Start Your Family Tree: Week 3

Find out how to search for your ancestors' birth, marriage and death certificates for free with our editor Sarah Williams' coronavirus family history course

Start Your Tree 3

Welcome to week three of our ‘Start your family tree’ project. Hopefully you have spent the past week going through the hints (the green leaf) on your Ancestry tree.

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I will continue this week with keeping things free and give a bit more detail about birth records and what’s available online.

You may have found some of your hints linked to what Ancestry calls the England & Wales, Civil Registration Birth Index, 1837-1915 (you will see similar for marriage and death). These records (up to 1915 only) are free to access on Ancestry and come from indexes of births, marriages and deaths compiled by the General Register Office (GRO).

Civil registration in England and Wales began in 1837 and indexes were created each quarter listing births, marriages or deaths that had been registered within a three-month period.

A hint on Ancestry might make it look as if your ancestor was born in April 1910 but click through and you will see it says Registration Quarter Apr-May-Jun. So, you can be confident that your ancestor was born in 1910, but not the precise date. You also need to bear in mind that the index marks the quarter that the birth was registered in. You may have your baby at the end of March but not register it until the beginning of April. So, if a birth was registered in the January quarter of 1910, there is a possibility your ancestor was born in 1909.

At the top of the page it will say ‘Does the [name of person] in this record match the person on your tree?’. If you are sure it does, click ‘Yes’. The first time you do this you may be taken to a subscription page. If you don’t wish to subscribe yet, don’t worry. Click the back button and try again.

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Ancestry will ask you if the record matches the person on your tree

Attaching records to your tree will help you see what you have covered. Unfortunately, GRO records post 1915 on Ancestry require a subscription before you can attach them. However, you can search for them on a website called FreeBMD which has pretty much full coverage of GRO events up to 1983, meaning you can get the information necessary and manually add it to your tree.

Before 1911, the indexes did not include the mother’s maiden name which can make it tricky to be sure you have the right person, especially with common names. Even if you are sure you have the right person, not knowing the mother’s maiden name can make it harder to trace your maternal line.

Luckily, the General Register Office recently released its own indexes for births (and deaths) and these include mother’s maiden name all the way back to 1837. I mentioned the site last week, but if you haven’t visited and registered yet, now’s the time.

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A list of birth registration records available on the GRO website

You can order birth, marriage and death certificates from the GRO website but their site currently says they are encouraging people not to order at the moment as they are struggling during lockdown so we will leave certificates for another day. Do NOT order certificates via Ancestry as they charge a premium for this service.

If your ancestor was born in Scotland, then you will need to visit ScotlandsPeople to get details of births, marriages and deaths. Civil registration for Scotland didn’t start until 1855 and the indexes and records are all held on a pay-to-view site. You can search the indexes for free, which will give you a name, year of birth and registration district but you will have to buy credits to see the record. Unlike the GRO for England and Wales though, all the records have been digitised so you can purchase historic birth (up to 1919), marriage (up to 1944) and death records (up to 1969) for Scotland instantly. Later records have to be ordered as ‘Official Extracts’ for an additional fee.

Scotlands People

ScotlandsPeople holds the civil registration records for Scotland

If anybody has any queries about birth records or anything that I have covered in this ‘Start your Family Tree’ series then do get in touch with me at sarah.williams@immediate.co.uk.

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Next week I will be looking at census records, explaining what they are, how to find free records and some top tips on searching for those elusive ancestors. Happy hunting!