You can access the online ordering page directly at www.gro.gov.uk/gro/content/certificate/index.asp. Firstly, though, it is first worth noting exactly what these certificates provide, before exploring the GRO website in more depth. Civil registration in England and Wales began in 1837. Previous to this date you will have to access the church parish registers for baptisms, marriages and burials. Parish registers tend to have much less information than the later certificates. Official registration began on 1st July 1837. Many births weren't registered in the early years, but as the years progressed more and more families did register the births. If you are looking for a death certificate, from 1837, in order to be buried you had to have a death certificate, so all deaths will be noted. Equally with marriage certificates the system worked effectively from the start.
How does it all work? Each certificate has its own unique GRO index reference number which you will need to order certificates online. There are various ways to locate these reference numbers. You can check in person, using indexes from the Mormon Family History Centres. You can check online via www.ancestry.co.uk, which has the complete set of indexes for you to search, using the BETA indexes which are original copies of the indexes housed in London. You can try the England & Wales BMD Index 1837-1983, also found at Ancestry, or the same index free online at the FreeBMD web site, which is not yet complete, although you may hit lucky.
If you do not have access to the GRO index information and/or you don't have the exact date for the event, then online ordering is not an option, and certificate application will have to be made via fax, telephone, or post. It's still worthwhile to use the GRO site, as it gives all information concerning ordering online or via the telephone or post route, with prices and explanations for whatever service you require. However, if the event took place after 1900 and you do know the exact date, then you can order the certificate online even without the GRO reference number.
The indexes are in four volumes per year, known as Quarters, so the birth that occurred in January, February or March would be in the March Quarter. It follows, then, that you have to search four indexes for one year. They are all alphabetical. You cannot glean any genealogical information from the indexes themselves, which is a shame, so you have to order a copy of the certificate. Births were registered up to six weeks after the event, but deaths were normally registered immediately.
The online ordering service is very user friendly, taking you through each step of procedures. Once you are on the site you may order multiple certificates. For the purpose of family history and to glean the most details possible, you would want to order the Full certificate type and not the Short one.
What can you expect from the birth, death and a marriage certificates?
- Birth Certificate: The birth certificate will give, name, place, and date of birth; fathers name and occupation; and mothers maiden name.
- Death Certificate: The death certificate, is the least useful, giving the name, date, and place of death; cause of death; age at time of death; and the name of the informant.
- Marriage Certificate: The marriage certificate states the date and place of the marriage; names, ages, and marital status of bride and groom; their occupations; addresses; the father's names for both and his occupation; and the names of witnesses, by banns or license.