A Guide to Civil Registratio in Great Britian


Civil Registration started in England and Wales 1st July 1837. The country was divided into registration districts, which were each controlled by the Superintendent Registrar. All the districts were under the control of the Registrar General.

The Indexes

When a birth, marriage or a death is registered at a local Register Office, it is sent to the General Register Office to be compiled into a national index. Each year is split into quarters (March, June, September & December), and is arranged alphabetically by surname. From 1984 the Indexes are ordered by surname for the whole year. The Index shows when a person was registered, not when they were born or when they died. Marriages are shown in the quarter in which they actually took place. After 1874, it was required by law for births to be registered within 6 weeks. If a person was born in March, they could be registered in the March and be in the March quarter or registered in the April and be in the June quarter. Deaths were required to be registered within 8 days, and after 1874, 5 days.

The Indexes give details of surname, first name, registration district and the General Register Office reference noted as the volume and page.

Additions to the Index

  • Births – 1911 Sept. quarter. mother’s maiden name is listed
  • Marriages – 1912 the spouse is listed next to each entry
  • Deaths – 1866 age at death
  • Deaths – 1969 date of birth (if known)

Once you have found the required entry it is essential you copy all the details down including the quarter and year. A copy certificate can be purchased from the district register office. The volume and page are the reference numbers to apply for a certificate from the General Register Office at Southport. They do not apply to local register offices however, sometimes the local register offices may have problems finding the certificate, especially marriages where the church or area the marriage took place in is not known. They will direct you to the General Register Office where you will need to quote the references.

I can’t find it!

If you cannot find an entry, always search a few years either side. Not everyone knew their exact age or gave their exact age on their marriage certificate or census return. Age at death relies on how accurate the informant was. The spelling of surnames was not consistent as many people could not read or write. The spelling may be the interpretation of the registrar, regional accents could be hard to understand and names misheard. Look at as many possible variants you can think of. If no given name was used when a child was registered, they could have been registered as a Male or Female. These are listed at the end of their surname. There are mistakes in the Index and always check the pages are consecutive and that none are missing or have been filmed out of order. For various reasons, many births were not registered, especially before 1874



  • The Superintendent Registrars district and sub district.
  • Place of birth – street in a town but probably only the village name in the county.
  • The exact day, month and year.
  • Time of day for twins..
  • Name of Father and occupation.
  • Forename of mother, married name followed by maiden name..
  • Date of Registration.
  • Name and address of informant (even if informant could not write).
  • Name of Registrar.


  • Name of district church, chapel or register office.
  • Full date of marriage.
  • Name of groom..
  • His age, occupation and residence.
  • Status – bachelor, widower or divorcee.
  • His fathers name and occupation.
  • Bride’s name.
  • Age, status – spinster, widow or divorcee..
  • Occupation – if one.
  • Residence.
  • Name and occupation of father.
  • Whether marriage was by banns or license.
  • Religious Denomination..
  • Whether signed by couple or marks..
  • Marks or signature and names of witnesses.
  • Name of clergyman or registrar.


  • District and sub district.
  • Place of death, full address or village name.
  • Name and sex of deceased.
  • Age at death.
  • Occupation. For men or single women, or name and occupation of father for married women and children.
  • Cause of death.
  • Nature and duration of contributing illnesses.
  • Possibly medical attendants name.
  • Date when registered.
  • Name and address of’ informant – who should be a relative or person present at death.
  • Registrars name