Another free resource for family historians. The GRO (England & Wales) have made available online a searchable index of births and deaths, via their website. All you need to do is have a registered GRO online certificate ordering account.
This new index covers registered births from 1837-1915 and deaths from 1837-1957.
The plan was to limit the index to births over 100 years old and deaths over 50. However the GRO state that completing digitisation “would require significant investment and there are no current plans to resume this work but we continue to monitor the scope for future opportunities to complete the digitisation of all birth, death and marriage records.” So, I suspect in this climate of government austerity, the completion of the death digitisation, the year-by-year roll out, and the digitisation of marriages won’t happen anytime soon. However they will update the index if there are errors and omissions, and they do have an error report form for these to be submitted to them.
The GRO have a FAQ section on the website. This includes a guide about searching the indexes. So I won’t cover that aspect in this post. There is also a useful guide here.
So what does this GRO online index add to the indexes already out their via FreeBMD and subscription sites like FindMyPast?
Well for a start this is a brand new index and not a copy of an existing third party one from the microfiche indexes. Anyone doing family history will be familiar with the scenario – a search on two websites will not necessarily yield exactly the same results. So this provides an extra check with which to by-pass errors and find that illusive record.
Crucially, as the GRO point out, this new index contains “additional data fields to those which are already available and this will assist family historians to identify the correct record.” Other indexes, because they are taken from the microfiche indexes, only include age at death from the March quarter of 1866 onwards; and for births the mother’s maiden name only features from the September quarter of 1911. This index is different. Because it is a new compilation, where possible the GRO have provided the mother’s maiden name right back to 1837; similarly an age for deaths is also included if it is on, or is legible on, the original entry. The convention for recording the age as 0 for infants under 12 months is continued though.
As a result of this extra information I think I have narrowed the 1860s death of my 3x great grandfather to two possible certificates: Not the several of previous searches. At £9.25 a certificate this could make all the difference to me taking a gamble and ordering. Similarly the availability of the mother’s maiden name on the earlier birth entries enables pinpointing the correct entry far more straightforward. It also is a useful tool to discover hitherto unknown children of a marriage during the 1837-1911 period.
Also whereas other indexes record middle names as initials for many years, the new GRO index gives them in full. In my post about names in World War 1 I didn’t include middle names as these were not identifiable in the FreeBMD indexes for that period. The use of initials on FreeBMD is explained here.
However it is now possible to do a middle name search to a limited extent on the new GRO index irrespective of period, as the screenshot below illustrates. I did a search for a middle name of “Joffre” for 1914 +/- 2 years. With other indexes this isn’t possible, they just show the middle name by initial for these years, in this example “J”.
Although it’s not a solution to calculating a total number as you can’t search without a surname, this facility might aid the correct pinpointing of an entry.
GRO index screenshot showing 1914 +/- 2 year search for boys with surname “Smith” and middle name “Joffre”
Limitations so far for me are the:
- two year search parameters, which can drag out the search process if you’re working on a longer window of uncertainty (for example an inter-census death), especially when you have to do a male and female search;
- having to use the mandatory gender field when conducting a search is a tad frustrating. I keep forgetting to switch;
- the 250 results limitation may be problematical for larger one-name-studies; and
- not having a county-wide search functionality. It’s either everything, a volume number, which does not equate exactly to all the districts within a county (thanks to gwinowan for the tip) or a specific registration district.
And finally one anomaly. In my post about tricky names I indicated how my 3x great grandparents changed their minds about the name they registered my 2x great grandmother under. She was originally registered as Emma Clough but, as was permissible, they subsequently amended her name to Kesia (she was known as Kezia(h), so even more spelling variants). This is shown on the original birth certificate and GRO copy. When searching on the microfiche indexes she is found under Kesia Clough. In the new GRO ones she’s down as Emma. The same applies to my great grandfather – originally registered as Herbert Hill, but amended to John Herbert. Found under John Herbert in other indexes, but Herbert in the new GRO one.
Top entry from FreeBMD showing my 2x great grandmother’s correct (amended) name; bottom entry from the new GRO indexes showing the name she was originally registered under
So be aware, the new GRO index will show the name the baby was originally registered under. This may cause confusion, especially for one-namers.
Overall though, despite its clumsiness and limitations in some ways, I’m really happy with the additional options it provides. So a thumbs up from me.
Update 1: Just read on the “Who Do You Think You Are?” Magazine FB page that, following on from these indexes, the GRO will trial the purchase of uncertified PDFs of birth certificates from 1837-1934 and death certificates from 1837-1957 at a cost of £6 each. This from 9 November 2016 lasting for three weeks, or until 45,000 PDFs have been purchased.
Update 2: GRO have launched the £6 PDF trial starting from 9 November. This from their website:
“From 9 November, we are trialling emailing PDF copies of registration records. Records will not be immediately viewable, but emailed as a PDF.
The pilot is in 3 phases, starting with our digitised records:
- Births: 1837 – 1934 and 2007 on
- Deaths: 1837 – 1957 and 2007 on
- Marriages: 2011 on
- Civil Partnerships: 2005 on
Phase 1 closes on 30 Nov, or when 45,000 PDFs have been ordered, whichever is sooner. Details of phase 2 (3 hour PDF service) and phase 3 (records not digitised) will be announced here shortly.”
Full details are in here in the GRO’s “Most Customers Want to Know” page.
I’ve ordered a couple of PDF certificates under the new system, which is all very straightforward to use. In fact it’s more user-friendly for those indexed entries, as you can place your order direct from the search result and all the relevant information (including name, District, Quarter, Volume & Page) is automatically entered. Delivery for these Phase 1 PDF’s is to a slightly longer timeframe. My expected email delivery is 16 November. I’m just hoping the 45,000 limit isn’t reached before they arrive, as if I’ve correctly identified a birth for an hitherto unknown baby of my 2x great grandparents, I also want to get the death certificate.
Update 3: Phase 1 ended on 30 November. I ended up ordering 19 PDFs in total. Six have arrived, although I do have an issue with one. It arrived in an unopenable Winmail.dat format on 11 November. The GRO finally re-sent it as a PDF on 2 December. I ordered the final 13 towards the end of the trial and delivery, due to the volume of orders, is not anticipated until early December.
Update 4: Pilot phase 2, for a within three hour delivery service for PDF copies of all birth, death, marriage and civil partnership records has ended now. However the £45 price tag was beyond my purse strings.
Phase 3 is now up and running, with a close date of 4pm on 12 April 2017, or 40,000 PDFs, whichever is the soonest. It covers PDF copies of those civil registration entries that are not held by GRO in a digital format, in other words those not included in the earlier Phase 1 £6 trial. The exact dates are:
- Births: 1935-2006
- Deaths: 1958-2006
- Marriages: 1837-2010
These PDFs will cost £8. I may be tempted here, though it is only a £1.25 saving on the postal service – so not a massive saving.