The recent announcement (4 November 2016) by the General Register Office of England and Wales of the addition to their index information will make many genealogists rub their hands with glee especially those of us with common surnames.
Previously the site has been a bit clunky. We have generally gotten the index information from a variety of places (various pay sites, FreeBMD or even from microfiche or film) and entered them to order our certificates. When I have been in London years ago I even got my workout by lifting the heavy index volumes at St Catherine’s House!
Civil registration in England and Wales started on the 1 July 1837.
For those of us used to Australian indexes the English/Welsh didn’t provide a lot of detail. Prior to 1865 age at death was not listed and for the births mother’s maiden name was not added until 1911.
I am guessing some re-indexing and adding of information has occurred as a result of the digitising of the volumes but the good news is the site announced today that it now has the age at death listed in the indexes pre 1865 and also has the mother’s maiden name listed for the births pre 1911. Hooray! This will really help when I am trying to sort out Smith entries!
The GRO are doing a trial session from the 9th November 2016 of digital downloads of certificates at six pounds each but it is being announced as a trial only for three weeks or the download of 45000 certificates so be very ready to take advantage. Hopefully that will then show this is a winner for them.
Marriages are currently not listed and no information as to when they might be listed. The Birth index goes from 1837-1915 and the Deaths from 1837-1857.
To get onto the site to search the indexes you do have to register but it is easy.You do have to confirm your email by clicking on a link. If you have been registered and it has been a while since you were on the site you will also have to confirm your email. If you have previously registered but can’t remember your password the site will send a link to set a new password.
Now the searching has a few quirks such as you have to define the gender of your search and you are also restricted to looking at a time frame of a specified year plus minus up to two years only (so really that means you can search within a 5 year time frame as a single search). You are restricted to 250 items being listed at 50 on a page. This will not be a problem for most people (unless you are doing Smith) and you can restrict it to searching just a year or even a quarter within a year to narrow down the results.
For those of us doing One Name Studies it is a simple matter of copying and pasting into Excel. It will need a little clean-up but quite doable.
You have to have a surname and you have three options for the search:
By Exact Match
By Phonetically Similar Variations (uses a metaphone algorithm)
By Similar Sounding Variations (uses a soundex algorithm)
So in practise what does that mean?
For Smith exact match you get Smith, no surprise there.
For Smith by Metaphone search:
Smith, Samuell, Seaman, Simm, Sims, Smales, Simco, Small, Snaith Summer and the list goes on.
For Smith by Soundex search:
Smith, Smyth, Smythe, Smiddy, Schmidt, Sandey, Snaith, Synott, Snode Sinnett and it goes on.
For the first names you can also do a Search for records with a matching forename or derivative name (uses a thesaurus of common name variations such as alternate spellings or abbreviations). See the image for Alexander and the variations it will return.
You are able to enter a known index number to gain the further details and you are able to restrict searches by registration district. There is a handy PDF file of Registration Districts and their time frames.
Once you find the entry you want you can just click through to order the certificate which is sent via post at nine pounds 25 pence (postage included).
All in all this is a fantastic step forward and it is great to see this being done.
Do remember though that the age at death can be quite suspect as it depends on the informant but being able to separate twenty Elizabeth Smith’s in a district by being very young, not so young and elderly is a great step forward!
The other nice thing is that they ask you if you see a problem with the indexing to let them know so they can improve the data.