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Births, marriages and deaths

Q: Can I go to the record office to look through certificates to find dates of birth of my ancestors and other information without having to buy them?

Finding your way: The births, marriages and deaths index on microfiche at Whitehaven Record Office

A: Basically, record offices do not hold certificates of births, marriages and deaths – they are available at the local register office or online (see below).

They are only available to buy, not to consult, so it can be an expensive business. Most family historians can boast piles of unwanted certificates bought in error over the years. Certificates have also only been available since civil registration began in mid-1837 so another option is to look at church records of baptisms, marriages and burials. Church records are freely available at record offices, usually on microfilm. Although there are problems with church records, you can get a ball-park date for a birth or death. The problems are:

not everyone was baptised

you have to know which church records to look in

sometimes children were baptised as teenagers instead of as babies

and you don’t get the mother’s maiden name as you would on a birth certificate.

Record offices and larger libraries have the indexes for the birth, marriage and death certificates. These are of limited use but for later years they will give the maiden name for the mother in the case of a birth, and either the age at death or date of birth of a person in the death index. The index also helps to narrow down when the event took place to a three-month period. This index will give you the volume and page number, year, quarter and registration district – all of which is necessary to order a certificate.

You can buy certificates at local register offices but only for events registered in that particular district.

If you want to buy a Whitehaven District certificate the helpful team from the Register Office at College House on Flatt Walk will be able to help: certificates cost £9 if collected from them or £10 if posted to you (email whitehaven.registeroffice @cumbriacc.gov.uk for further details). To buy birth, marriage and death certificates for the whole of England and Wales online go to www.direct.gov.uk/gro .

The index of births, marriages and deaths (BMDs) is also available at www.freebmd.org.uk but beware – transcribing all this information is a voluntary project and it is not yet complete.

Your local Archive: Cumbria Record Office, Scotch St, Whitehaven, CA28 7NL. www.cumbria.gov.uk/archives gives further details and opening hours.

By Catherine Clark
Published: August 12, 2010


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