Notes on using the FreeBMD website.
Prepared by David M. Robertson, March 2006
Partially updated, numerically, by Jim R on 30th October 2006
What is FreeBMD
FreeBMD (www.freebmd.org.uk) is a project being undertaken by volunteer effort to create a searchable database of the entries in the indexes to births, marriages and deaths for England and Wales. It is one of three projects being developed under the umbrella of FreeUKGen, the others being FreeCEN (creating a searchable database of census records) and FreeREG (intended to create a searchable database of the parish registers). FreeUKGen is sponsored by RootsWeb.
FreeBMD is easy to use. No registration is required. Simply go to the search page, enter the search criteria you want to use, and press the search button. The results take a little time to come through, but the delay is only excessive if your search criteria are so wide that large numbers of results have to be presented. You should try to keep your search criteria as tightly defined as possible. Sometimes you will get a nil result because the website is busy (the site is currently attracting anything up to 150,000 searches per day), but don’t be put off – be persistent and keep trying and you will probably get through before long.
You can search by type of event, surname and christian name, by time period (defined as quarters of the year, as in the indexes themselves), and by county or registration district. Your results page will confirm the search criteria that have been employed, and then present your search results by quarter over the period you have specified. The results presented are the entries as transcribed from the indexes themselves, ie. they give the surname and christian name(s), the registration district, volume and page number. You can ask for a count of the number of entries which match your search criteria, before deciding whether to ask for the results to be displayed – which can be helpful in narrowing down your search.
FreeBMD compared with 1837online
Why do we need FreeBMD when we now have 1837online providing paid-for access to the indexes of the BMD events for England and Wales from 1837 onwards, apart that is from saving costs? Well, the answer is that the GRO indexes which 1837online provides access to are only fully searchable from 1984 onwards. Up until 1983, all that 1837online does is to enable you to identify and look at images of the relevant page(s) of the index for a particular name in any quarter. To find a particular event, for which you do not know the precise date (or quarter), you may have to trawl through the relevant page(s) for many successive quarters before you find what you are looking for. FreeBMD provides a searching facility which allows you to short circuit this possibly lengthy process.
The major shortcoming of FreeBMD is that it is as yet far from a complete record of all entries in the indexes, although its coverage is increasing inexorably as more and more entries are transcribed (see below). By contrast, 1837online provides a complete set of the indexes. If you can’t find what you are looking for in the indexes on 1837online, the event very probably didn’t happen.
A further advantage of the FreeBMD searchable database applies to marriage entries up to 1911. Before 1912, an individual’s marriage entry in the indexes was not cross-referenced to the name of the spouse. FreeBMD allows you to click on the page number for a particular entry and see all the other entries on the same page. Since there were generally only two marriages recorded on any one page of the registers, this will produce only two other names of the opposite sex who may be the spouse you are looking for.
The FreeBMD website provides up-to-date details of the numbers of entries transcribed and the estimated coverage of each event year-by-year. As at 12th October 2006 some 123 million entries have been transcribed, the vast majority of them from the period from 1837 to 1910/11. There are a small number of entries transcribed for years from 1912 onwards, and marriage entries are now being transcribed for 1912 to 1915, but the focus of all the voluntary transcription effort is on completing coverage of the period to 1911.
The coverage charts on the site indicate the following levels of coverage at 12th October 2006:
1837 to 1869 – over 75% coverage in 19 out of 33 years.
1870 to 1909 – near 100% coverage,excepting only 1881 (about 25%) and
1888 (about 80%). 1910 and 1911 - about 50% coverage in each year
1837 to 1865 – over 75% coverage in 23 out of 29 years.
1866 to 1911 – near 100% coverage throughout, excepting only 1887 (about 85%), and 1911 (90%). Also some coverage now for 1912 to 1915
1837 to 1865 – over 75% coverage in 24 out of 29 years.
1866 to 1910 – near 100% coverage throughout, excepting only 1875 (about 75%) and 1905 (about 90%).
You will see that you now have a very high chance indeed of finding any event (birth, marriage or death) in the 40 years from 1870 to 1911.
When to Use FreeBMD
If you are looking for an event pre-1912, it will always be to your advantage to look at FreeBMD first. You may get the answer you want for free. If you find what you are looking for, then you can always just pay for the one page in the relevant quarter on 1837online to satisfy yourself that the FreeBMD transcription is right. If you are not lucky, then it is back to paying to search through the quarters, one-by-one, on 1837online. And if you are looking for an event post-1911, then you may as well forget FreeBMD for the moment and go straight to 1837online – you would have to be extraordinarily lucky to find what you are looking for on Free BMD.
Notes on FreeCEN and FreeREG
FreeCEN is far less developed than FreeBMD, but may be of particular interest to TVB/TVFHS members in that its coverage extends to the Scottish censuses as well as those for England and Wales. It is intended to provide a searchable database to records from the 1841 to 1871 and 1891 censuses, but only a small number of counties so far have any significant level of coverage; there is little or no coverage at all of the 1871 Census, and coverage of the 1861 Census is pretty much limited to Cornwall and Devon.
However, coverage of some Scottish Counties is now significant in both the 1841 and 1851 censuses, and particularly the former. For 1841, there is 100% coverage of Aberdeenshire, Angus ( very important for TVB members),Banffshire, Bute and East Lothian,Kinrossshire,Nairn & Wigtownshire. The coverage is steadily increasing for several other counties in both years. There is now over 40% coverage of the 1841 Census for Lanarkshire, which includes much of the City of Glasgow.
FreeREG is intended to provide a searchable database of entries in the parish registers for England and Wales. It is currently being tested and is not yet available for searching.
published by David Robertson
30th March 2006.
Set up by Jim Robertson
10 April 2006
Updated numerically by Jim R, with assistance from Allan Raymond, Free BMD Co-ordinator of Syndicate on 30 October 2006