Notes on using the 1837online website


Prepared by David M. Robertson, August 2004
Updated extensively in March 2006


The 1837online website ( provides easy access from your computer to the indexes to the records of statutory registration of Births, Marriages and Deaths (BMD) in England and Wales from 1837 onwards. Run by an independently owned business, this is a major resource for the family historian with computer access, avoiding the need for lengthy visits to the Family Records Centre in London or to local libraries with copies. It does not provide access to images of the certificates themselves, copies of which still have to be purchased separately from the GRO, but it can take one a long way forward with research. It is particularly helpful to those seeking to trace lines of their family forward in time to the present day.

Also available on the 1837online website are various GRO indexes to civil and military births, marriages and deaths of British citizens overseas, and records of soldiers who died in the First World War. Importantly, the site also now has full access to both the 1861 and 1891Census records for England and Wales.

The 1837online website is relatively easy to use and well signposted, and when you go in you will find a section titled ‘getting started’ which has a site tour comprised of thirteen fairly concise and clear pages which are probably worth reading through before you go any further. You will then need to register (using your e-mail address) and purchase units which enable you to view the indexes (using a credit card). To view images of the pre-1984 indexes you will also need to install something called the DjVu Viewer Plug-in (whatever that may be?). However, this can be downloaded free, and there are clear instructions to follow to complete this process.

The Form of the BMDIndexes.

There are two separate types of index. From 1837 right through to 1983, the indexes are simply pages of names listed in alphabetical order of surname, and then first name(s), with certain supplementary information provided, and with the all important district/volume/page information which can be used to order copies of certificates. There are separate indexes for each of the three types of event – births, marriages and deaths – and for each quarter (three months) of each year. The early indexes are handwritten, but then become typewritten or typeset from 1866 onwards.

From 1984 to 2004, the latest year for which information is available at the time of writing, all the BMD information is available in a computerised database format which can be searched by event, month/year, surname/first name(s) and district.

Costs for Using the Indexes.

You pay to purchase units which are then used up, one unit at a time, for each page of the 1837-1983 indexes you view, and for each individual entry you view from the 1984-2004 computerised index. The more units you purchase at one go, the less the cost per unit, and also the longer the period for which you have access to the indexes.

The minimum purchase is 50 units which cost £5 (ie. 10p per unit), and which gives you access to the indexes for 90 days from the time of purchase. There are then larger purchases of £15 giving you 176 units and access for 120 days, and £25 giving you 313 units (ie. 8p per unit) and access for 365 days. The next largest purchase is 813 units which cost £60 (ie. 7.5p per unit), and the next largest is 2,400 units at a cost of £120 (which reduces the cost per unit to only 5p), both of which give access to the indexes for one year. Obviously, it pays to opt to purchase the largest number of units you think you will be able to use within the period for which you are given access to the indexes. Anyone contemplating significant use of the indexes would be well advised to consider purchasing at least 300 units to secure access to the indexes for a full year. Payment can be made on-line by credit card, or by using the BT click&buy system.

Searching the Pre-1984 Indexes.

Searching the pre-1984 indexes is much easier than it used to be. The previous system which allowed searchingonly on the first three letters of the surname involved has now been replaced with a full search facilty on the surname and, if required, the first christian name. You choose the type of event you are interested in (births, marriages or deaths), the period over which you may want to search (up to ten years at a time), and the name you are looking for. You will then be presented with a list showing for each quarter within the period you have specified the number of pages of the indexes covering the first three letters of the name you are looking for. If you have specified a christian name as well as a surname, you should generally only be given one page to look at in any one quarter, although a common name may sometimes run over from one page to the next.

You can also simply browse the pre-1984 indexes for a particular event and quarter, which brings up a listing of all the pages of the particular index, identified by the first and last names on each page. In the same way, you can then choose to view individual pages from within that listing.

Searching from 1984 Onwards.

This is a very simple task because you are searching a computerised database. You enter your search criteria, which must include the event type, the year you want to search and the surname you are looking for, and you will be told the number of entries which match those criteria. Obviously the more specific you can be with your criteria the more likely you are to reduce the number of entries you might have to view. Entering first name(s) will help greatly, and entering also the district where the event occurred (if you know it) will very probably get you down to no more than one or two entries in any year. You can also pin the search rght down if you know the mother’s maiden name (for a birth), the spouse’s surname (for a marriage), or the date of birth (for a death).

