This section deals with records from England and Wales only.
Births, Marriages and Death (BMD) records in England & Wales fall into two main categories: Civil Registration of Births, Marriages and Deaths as recorded in the General Register Office (GRO) index, and religious records (Parish Records).
Civil Registration of Births, Marriages and Deaths
The registration of Births, Marriages and Deaths in England & Wales began 1 July 1837. The General Register Office holds a central index of the registrations in England and Wales that have taken place since that date. Local Register Offices also hold records of registrations in their area. Certificates can be ordered from either the local office or from the GRO. Ordering direct from the GRO is often the easiest way as the website has an efficient online ordering system: https://www.gro.gov.uk/gro/content/certificates/
There are three guides produced by the GRO for family historians, outlining the information that can be found on Births, Marriages and Death certificates in England and Wales. They can be seen here:
To order a certificate, the reference details from the GRO index are required, including the Quarter (i.e. Jan-Feb-Mar, Apr-May-Jun, Jul-Aug-Sep, Oct-Nov-Dec) and year in which the event was registered, the registration district in which the registration took place, the volume number and the page number. These details can be obtained by searching the index free of charge here: https://www.freebmd.org.uk/ or via one of the online subscription services such as Ancestry or FindMyPast. Remember that an event that took place in the weeks leading up to the end of one quarter may not have been registered until the following quarter.
Sometimes the GRO index is incorrect due to transcription errors when it was compiled and checking the local source information can be useful. There are also various local BMD websites run as volunteer projects. Many of the local BMD websites have information taken from the local indexes and may include additional information that was not included in the GRO index. The GRO index only includes the mother’s maiden name from 1911 onwards and the name of the spouse against each entry in the marriage index since 1912. The Local BMD sites sometimes include this useful information for entries from 1837 onwards, and additionally, the name of the church in which a marriage took place. The volunteer projects are more advanced in some counties than others. See: https://www.ukbmd.org.uk/local_bmd
For the first half of 1837 and before, religious records, i.e. Parish Records, are the main source of recorded information for Births (in the form of Baptism records), Marriages, and Deaths (in the form of Burial records).
Parish records date back to the time of Henry VIII in 1538 but not all parishes have surviving records that date so far back.
There may be gaps in Parish Registers in Tudor times given the turbulent religious changes that were occurring, and between 1642 and 1660 during the English Civil War and Commonwealth.
From 1597 a second copy had to be made and sent to the Bishop (known as Bishops’ Transcripts, or BT’s). These transcriptions are sometimes the only surviving copy of a register or may be in better condition or more legible. Given that they are transcriptions occasional errors may occur.
Until the middle of the 18th century marriages could take place anywhere provided they were conducted before an ordained clergyman of the Church of England. This encouraged the practice of secret or “clandestine” marriages which did not have parental consent or could have been bigamous.
The introduction of the 1753 Marriage Act, known as “Lord Hardwicke’s Act”, which came into force 25th March 1754, meant that with the exception of marriages by the Royal Family, Quakers, and Jews, the only method for contracting a valid marriage was through a ceremony in an Anglican church or public chapel, in the presence of two witnesses apart from the celebrating minister. The format of registers changed as the Act also stipulated that Marriages should be recorded in separate books which had numbered and ruled pages so that no fraudulent entries could be made to the register. For the first time, parental consent was required for the marriage of a party under the age of 21. The marriage had to be publicised through public banns in Church upon three preceding Sundays of the ceremony, or by giving notice of the impending grant of a licence. Severe penalties were set for intentionally taking part in any irregularity concerning the register of marriages, the publication of banns, or the issue of a licence. Although Jews and Quakers were exempted, the act required Roman Catholics and dissenters (non-conformists) to be married in Anglican churches. This restriction was eventually removed by Parliament in the Marriage Act of 1836 which allowed non-conformists and Catholics to be married in their own places of worship. The 1836 Act, coming into effect in 1837, also made it possible for non-religious civil marriages to be held in register offices which were set up in towns and cities.
The 1929 Ages of Marriage Act raised the age limit to 16 for both sexes. This is still the minimum age. Prior to that, by common law and by canon law, the age at which minors were capable of marrying, known as the age of consent, was puberty, which was fixed at fourteen years for males and twelve years for females.
The L.D.S. (Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints, or Mormons) has the largest index of free online parish records, incorporating the data previously known as the IGI (International Genealogical Index), at their website, “FamilySearch” https://www.familysearch.org/
The largest single collection of Parish Register copies and transcripts is at the Society of Genealogists, and these can be searched for in the (online) catalogue of the library of the Society of Genealogists
The best online source for detail on Parishes, information on the churches within a parish and the current location of the registers (many of which are now either transcribed or online but many still with individual churches or in regional archives), can be found on the GENUKI website http://www.genuki.org.uk/ . “GENUKI provides a virtual reference library of genealogical information of particular relevance to the UK and Ireland. It is a non-commercial service, maintained by a charitable trust and a group of volunteers.”
Various counties have volunteer-run “Online Parish Clerks” websites that sometimes include detailed transcriptions of parish registers. Again, some counties (such as Lancashire) have more parish records transcribed than others, e.g. http://www.lan-opc.org.uk/
Non-Anglican records of Baptisms, Marriages and Burials are often more difficult to locate, though more are now becoming digitised.
Moxon Society archive material
Some transcribed Parish registers have been published on CD and some have been acquired by Members and are held by the Society. Details can be found HERE (Hyperlink to Parish Register CDs)
Back in the 1990s Graham Jagger provided a transcript of the then available Parish Registers and Bishops’ Transcripts up to the early 1700’s to which John Moxon Hill added information from the 1988 IGI, Feet of Fine information, details of Wills and Administrations, and some Monumental Inscriptions. This information, tabulated in a similar manner to that of the IGI, was used as an aid to construct the Moxon Society Trees. Although detailed information of this nature can now be found online as outlined above, the original Moxon Society Births Marriages and Deaths database is available HERE (Hyperlink to database) for reference.
The beginnings of a database of Marriages post-1837 with both spouses indicated (as indicated above the GRO index does not list the spouse against the entry until 1912) is also available HERE (Hyperlink to database). Contributions towards this database are very welcome.