Notes on On-line Access to the BMD Indexes
for England and Wales

.

Prepared by David M. Robertson, March 2006

Introduction

Statutory registration of Births, Marriages and Deaths was introduced across England and Wales in 1837. There are estimated to have been at least 250 million events registered since 1837. To obtain the information registered for any BMD event, it is necessary to search the BMD indexes and identify the unique reference to an individual event which will enable a copy of the certificate entry to be obtained from the GRO or local Registrar.

There are two main index sources for the statutory BMD records for England and Wales from 1837 onwards. The main source for most researchers will be the GRO indexes which were compiled (until 1983) in book form for each quarter, separately for births, marriages and deaths, from copies of certificates supplied to the GRO by local registrars. From 1984 onwards they have been compiled in the form of a computerised database. These indexes have now been put on-line by a number of commercial providers. However, the indexes to 1983 include an unknown number of errors, believed to be substantial, as a result of the copying and indexing process involved in their compilation – see the article by Tony Foster elsewhere in the TVB toolbox.

An alternative source which will avoid the errors associated with the GRO indexes are the indexes compiled by the local Registrars. Some local Registrars, often in partnership with family history societies, are beginning to make these local indexes available on-line, although as yet their availability is very patchy and covers only a small proportion of all the records.

These notes are my attempt to provide a general summary of the availability of BMD indexes on-line at the time of writing (March 2006), and of the cost of accessing the indexes. It is hoped that this will help researchers to determine the most suitable source for their own particular requirements. However, it should be noted that the on-line availability of records is changing very rapidly at present, and that some of the information provided here may be out-of-date almost as soon as it is written.

The GRO Indexes

The GRO indexes have been made available on-line by four of the major commercial providers of genealogical records for England and Wales.

1837online. This site provides pay-to view access to images of the pages of the indexes for 1837 to 1983 and to the results of searches in the computerised index from 1984 to 2004. However searching in the index pages up until 1983 is only by reference to the surname range which appears alphabetically on each page, so all the search is indicating is which pages need to be viewed to see whether a particular name does (or does not) appear in the quarterly indexes. The 1837online site also provides access to a range of British overseas civil and military indexes of BMD records, and to the census records for England and Wales for 1861 and 1891. A full description of the 1837 site is provided in separate notes in the TVB toolbox.

Ancestry . The UK arm of the American genealogical provider MyFamily.com.Inc has recently placed the entire set of images of the pages of the GRO indexes from 1837 to 1983 online for free access, again with searching by means of surname ranges. The 1984 to 2000 computerised index is also available for searching on the Ancestry site, but only as part of a general subscription for access to all the UK records on the site. These other records include all the census records for England and Wales from 1851 to 1901. There is also free access via the Ancestry site to the results of the FreeBMD project (see below).

BMD Index .. This site can be accessed directly but is also hosted through ‘thegenealogist.co.uk’. It provides pay-to-view access to images of the pages of the indexes for 1837 to 1983 and to the results of searches in the computerised index from 1984 to 2004 – in very much the same way as the 1837online site does. It is part of the S&N group, and the host site also includes a range of census and other records, mostly being made available on-line after having been initially sold in CD format.

FamilyRelatives. This site is limited to provision of pay-to view access to the GRO indexes for 1837 to 2003. It differs from the 1837online and Bmdindex sites in that it provides a fully searchable index of the records for the period from 1866 to 1920. For this period it also offers enhanced facilities for searching the marriage indexes, which allow searching on and for the spouse’s name.

These four sites are all run by commercial providers of information which charge to view images of the index pages or the results of full searches where these are available.

It is perhaps also worth noting that the different sites mentioned above may be providing access to different versions of microfilm of the GRO indexes. 1837onl;ine claims to be using the most recent version of microfilm, and to be supplementing this with digital images of missing pages taken at the FRC where necessary.