The Information You Get.

Information for all events:

Information for specific events:

Copying Images.

You can print copies of any pages of the indexes you view, or you can save them to your own computer and then print them later. In my experience, printing is a relatively slow process, but saving a copy of images you view can be very worthwhile if you think you might ever want to return to look at a particular page again. Within a particular session on the website, you can return to look at any page you have viewed without further charge. However, having once logged out of that session, if you want to return to look at that page again in a future session, you will be charged again. [Note that this is different from the Scotland’s People website where every page of the index you view is retained for future reference without further charge – but then you are paying 20p for every index page you choose to view on the Scottish site!].

Obtaining Certificate Copies.

To obtain copies of the actual certificates of any entries you find in the indexes you will have to apply to the General Register Office (GRO) in Southport. You can print off copies of the application forms from the 1837online website, and send them by post to Southport with a cheque for £8.50 for each application (provided you can give them the District/volume/page information from the indexes), or you can telephone them on +44 (0)845 803 7788 (Monday to Friday 8am to 8pm, Saturday 9am to 4pm) and pay by credit card. In my experience, you do not have to queue for too long and their staff are always helpful and thorough. Better still, the GRO now has an on-line ordering system available which allows the purchase of copy certificates for £7.00, accessible to both UK and (from July 2004) overseas customers.

A Few Final Comments on the BMD indexes.

It pays to organise your searches, as far as you can, so that you don’t find yourself having to come back later to look for the same surname in the indexes to an event type and period you have already searched – unless you want to print off every page you view (which will be very time consuming), or save them to your computer (which could soon become a large and complex file). If you purchase at least 800 units, you will have access to the indexes for a full year, so you can take your time and plan your search programme carefully.

If your search is for an event up to 1911, it also pays to have a look at the Free BMD Site first to see ifit has been indexed there. If you are lucky, this will save you having to use your 1837 units at all.

Don’t forget that events occurring at the end of one quarter may not have been registered until into the next quarter.

Even at £7.00 a shot on-line, ordering up copy certificates is an expensive business and you won’t want to make too many mistakes. So try to be as certain as you can that you’ve got the entry you are looking for – and remember that the certificates you get will not provide as much information as Scottish ones!

When all is said and done, however, you’re getting access to as complete a record as there can be of all the BMD events in England and Wales since 1837, and that’s a wonderful resource for the family historian to research. If you do ever find yourself getting frustrated by the time you are taking over fruitless searches, just remember you’re doing this in the comfort of your home and not having to incur the time and expense of trekking off to London or somewhere else!

The Overseas Records.

In August 2004, 1837online has added to its site, the official overseas records of births, marriages and deaths of British citizens abroad. These comprise a range of consular, army and other records dating from the 18th Century to 1994. They are accessed in the same way as the England and Wales BMD records for 1837 to 1983, except that searching is by the full surname only. You can then order copies of certificates from the GRO in the same way as for the home records, although your order will be handled by the seperate Overseas section of the GRO.

First World War Deaths.

At the beginning of 2006, 1837online added to its site a fully searchable database of the information contained in the 1921 HMSO publication ‘Soldiers Died in the Great War’. This contains the names, addresses, army numbers, force details, dates and places of death of some 700,000 soldiers and officers who died in the First World War. It complements information which may also be found in the Overseas indexes for war deaths (see above), and also the information to be found on the Commonwealth War Graves Commission website. Searching for names from the HMSO publication is free, but it then costs ten units to view the full record for any particular individual.

The Census Records.

During 2005, the 1837online website made available indexes, transcriptions and the images of the 1861 Census for England and Wales, and already in 2006 it has added the 1891 Census to its resources. The ability to search these Census records obviously adds greatly to the value of the 1837online site. The search facility for the 1861 and 1891 Censuses is very simple to use and searches can be undertaken without using up any credits. Searches can be made either by entering either the name of the person you looking for or the address you are looking for, and there are advanced search facilities to enable you to narrow down your search further. When you think you have found the entry you are looking for, you can then choose to look at either a transcript of the household entry or an image of the page on which the household entry appears. Either option will involve using up three credits. Both the 1861 and 1891 Censuses are fully integrated into the 1837online website, and the same credits can be used either to view the BMD indexes or to look at the Census images/transcripts.
David Robertson,
30th March 2006.

Web page coding maintained by Jim Robertson

Coding updated by jimjar 6 April 2006