GRO launches new digital services

By Jon Bauckham, 4 November 2016 - 6:03pm

The General Register Office for England and Wales has added two civil registration indexes to its website, and will also be trialling a new online certificate service

GRO online index

The General Register Office for England and Wales (GRO) has revamped its online services.

The organisation now offers two searchable indexes via its website, providing details of births and deaths registered in the years 1837-1915 and 1837-1957 respectively.

In the past, family historians have had to access the GRO indexes via third party services such as FreeBMD, Ancestry, and Findmypast. This has meant noting down the volume and page number of specific entries before visiting the GRO website to order hard copy certificates at a cost of £9.25 each.

However, the new indexes enable researchers to click through from their findings and make purchases on the same platform.

Crucially, the birth index also provides mothers’ maiden names for the full range of entries. On other websites, it is only possible for researchers see these details for births registered from July 1911 onwards.

As a result, the resource could help people break down brick walls and quickly find the births of ‘missing’ children who died in between census years and for whom no other documentary evidence survives.

In addition, the death index allows users to search for an individual by age at death all the way back to 1837 – another unique feature.

The digital resources have been launched online following several weeks of beta testing by members of the family history community, including Peter Calver, founder of LostCousins, who has been involved with the project since mid-October.

“I’ve had an amazing amount of feedback from LostCousins members, many of whom have solved mysteries that have been outstanding for decades – 40 years in one case,” he told Who Do You Think You Are? Magazine.

“During the beta testing I myself made countless additions and amendments to my tree. I didn’t list them, but there must have been hundreds.”

Digital trial

Mr Calver also revealed that the GRO will be trialling a new service in which PDF copies of birth register entries from 1837-1934 and death registers from 1837-1957 will be available to purchase online for £6 each. Starting on Wednesday 9 November, Who Do You Think You Are? Magazine understands that the trial is scheduled to last for three weeks, or until 45,000 PDFs had been requested.

The birth and death records available in the trial will be those previously digitised as part of a project named DoVE (Digitisation of Vital Events), which was shelved in 2010. This was only partially completed, with marriage records not digitised.

Even with missing entries, the ability for researchers to access full civil registration records on the web would bring England and Wales more in line with Scotland, which provides material at ScotlandsPeople, and Northern Ireland, where a similar service can be found at NIDirect.

Up until 2015, there had been legal restrictions that prevented the GRO from being able to provide full birth, marriage and death records online, meaning the only way that researchers could access the information was by purchasing an ‘official’ hard copy certificate.

However, following a successful amendment to the Deregulation Bill put forward in the House of Lords by Baroness Scott of Needham Market, this was eventually changed, paving the way for the GRO to create a new online system in the future.

Genealogist Guy Etchells, who campaigned on the issue for a number of years, said that he was pleased with the latest developments.

He said: “I welcome this long overdue effort from the GRO to comply with their legal obligations to compile an accurate index of births and deaths, and congratulate them and wish them every success on their forthcoming trailing of uncertified copies of register entries.”

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