Using birth, marriage and death records

The best way to begin to build your family tree is to work backwards, starting the information you already have, before moving on to our birth, marriage and death records. Every birth, marriage and death registered since 1837 in England and Wales (up to 2006) can be searched for on findmypast and, whilst it can take time, it is a great way to begin piecing together your family history.

You can also search Irish birth, marriage and death records via our World search.

This short guide explains how to get the most from each of type of record – with all the confusing jargon associated to them explained at the bottom of the page!

Birth records

Viewing a birth record can give you two vital research clues.

• You will discover where your ancestor was born. The registration district most likely pinpoints where the family were living and may help locate other ancestors who lived in the same area
• If they were born after 1911 you will learn their mother’s maiden name, age and place of birth, which is vital for tracing her birth and marriage details

Once you are certain that you have found and ancestor you may wish to obtain a copy of the birth certificate from the General Register Office. Other important information you will find on a birth certificate includes:

•The full name of the person
•Father's name, occupation, age and birthplace
•When and where the parents were married
•Names and ages of siblings (both living and deceased)
•The informant and their residence
•The name of the doctor, nurse and other witnesses to the birth
•Names added after registration

When you search our fully indexed birth records you will also be able to view an image of the original. However, the birth, marriage and death records from 1984 onwards were recorded in a computer database only, so there is no original image for records post-1984.

Marriage records

Marriage records can now be searched for by individual name or by searching for both spouses at once using findmypast. If you’re unsure as to when a marriage may have taken place, searching for an ancestor between the ages of 16 and 28 is a good starting point.

Once you have a confirmed a marriage in your family, try ordering the certificate from the General Register Office as suggested for birth records. This will help to confirm the following:

•When and where the marriage took place
•The bride and groom's full names
•Birthplace of the bride and groom
•Age and/or the date of birth of the bride and groom (note: age given is as stated by bride/groom, and may not be accurate)
•Condition at marriage, i.e. widowed, divorced, or single
•The names of the parents of the bride and groom. If a parent's name is followed by 'deceased', then search backwards from the date of marriage to find a death certificate for the parent
•The bride and groom's fathers' occupations
•Names of witnesses - often family members
•The name and address of the minister/celebrant

Searching birth indexes for children of the marriage is the next obvious step. Having the mother’s maiden name is then helpful for any births after September quarter 1911, as the maiden name appears in the birth index. Searching up to June 1911 you may need to restrict your search by district
• If the marriage was pre-1911, try searching for the couple on census returns
• If the marriage certificate has provided you with information as to the age of the bride and groom not only do you now have an approximate year of birth, but you can also begin to narrow your search for potential death dates, if you know or believe your relative to be deceased

Death records

Aside from giving you the obvious date of death for your ancestor, from 1866 the age at death is also included in the death index records – allowing you to approximate the year of their birth. From 1969 an exact date of birth is included.

Having these extra details can be invaluable when you’re searching speculatively, or if you are searching for a common name.

If you’re uncertain as to when your ancestor died, or indeed whether they have died, a search from 60-80 (assuming you know their year of birth) in the death records is the best place to start.

Once you have established a death within your family tree, you may wish to request a copy of the certificate from the General Register Office. If you do so, then the information you will find includes:

•Full name of the person
•When and where a person died
•The cause of death, the duration of the last illness, the medical attendant and when he last saw the deceased
•Details of the informant (often a family member)
•The names of the parents of the deceased and the profession of the father
•When and where buried or cremated
•The name and religion of the minister for the burial/cremation
•The names of witnesses to the burial/cremation
•Where the deceased was born and how long in the colony/country
•If married, the name of the spouse, their age at marriage and where the marriage occurred
•Living children in order of birth with their names and ages

For more indepth knowledge about birth, marriage and death records, our expert advice section will tell you everything that you need to know!

Ordering a Certificate

Once you've discovered when and where your ancestor was born, married or died by using findmypast's birth, marriage and death records, you can order a certified copy of their birth, marriage or death certificate from the General Register Office (GRO). This service is available both to UK and non-UK residents and covers births, marriages and deaths registered in England and Wales, as well as certain registrations overseas.

English and Welsh birth, marriage and death certificates are considered public records, so anyone can order a copy of them. If you are enquiring about a more recent birth or death certificate (recorded within the last 50 years), the GRO will require more detailed information from you than for older certificates. The easiest way to order a certificate is online through the GOV.UK website:

The certificate ordering service is not connected to findmypast. If you have any queries regarding certificates, please contact the GRO directly by email, telephone or post using the details below.  You can also order certificates from the GRO by contacting them in this way.


Telephone: +44 (0)300 123 1837

Address: Certificate Services Section

General Register Office

PO Box 2