manchester City Library and the City of Westminster Archives Centre.

There are resources that offer online access to the records, but these services will require payment for you to access them. However, one site, FreeBMD, is an ongoing volunteer project that is working towards digitising the index so it can be available for free online to everyone.

Obtaining the Birth, Marriage or Death Certificate

Once you have found the record you are looking for, you can order it directly from the GRO. There are also third party sites that will offer to find your certificate, for a fee – however, you needn’t utilise one of these companies. They will use the same GRO service that is available to you, and will charge you extra for using them.

These certificates will provide plenty of useful information for continuing your quest towards a complete family tree – for example, an ancestor’s birth certificate will tell where they were born, as well as when and where their parents were born.

Family Records Unavailable Through the GRO

While the GRO keeps many records that will be useful to you, you may find that you need to look further afield to learn more.

For example, the GRO does not keep divorce records, as divorces are not registered at register offices. To find information on a divorce, you may be able to contact the county court at which the divorce was granted. Divorce records are quite incomplete, and there is no single archive through which you can look.

As register office records only go back as far as 1837, a register office will be no help with any event that occurred earlier. However, parish registries did keep records of baptisms, marriages and burials long before this year.

You may also encounter problems finding a record if it was recorded before 1875. Keeping records of events was not a strict requirement prior to this year, and as such, some records are incomplete.