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Beginning Your Family History

Part Two: Births, Marriages and Deaths

User Avatar Penelope Lovesy 01/05/2020 17:18:49

Now that you have gathered your information and decided which branch of your family tree to investigate it is time to add some dates and major life events.

Births, deaths and marriages were officially recorded in England and Wales from 1 July 1837. Before this date there was no official recording of these great life events, only baptisms, marriages and burials in church records. (We will explore these in a future blog).

You might have found birth, marriage and death certificates in your initial search for information. If you did, that’s great. You now have the official dates of these events for your family tree. You also have extra information from the certificates, for example; a birth certificate may give an address or the mother’s maiden name, a marriage certificate may give occupations, father’s names and the names of witnesses and a death certificate may give a final address, cause of death and the person who registered the death.

You can order birth, marriage and death certificates from the General Registry Office (GRO) or the registry office where the event was registered. Certificates cost around £11 each. The GRO has a comprehensive guide to certificates here: https://www.gov.uk/government/publications/discover-your-family-history

Family history can be an expensive pastime, so, let’s look at a way to fill in the life events on your tree without spending the money.

The Birth, Marriage and Death records from 1837 have been indexed. This index is free to search. By searching the index, you can add rough dates (to the nearest quarter of a year) to your family tree and find out other useful information. 

Free BMD:  https://www.freebmd.org.uk/is an ongoing project, the aim of which is to transcribe the Civil Registration index of births, marriages and deaths for England and Wales, and to provide free Internet access to the transcribed records.” The index has been transcribed up to the 1990s, so it’s a great place to begin when researching your family.

As a local history librarian, I have used Free BMD extensively over the past 16 years. it has been invaluable in helping me to help others with their family history. I will now try to explain how you can use it and show you some hints and tips. My own family history is based in Yorkshire and London and as I am now based in Poole, I will use an example from a Poole friend’s tree – a real life example which I researched for her a few years ago.



  • From the homepage, click on the search button.
  • You will now see a straightforward search form.
  • Select birth, marriage or death- depending on what you are trying to find.
  • Enter a name.
  • Enter a date range. I always try to enter at least a 5-year range as dates that people write down or remember aren’t always completely accurate.
  • Narrow the search by county (if you know a rough location).
  • Click find.

Example search/ Practice

If you are unsure at this stage, follow my example search to practice.

My friend knew that she had a Dora Grace Wilson in her family tree, with father John Henry and mother Sarah. She wondered when Dora was born and wanted to know a little bit more about her parents.

  • Select birth.
  • Enter surname - Wilson and first names - Dora Grace.
  • Click Find.

This leads to two results. I know that this is a Poole family so can assume that the top result is the correct Dora. The information I can get from the index is that Dora was born in the September quarter (July, August or September) 1895. 

  • Start a new search.
  • Select marriage.
  • Enter surname - Wilson and first names John Henry.
  • Enter spouse’s first name - Sarah.
  • Select the county - Dorset.
  • Click Find.

This leads to no results. We know that the names are correct, however people are often called by their middle names. So now try;

  • Start a new search.
  • Select marriage.
  • Enter surname - Wilson and first name Henry.
  • Enter spouse’s first name - Sarah.
  • Select the county - Dorset.
  • Click Find.

This leads to one result. As the marriage was registered in the June quarter (April, May or June) of 1884, in Poole we can assume that this is the marriage of Dora’s parents.

If you click on the page number - 505 - you will see who else registered their marriage on that day in Poole. You can see the name, Sarah Vallance and now know Dora’s mother was originally a Vallance.

Hints and Tips

  • If you don’t find something in the year you’re expecting, try a few years either side. Dates are often remembered and recorded inaccurately.
  • Play around with the first names. Sometimes people go by their middle names and sometimes only an initial is recorded.
  • Click on the page number when looking for a marriage and this will show you who else registered on that day. If there are two couples you may have to make an educated guess at the spouse’s name.However, if you already know a first name this will lead to you finding out a maiden name and taking you another step back in your family tree.
  • Don’t add lots of information, for example place and county. Sometimes less is more when researching.
  • If someone was born in December, their birth may not be registered until the March quarter the following year.
  • From 1911 mothers’ maiden names can also be found on the birth index.

Have a go! I hope that you fill in some names, dates and locations on your family tree. Let us know how you get on and get in touch if you have any questions localhistory@bcpcouncil.gov.uk

Next time we’ll have a look at Church Records - Baptisms, Marriages and Burials.

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