The Burgum family history society is a member of the Guild of one name studies and researches the names

Birth Marriage and Death Certificates in England and Wales

By Act of Parliament, the General Register Office began recording and indexing births, marriages and deaths on 1st July 1837. Quarterly indexes were compiled in large heavy books with “Births March 1865” for example listing all the births registered in January, February and March of 1865, not when the actual event took place. A birth in December 1864 may well appear in this March 1865 index of births. These indexes are now kept at the Family Record Centre (located at 1 Myddelton Street, London EC1). Luckily, not everybody has to visit the FRC as copies of the indexes also exist on microfiche in libraries and local county record offices, as well as on the internet. The 1837Online website is an excellent site. Another alternative is to use Free BMD This is a free list that has some of the Civil Registration index of births, marriages and deaths for England and Wales, but it is an ongoing project and is far from complete. Whichever place you chose to look, life is never easy and the indexes only give us limited information, not a sight of the certificate itself. This has to be purchased, which could make the business very expensive. It should also be remembered that misspelling of BURGUM and BURGHAM is common, so any search needs to include possible spelling variations.

Another problem was that not everybody was registered despite the law! No-one is really sure how many births and marriages failed to be registered. Some people considered that it was enough to have their children baptised, especially in the early years, Mistakes in recording the birth, marriage or death, or copying them to the Public Record Office afterwards, also explain why some records remain “lost”. There is also the possibility that a married couple were not actually married, especially if they had not divorced from an earlier marriage. In 1875 penalties were introduced for those failing to register and the records subsequently became more reliable.

Searching the indexes in person is hard work (physically and mentally) and it is very easy to miss a name or forget to check for those spelling variations. Others may also be searching the same volumes remember, so don’t miss out a particular quarter! Of course, if you are searching for a BURGUM or a BURGHAM, you can simply browse the Reference Lists on this website. I’ve done a lot of the hard work and most of the birth, marriage and death certificate indexes are already list. These are being added to all the time. Sadly, I am not then able to purchase every certificate as this would be too expensive. Consider if you were to apply for all the birth and marriage certificates for your grandparents; four birth certificates and two marriage certificates (maybe more!). With each certificate costing you up to £11.50 per certificate, your bill would be £69.00! Now, with each generation, the cost doubles. Your great-grandparents would number twelve certificates at a cost of up to £138.00!

The minimum details you have to supply for a search are the full names of the person and the approximate date of event. You can order your certificates on the Internet, or by post, telephone, or fax. To order a birth, marriage or death certificate without the GRO reference would necessitate a search and the cost is then £11.50. If you can supply the GRO reference (found by a personal search or online), the cost reduces to £8.50 per certificate. If you apply for the certificate online, the cost reduces still further to £7.00. (This would still be a massive £84.00 for the twelve certificates of your great-grandparents). If you really can’t wait, a priority service allows you to purchase a certificate, which will be posted the next working day for between £23.00 and £27.50! I have purchased quite a few, however, and these are accessible on the website. So, what do we do with our birth, marriage and death certificates anyway?

The certificates provide just one step backwards in the search for one’s roots. Take my Grandfather as an example: William Whittington Burgum was born in 1903. His birth certificate would give the exact date of his birth and his name. It would also show that his father was Fredrick James Burgum and his mother Mary Ellen Burgum, formerly Garner. The father’s occupation and a location (hopefully an address) would also be entered on the certificate. Armed with the names of the parents, we can make our next search. On our next visit to the Family Record Centre (located at 1 Myddelton Street, London EC1), or online at 1837Online.com we would begin a search of the marriage records. Starting at 1903, the year of my grandfather’s birth, we can gradually search backwards until the marriage is found. (Sometimes searching forwards a short way saves a lot of time, too!). In this case, however, we would need to search back to 1893 (at the FRC, that would be forty, very heavy volumes!) before we find the marriage record of Frederick James Burgum. If we care to look up Mary Ellen Garner in the same quarterly volume, we would find that she was also married at Mile End and the code (the GRO reference) is the same. They married each other!

To learn anything else, we have to purchase the certificates at £7.00 (provided we apply online and supply the GRO reference). (Never apply for a short birth certificate as it does not give the names of the parents!). Sometime later, we receive the certificate. It tells us Fred, a cigar maker, was aged 21 and his father’s name was Harry Burgum (a labourer). Mary was aged 19 and her father was Harry Garner. We are lucky! Sometimes the age is only given as “full” or “a minor”, possibly resulting in another lengthy search. A search of the birth registers for 1872 reveals Fred’s birth date and once again we can apply for the birth certificate. It confirms his father’s name was Henry (Harry) and now we have new information – his mother’s name was Sarah Jane Bartholomew. Now we can search for Henry and Sarah’s marriage, starting around 1872. In fact, it was found in 1866 and so the search goes on, on generation back at a time. With each generation, more expense! Before 1837, however, there were no certificates. We must begin to search elsewhere for our ancestors…!

Death certificates are usually only of academic value as, after 1866, the indexes list the age of the individual, giving us somewhere to look for their birth certificate. Sadly, the death indexes themselves did not begin including the date of birth until 1969. From September 1911, indexes also list the mother’s maiden name, which is very useful.