Where can I get copies of the certificates ?

Family historians should always use original sources whenever possible and civil registration certificates are very valuable sources of information.  Copies of certificates can be obtained from either the registration office which holds the original register or by contacting the GRO directly.  Remember that certificates are only available for births, marriages and deaths registered from 1st July 1837.  

It is also important to realise that you can only look at the indexes.  If you want the actual certificate, you will have to buy it, either from the local registration office or the GRO, which is now part of the Identity and Passport Service. Don't forget that both the superintendent registrar in the local registration district and the Registrar General at the GRO have their own independent set of records and indexes.  Because the index references are not interchangeable, the GRO reference will not help the local register office find an entry in their records and vice versa.  However, it may be possible to find information locally that you can't find at the GRO, perhaps because information was copied incorrectly or not copied at all.  

If you do decide to search local indexes, you will need to find out both where you think the original event was registered and which register office is likely to hold those records.  Remember there have been lots of changes to the registration districts since they were first introduced.  
Information about areas covered by registration districts and addresses of current register offices can be found at Genuki.

If you decide to look for certificates at the GRO, you will need to get the correct reference. The GRO reference  comprises the year and quarter (or from 1984 the month) the event took place,  the civil registration district, the volume and page number.   The indexes are arranged in chronologically, and in each quarter or year the entries are listed alphabetically by surname, and then by forename.   To search marriage records, you can use either the surname of the married man or maiden surname of the married woman.  The GRO reference for births, marriages and deaths entries can be found by searching the index which is available in whole or in part at a number of places in England and Wales.  To find the nearest location to you, go to the GRO pages on the Government's web portal, DirectGov.

Alternatively, there are several on-line family history sites that have a full or partial index, such as Ancestry, Find My Past, Family Relatives or BMDindex.  Sometimes these simply provide an image of the page and you have to search it manually.  Others will provide best matches, depending on the information you provide.  Most, except for FreeBMD, require some form of payment.  If you are searching for non-conformist ancestors, BMDRegisters is a very useful site.   The situation regarding marriages is slightly different.  Although you can obtain marriage certificates in exactly the same way as birth or death certificates, from the GRO or the local registration office, it is also possible to view some church marriage registers on-line.  For example, both Ancestry  and the Medway City Ark have copies of some church marriage registers.

Once you have the reference, you can apply – with the appropriate fee – to the local register office or the GRO.  It is possible to give some extra information so that they can check it is the correct certificate, but, as experienced family historians will know, it is very easy to end up paying for a certificate only to discover it is not the one you need.  So be very careful when searching the indexes and other information.  For example, if an ancestor is on the 1861 census and his wife is shown as widowed on the 1871 census, it is likely the reference you will need for his death certificate will be between 1861 and 1871.  This can be very helpful in narrowing it down to the correct reference, unless his name was John Smith.

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