British Family History

A Guide to Getting Started in Genealogy

Mother and BabyBMD Records

What are BMD Records?

BMD stands for Births, Marriages and Deaths - these are the first records you should turn to when beginning your search for your ancestors. As these records are available from 1837 onwards, you could begin by finding your own birth record, or your parents' birth record, and work backwards from there.

About Civil Registration

In England and Wales all births, marriages and deaths since July 1st 1837 should, by law, have been registered and copies sent to a national depository held at the Family Records Centre in London. Any member of the public is free to walk in and search the indexes of births, marriage and deaths free of charge. An increasing number of major libraries and major companies now hold these indexes on film (some companies have put these records online for people to view).

If you know where your ancestors lived, and you live nearby it is easier, quicker and cheaper to find the register and index numbers locally, but certificates can only be obtained from the Family Records Centre or the GRO.

Why spend money on a certificate, when you can find someone in a BMD index?

There is very limited information in the indexes - for example, if you found John Smith's record in an index, it would only tell you his name, his mother's maiden name, date and place of birth, and the reference numbers you would need to order a certificate. Certificates give you much more information, allowing you to trace more of your ancestors.

Data given in Certificates

Marriage Certificates show the year, church, parish and County that the marriage took place, followed by the date, names and surnames of both parites, their ages (before 1855, this was simply "full" for those over 21 and "minor" for those under 21), condition (i.e. batchelor, spinster, widow, etc), residences at time of marriage, names and professions of both fathers, and two witnesses.

Click to view full-size Birth, Marriage and Death Certificates
To view a full birth, marriage or death certificate, click the image above.

Full Birth Certificates give the name and gender of the child, date and place of birth, names and surnames of parents, mother's maiden surname, occupation of father, date registered, signature/description/residence of informant, and signature of registrar. Sometimes the actual time of birth may be shown. The most valuable information is the mother's maiden surname, from which you can trace the parent's marriage record more easily.

Death Certificates are of least value, but for an elusive ancestor the age of death could be helpful to calculate birth dates, although they are often unreliable. After 1866 the age at death is shown in the index, as is the place. The informant could be a family member, and condition (i.e. married, widow, etc) can help find a spouse.

Tips & Things to Remember

  • If you are unsuccessful in tracking down an ancestor's birth, try a sibling - the parent's details will be the same.
  • Marriage certificates give the father's names and ages, so you can calculate their birth dates to find a birth certificate.
  • For marriage entries, search for the less common surname first, then check the reference number against the other entry for the more common surname - check that it is the same before ordering a certificate.
  • Death certificates do not usually tell you where the deceased is buried.
  • Births can precede parents' marriages and may be registered under the mother's maiden surname.
  • Can't locate an entry? Be prepared to extend your search at least 5 years each way.
  • Consider spelling variants, wrong names, and the possibility that the event was never recorded.

Viewing BMD Records

  • You should first look at the GRO website for guidance and information. This is where you also can order birth, death or marriage certificates.
  • To search the indexes online, try BMDindex.co.uk - their BMD indexes are complete, and it only costs £5 to sign up. They also have a handy FAQ, which you can view when you get stuck or cannot find an ancestor.