In contrast to these four pay-to-view sites, FreeBMD (freebmd.org.uk) is a volunteer-driven project aiming to provide free access to fully searchable transcriptions of the GRO indexes. This major initiative has been focusing in the first instance on transcribing the indexes for the period from 1837 through to about 1910. Already, over 100 million records have been transcribed, and there is now a near complete transcription of BMD entries available for free searching from the mid 1860s to 1910 as well as a significant proportion of earlier records also transcribed. A full description of the information available on the FreeBMD site is provided in separate notes in the TVB toolbox.

The Local BMD Indexes

The best source of access to the initiatives by local groups to make available on-line the indexes of records compiled by local registrars of BMD events is through the UK BMD website (ukbmd.org.uk). Go into this site and click on the County you are interested under Local BMD, and you will be presented with a full list of all websites which provide BMD (and other information) relating to the County. This listing will include the national sites described above but also, crucially, any projects being undertaken by local Register Offices, Family History Societies and the like to transcribe information at a County or local level. The coverage of such initiatives is still very patchy, and the main efforts made to date have been in the North West, the North East and the West Midlands. However, where Local BMD indexes have been put on-line, they can be a very valuable alternative source, avoiding the errors of transcription which are known to have occurred in compiling the national GRO indexes – and they are all free to use! The amount of information given in the on-line Local BMD indexes varies somewhat, but in respect of marriage records they generally provide spouse names from 1837 throughout, and often also identify the church in which the marriage took place rather than just the District. On the other hand, the GRO index information on age at death (from 1866 onwards) and mother’s maiden name for births (from 1912 onwards) is not generally provided.

At the time of writing (March 2006) the main local sources of local BMD information available on-line would seem to be as set out below. A number of the projects involved are adopting a common form of presentation and layout, which was pioneered by the Cheshire BMD project. All of the sites will provide a reference number by which a copy of the certificate can be ordered from the local Registrar, but you should note that these references differ from those appearing in the GRO indexes which are used to order certificates from the GRO.

Bath and North East Somerset. Following the Cheshire model, with complete coverage of marriages from 1837 to date, and with indexing of births in hand.

Cambridgeshire. One of the more advanced Local BMD projects aiming to index all events from 1837 to 2002. There is substantial coverage of all events in the Cambridge District, but only very limited coverage so far for the other three Districts. Age at death is given, as well as spouse names, but events are only identified to the District in which they took place.

Cheshire. A pioneering and now well advanced project, eventually aiming to index all events from 1837 to 1950 and beyond, and already having achieved significant coverage of all three types of events. Birth and death records are identified to Registration Sub-Districts, and marriage records are identified by the church where they took place and give both parties’ names.

Durham. Another advanced project, which aims to provide a searchable on-line database of all BMD entries in the present County area. The indexing of marriages from 1837 to 2003 is now complete, and there is significant coverage of births. Spouse names are given, but records are only identified to Districts. A separate and complete BMD index is available for the town of Darlington, which was formerly part of Durham County.

Isle of Wight. A fantastic resource which is complete for marriages from 1837 to 2000 and for births and deaths from 1837 to 1950 and 1990 to 2000. Births and deaths are only identified to the District within which they were registered but marriage entries give the church or other location. The information provided includes the mother’s maiden name for births and the age at death for all entries from 1837, and also provides the full names of both parties for marriage entries.

Kent. A full index of marriages from 1837 to 2002 for the present County area, but births and deaths only from 1992 to 2002. Only the basic entry (name, year and District) are given, and there is no means of identifying spouse names.

Lancashire. A very large project on the Cheshire model aiming to index all events from 1837 to 1950 and beyond in the old (pre-1974) County of Lancashire, ie.including Liverpool and Manchester. There is much information already indexed, but still a long way to go.

Newcastle City. Indexing so far only covers births from 1837 to 1870 and marriages from 1837 to 1900. The only information provided for births is the name and year, but the marriage records identify the church and spouse name.

