Back to Basics: The GRO

We have showcased many weird and wonderful collections on The Iron Room since we started, but it occurred to us that some of our most commonly used sources have never received a mention. We thought we should do something about this, and wanted to offer some occasional articles focussing on the sources we take for granted but that our researchers may like to know a little more about how to access, particularly following our move.

Once such source that is very heavily used in our department is the General Register Office Index. Commonly referred to as the GRO Index, you may also hear it referred to as the St. Catherine’s House Index. This is the index to births, marriages and deaths that have been registered since the introduction of Civil Registration on 1st July 1837.

Microfiche copies of the General Register Office Index to births

Microfiche copies of the General Register Office Index to births

Prior to July 1837, the only records that recorded life events were church registers. These were records made by individual parishes of the baptisms, marriages and burials that they performed. (Distinct from births, marriages and deaths.) Until the introduction of online sites that indexed parish records, a search for a marriage, for example, could often mean looking through records of many different parishes before locating the record. Assuming you knew which parish to start with! Parish records generally start in the 17th century, although some do date back to the 16th century or earlier. They continue to this day and run in parallel with Civil Registrations.

Back to the GRO….. A birth, marriage or death is registered at the local Register Office and a certificate issued. Periodically, copies of the certificates are sent to the GRO which they keep and then use to compile the GRO indexes.

The GRO indexes are arranged alphabetically by quarter up until 1983 – events registered January to March will be listed A-Z by surname, followed by April – June quarter A-Z by surname, July – September and finally October – December. The index will give you the name, registration district and a volume and page number. (Depending on the date, you may find mother’s maiden name recorded on birth indexes and spouse’s surname on marriage indexes.) From 1984 onwards the indexes are arranged annually.

You cannot view copies of the certificates themselves, only the indexes, as the certificates have to be purchased either through the local Register Office, if this service is available as it is through Birmingham Register Office for local registrations, or through the General Register Office. Either way, you need to make a note of the details from the index as you will need this when ordering a certificate.

Our new digital film readers, available in AH&P

Our new digital film readers, available in AH&P

As a regional centre for the General Register Office indexes, Archives, Heritage and Photography provide access to the indexes both electronically through our subscription to Ancestry, and in the original microfiche format. With our new digital microform readers in our Heritage Research Area which are linked to computers, researchers can now look at microfiche and Ancestry on the same terminal. From about 2005 onwards, the indexes are only accessible on microfiche. Being a regional centre also means we provide access to additional indexes issued by the GRO such as the overseas indexes.

Booking is not essential, however be prepared to wait if you catch us at our busiest periods, usually from 11am until late afternoon. If you would like to book in advance, please contact us on 0121 2424 242 and ask for the Heritage Research Area. Please also bring your library card or ID with you so that you can access the computers.

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