Stella Colwell (Author and Family Historian) gives expert video advice on: What is the civil registration for births, marriages and deaths?; What is the County Record Office?; Are they useful to me? and more...
What is the civil registration for births, marriages and deaths?
In England and Wales, before the first of July, 1837, when somebody was born they were generally baptized. And each church had to keep registers of baptisms, and also of marriages and of burials. But in 1837 a centralized system was introduced in England and Wales for the first time, recording the registrations of births, marriages and deaths. And in Scotland it started in 1855 and in Ireland in 1864.
What is the County Record Office?
Each county administration keeps it's records either as working documents or as archives. These would also include records of the legal courts. Eventually, they need to be kept somewhere for safe keeping. That's what contrives to county record offices. Some bureaus have also got records relating to the administration of the bureau. Bureau offices were set up to keep and preserve these records, but the county record offices now are actually being used for the deposit of other records as well, such as family records, records of manners, and church records, including parish registries, baptism, marriage and burial and wills.
Are they useful to me?
The county record office will hold lots of records relating to the county where your ancestors came from. And so it's a really good resource. And also the staff can be very helpful if you're not familiar with the area in pinpointing sources that perhaps you might find useful. They also produce guides generally to geological sources. And they have a very good collection of printed records relating to the area so you can browse the library while you're there. And maybe find out more than you would discover from the records themselves.
Where else can I go to search records?
There are local reference libraries that you can search in. There are local museums that give you an idea of what it was like to live in a particular area. There are lots of themed museums, like the army museums, for instance: the regimental museums. But also there are national institutions such as the National Archives down at Kew, and the National Archives in Edinburgh in Scotland, the National Library of Wales for Welsh material, the Public Record Office of Northern Ireland, and the National Archives in Dublin, which covers records relating to southern Ireland and all of Ireland before 1922. These institutions, the national ones, will contain records generated or filed by central government departments. And it would include army service records, and most families will have ancestors or relatives that served in the army at some stage. Taxation records -- we can't away from those. Census returns, for example, which is a complete population count. So again, you're going to find mentions of your ancestors on those. So those are just examples of the sorts of things that you can find in other institutions.
What is a birth certificate?
A birth certificate will tell you the date and place of birth of a named child. It will also give you the names of the parents and the parental residence, possibly. And the father's occupation. So the birth certificate will give you two generations for the price of one. And it will give you the mother's maiden name, or her former name, so that you can then look for their marriage certificate. And a sequence of these birth, marriage, birth, marriage certificates will take the family tree back in time and will provide proof of relationship.
Where can I obtain a copy?
There are indexes to the records of civil registration, which you can search online. It may be a paid service or there is also a growing database that you control, by name in order to identify a particular birth, marriage, or death. They will have direct links to the Office For National Statistics in Southport, where you can order a copy of the certificate online by paying a fee over the internet, or you can do it by phone or you can do it by correspondence or you can visit the family records center in London and purchase search the indexes there and purchase a copy on site.
What should I do if I am adopted?
In England and Wales, adoption started formally by court order, on the first of January, 1927. There are indexes to adoptions kept in the Family Records Center in London, and you can search these, but they're indexed only under the adopted names. If you purchase the adoption certificate, it won't give you the name of your natural parents, but armed with that information, if you're aged over 18, you can apply to the Registrar General in Southport in order to release details of your true birth certificate, which will tell you the names of your natural parents. If you then wish to make contact with your natural parents or other relatives, you can register your details in the adoption contact register, kept in Southport. If there is a match, or if any of the relatives have also expressed an interest, you'll be notified so that you can get in touch with each other. Details of this are available on the Office for National Statistics website.
I'm stuck, what can I do?
It may well be that the birth was not registered at all, it may be that the birth might have been registered under a different spelling of the surname, so you need to look at varying spellings. It may be that a birth was actually registered under the mother's name instead of the father's because they weren't married at the time that the child was born. In the case of a marriage, the bride might have been married under a different name than the one you know, a different surname. It may well be that with a death, somehow the death just hasn't got registered, or it could be a clerical error that when the courtly returns in three months to the Registrar by the Registrar General, the entries got missed out, and so when they indexed, they weren't there to be indexed. It's best to go back to the registration office to see whether the registration might be there, and if it has been overlooked.
What do I do if I am from another part of the UK?
In the channel islands, each of the islands has it's own registration system, so you would need probably to use a search engine to find the contact details and the dates of inception of the various civil registration schemes, because they do vary from island to island. In Scotland, civil registration of births, deaths and marriages started in 1855 and you can search the indices and have a look at digital copies of the certificates online at it's website. For Ireland, none of the indices are available online and so you would need to approach the general register office in Belfast for Northern Ireland after 1922 and for the whole of Ireland before that date and the Republic after the first of January, 1922, in the general register office in Dublin. You can go to each of these places and conduct searches yourself. For Wales, that's included with the registrar general's records for England. And so the repository there is a family records center in London., but the original records are kept in Southport and that's where the certificates are issued from.
What is the Census?
The census is a complete population count of a given place on a certain date. And in the United Kingdom the first one was taken in 1801. But the first one to include the names of everybody was in 1841. And you can search all of the census returns online up until and including 1901. But after that you have to wait a hundred years until the next 10 yearly census returns are made available to the public.
What information does the census hold?
The census is arranged by town, village or hamlet and it will tell you building by building the names of everybody whose slept in a particular household over the night of the census. And it was normally taken, well it was always taken on Sunday night because that was the night when most people were regarded as being at home. It will give you the names of everybody, their ages, and from 1851 onwards, their relationship to the head of the household, their occupations and their birth places, so it can be extremely useful sources.
How will the census help me?
The census returns are the bridge between the records of civil registration which were started in England and Wales in 1837, and local records, which are parish registers, marriages, and burial, which precedes the records of civil registration. They will tell you, household by household, the names of everybody in the household. You can have a look at snapshots of a particular household or a particular family in 10 year intervals. We get a glimpse of how they are getting on, the number of children in each household, and also when they are likely to have married, and the names of the marital partners. They are extremely important.