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How to Research Family History

You can use the General Register Office to help you research your family history in the United Kingdom. Check out how to order a certificate or a PDF online and find GRO index reference numbers.

RECORDED EVENTS: The GRO stores a list of events recorded in England and Wales (and some from abroad).

Thus, accessing their database can be helpful while researching your family history and your family tree.

You can order many different types of certificates from the General Register Office. You can get birth, adoption, marriage, civil partnership, and death certificates.

The GRO records registered in England and Wales date back to July 1837. Try researching parish records if you want to trace back even further.

It is best to check the General Register Office record list to see what information they hold. You will find that some of the records start at a later date than 1837 (e.g. for adopted children and for civil partnerships).

Ordering a Certificate from GRO

You can order a range of different certificates through the online ordering service. They will send your certificate to you by postal methods and they cost £11 each.

There is no requirement to have the GRO index reference number to make an order. But, the process is usually faster when you have it.

Ordering a PDF Copy Online

You can also get PDFs using the same online ordering service. Historical birth and death certificates cost £6 each. But, you will need the GRO index reference number of the certificate to order a PDF. They will send you an email that informs you when the PDF is ready for download. As a rule, the process takes less than five (5) working days to complete.

Note: Ordering a PDF online is the cheapest option. But, you would not be able to use a copy of a certificate as proof of identity for official purposes.

GRO Index Reference Numbers

The General Register Office is part of Her Majesty’s Passport Office. They oversee civil registration in England and Wales. They also maintain the national archive of all births, marriages and deaths dating back to 1837.

Knowing the GRO index reference number makes it easier to research your family history or family tree. All births, adoptions, marriages, civil partnerships, and deaths, registered in England or Wales, have one.

Finding Index Reference Numbers Online

The GRO Index of historic births and deaths is available for online research. You can also try the FreeBMD (Births, Marriages, and Deaths) website. It allows you to view index reference numbers for free.

First founded in 1998, FreeBMD is a UK-based charitable organisation. They established the resource centre as a charity in 2003. It offers a free transcription of the indexes to Births, Marriages and Deaths for England and Wales (1837 to 1983).

Note: You can also use a commercial company to help you research family history in the United Kingdom. But, there will be a fee to pay and their prices vary.

Finding Index Reference Numbers in Person

Several other organisations allow you to search for index reference numbers for free, such as at:

Note: The complete copies of the full sets of index reference numbers are only available on microfiche.

Viewing Index Reference Numbers Locally

Some public holders of the General Register Office indexes are available online and for visits in person at certain local libraries and other locations.

Scotland and Northern Ireland

Read through the General Register Office for Scotland and the General Register Office for Northern Ireland for the issuance of certificates outisde of England and Wales

GRO Overseas Records

The GRO also lists the records of births, marriages, and deaths of some British citizens that took place abroad since the late 18th century. These include those:

  • Registered by the armed forces.
  • Recorded by British consulates or high commissions.
  • That happened at sea, or on British oil or gas rigs (or aircraft).

Records of Divorce or Civil Partnership Dissolution

There is a way to get a copy of a decree absolute or dissolution of a civil partnership (final order) if you need it. As a general rule, you can get copies by contacting either:

  • The court that granted the divorce or the dissolution.
  • The Principal Registry of the Family Division.

Principal Registry of the Family Division
Telephone:020 7421 8594
Check the price of UK phone calls.

Principal Registry of the Family Division
First Avenue House
42-49 High Holborn
London WC1V 6NP

Extra Help and Information

Besides looking into the National Archives, you can also try a search of your local archives to help you research your family history.

The General Register Office guides to researching your family tree is another guide to look into. It explains what information you can find on certificates and what to do next if you cannot find the one you are looking for.

How to Research Your Family History in United Kingdom