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How to obtain family records

If you are trying to piece together your family history then birth, marriage and death certificates can be crucial. The General Register Office for England and Wales (GRO) oversees the registration of births, marriage, civil partnerships, deaths, adoptions and stillbirths and holds a wide range of records that may help you to trace your family tree, starting from 1837.

Alternatively, you may just need to obtain an official replacement certificate, which you can also order from the GRO.

Birth, marriage and death certificates

Apart from the ‘short birth certificate’, which is an extract of the full record, all certificates provided by the GRO are exact copies of the full record made at the time of the birth, marriage or death.

If you have the GRO index reference, you can order birth, marriage or death certificates online from 1837 onwards. Alternatively, if you do not have the index reference but know the exact date of the event, you can order certificates for events from 1900. For further information about using the GRO index reference please read this article.

You should be aware that there is an order fee of £9.25 for standard service (between four and 15 working days depending on whether you have the index reference) or £23.40 for priority service (next day delivery).

It is also possible to order certificates from the GRO by telephone (0845 603 7788), or you can contact the local register office where the event took place. You can also order certificates by post, but will need to first obtain an application form by either telephoning the GRO or emailing certificate.services@ips.gsi.gov.uk, stating which form you need, how many copies, and your name and address. You can then send the completed form, with the correct payment by cheque, postal order or credit card, to General Register Office, PO Box 2, Southport, Merseyside, PR8 2JD.

Divorce or civil partnership dissolution records

In order to obtain a copy of a decree absolute or final order of the dissolution of a civil partnership, you should contact the court in which the divorce or dissolution was granted.

Census records

The census, taken every ten years, is helpful in finding out where ancestors lived, with whom and what they did for a living. Census records for England and Wales from 1841 to 1911 are available online. For futher information please see: http://www.nationalarchives.gov.uk/records/census-records.htm.

The National Archives

This is another useful source for obtaining family records, as it is an official archive of the UK Government. If you would like to access a wide range of historical records, including those relating to military history, wills and death duties, then you may wish to consult the National Archives.

Getting professional help

If you are intent on tracing your family history, you may wish to seek the assistance or advice of a genealogist or genealogical records agent. Alternatively, you can gain access to some reference material on the Society for Genealogists' website.

This content is subject to Crown Copyright

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