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
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.
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
- Death certificates do not usually tell you where the deceased
- 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.