North Wales. This ambitious project (on the Cheshire model) aims to index all the records from most of the northern half of Wales, covering the former Counties of Caernarfonshire, Denbighshire, Flintshire, A separate index has been completed for all marriages in the Wrexham District (formerly in Flintshire) from 1837 to 1997, but only providing name and year.

Staffordshire. Another project following the Cheshire model and now well advanced, particularly in respect of marriages and births.

Sunderland. A full marriage index is on-line from 1837 to 2006, providing spouse names. A births index is planned for Autumn 2006, and a deaths index for Autumn 2007.

Tees Valley. This project covers the four Districts of Hartlepool, Middlesbrough, Redcar and Stockton, which formerly comprised the County of Cleveland, and originally formed parts of Durham and NorthYorkshire. There is already extensive coverage of births and marriages in all four Districts, and of deaths in Hartlepool and Middlesbrough. Entries are only identified to Districts, but spouse names are provided for marriages.

Warwickshire. This site provides good coverage of births, and some of marriages, but only very recent deaths are as yet are indexed. Events are only identified to Districts, but spouse names are provided for marriages.

West Midlands. This project, again following the Cheshire model, aims to cover the whole of the West Midlands conurbation area. To date there is significant coverage of all three types of event for the Dudley and Sandwell areas, and some births and deaths indexed also for Walsall.

. This project is another following the Cheshire model but is only in its infancy, with indexing so far confined to births and marriages in the Chippenham District, one of the five Districts covering the County.

Yorkshire. This potentially very large project aims to index all the BMD records for the former East, North and West Ridings of Yorkshire from 1837 to 1950 and beyond, adopting the model pioneered by Cheshire. To date, coverage is confined to the records for Hull (East Riding) and Leeds (West Riding), and some coverage of births only for Beverley, Bradford and York. There is as yet no coverage of the North Riding.

If the area you are interested in is included in the above list, then there is a good chance that the local BMD indexes will be of considerable help in your search. If it is not, then you have much to gain from searching the local indexes.

Choosing Your Sources

With so many different sources of BMD index information to choose from, you could be forgiven for not knowing where to look first. Much will depend on your search requirements – What period do you want to search? Can you pin your search down to a particular area? etc. Obviously, you will want to make to make as much use as you can of the free-to-use sources, but you will be exceedingly lucky if you can get away without paying to use at least one of the commercially supported sites.

My own thoughts on the approach you should adopt, for what they are worth, are as follows: • If you are looking for an event before about 1910 (or even before 1915 for marriages), then your first port of call should be FreeBMD. If you find it, then you might like the confirmation of looking at the image of the page concerned on the free facility at Ancestry.

• Whether you find your pre-1910 event on FreeBMD or not, if you are looking in one of the areas listed above, you should certainly go to UK BMD to see if it appears in the local BMD indexes, and you may get extra information that way.

• If the event you’re looking for is not in FreeBMD and not covered by the local BMD indexes, or if it is post-1910 (and again not covered by the local BMD indexes), then your approach will depend on how closely you can pin down the date when the event should have taken place. If you can pin it down to within, say two years, then perhaps it is worth searching on the free facility at Ancestry. However, in my experience, the search facility at Ancestry is exceedingly slow. So, if you are looking to search over a longer period, then I think it would pay you to suscribe to one of the three other commercial providers.

Of the commercial providers, my strong preference would be to opt for the 1837online site. In my view, it is the best presented of all the commercial genealogy sites – clear and easy to navigate around – and better even than Scotland’s People. It has a very competitive and flexible pricing policy, which if you buy £25 worth of credits allows you access for a whole year, and you get access also to the overseas BMD indexes and the 1861 and 1891 Censuses for England and Wales. The full transcription of the GRO indexes for 1866 to 1920 on the Family Relatives site might seem a big attraction, but much of this period is now well covered by FreeBMD. By combining a subscription to 1837online with sensible use of the free facilities now available elsewhere, you should be able to meet most of your searching requirements for a very reasonable outlay.

Good luck! David Robertson 24th March 2006. Page coded and set up by Jim Robertson on 6th April 2006.