When did UK civil registration begin?

Civil registration of birth, marriage and death records in England and Wales was introduced from 1 July 1837. Births, marriages and deaths were registered at the local register office, and a copy of the record was sent to the national General Register Office. In theory copies of all records from that date should be available, although registration of birth records was not compulsory until 1875.


How to find English and Welsh birth records

Birth records from 1837 to 2021 and death records from 1837 to 1957 and 1984 to 2021 are indexed on the General Register Office website.

To order these records, you will need to choose 'Order certificates online', register for a free account and then select ‘Search the GRO Online Index’.

The only compulsory information you need to fill in is the year (within two years) and the baby’s surname and sex, although there are also options to include their forename, mother’s maiden name and the district of registration. If you know this information, it’s best to include it, as it will help you narrow down your search results.

To search for a death record, you only need the deceased's year of death, surname and sex, although there are options to include their first name and district of death.

Searching for Winston Churchill's birth record on the General Register Office website
Search results for Winston Churchill's birth record on the General Register Office website

Birth indexes on the GRO's website include the mother’s maiden name for all records, which makes it easier to pinpoint the right birth. Findmypast has also added this function to almost all of its birth indexes (on Ancestry and TheGenealogist, mother's maiden name is only included on births from 1911 onwards).

If you've already found your ancestor in census records, you can use the place of birth given to help identify the correct birth record.

When you think you have identified the birth record you want in the indexes, you can place an order for a PDF copy of the birth record or a print certificate. The website will automatically fill in the reference information needed to order the birth record, which consists of the year, quarter, district of registration, volume number and page number.

There is no index for marriage, civil partnership or adoption records or death records between 1957 and 1984 on the GRO website so you will have to use either a subscription website or the volunteer-created indexes on the website FreeBMD . This excellent free website will supply the reference information you need to order a record from the GRO website.

The birth record of Charles, Prince of Wales is not indexed on the GRO website but may be find on FreeBMD
The birth record of King Charles III is not indexed on the GRO website but may be found on FreeBMD

Only some birth records and death records are available to order via the GRO as a PDF for just £7. Marriage records and more recent birth and death records have to be ordered as a print certificate for £11 (if you can supply an index reference) or £14 for a print certificate without an index reference supplied.

The GRO has now introduced digital images of birth records from 1837-1922 and death records from 1837-1887 that can be accessed instantly and cost £2.50 each. To search for these records, select the 'Order a Digital Image' option from the homepage.

Ancestry also offers the option to buy a copy of a record via their website, however their price of £24.99 is much higher than the General Register Office’s prices.

How to find Scottish and Irish birth, marriage and death records

Civil registration of birth, marriage and death records was introduced in Scotland on 1 January 1855. You can search Scottish civil records on ScotlandsPeople and purchase copies of the records immediately as a PDF for births older than 100 years, marriages older than 75 years and deaths older than 50 years. Records cost 6 units (£1.50). For more recent civil events you need to order an official certificate for £12 plus postage.


Irish civil records were introduced on 1 January 1864, though non-Catholic marriages were registered from April 1845. You can search for Northern Irish birth, marriage and death records via the NI Direct website. You can search and view historic civil birth, marriage and death records for the Republic of Ireland on IrishGenealogy.