How to order a British birth, death or marriage certificate

General Register Office UK

General Register Office UK

How to order a British birth, death or marriage certificate may be a very basic task for a seasoned genealogist, but I think that if you are a beginner it’s a step that is all part of the learning process. It can seem very complicated when doing this for the first time. But after that it gets so easy that you’ll wonder why you credit card bill is so high.

To order a birth, death or marriage certificate for England or Wales, you need to go to the General Register Office (GRO). They cover  from present day to 1837; when registration started. The following webpage should really be your first port of call when wanting to get a British birth, death and marriage certificate from the General Register website.   By taking the time to look at the examples for what information will be on the certificate and knowing what “priority service” is you can save yourself money. Further down the page, there is a table to show you how long that the certificate will take to get to Australia too.

When ordering a certificate from the General Register’s Office (GRO) one of the most helpful things to know is the GRO Reference number.

GRO Reference Number

When you order a certificate you generally need the GRO Reference Number. The reference numbers come from the indexes of births, death and marriages. The indexes are not the certificates, they are just a system of finding the certificates.  They are set out with the surname listed first then the forename. The indexes are set out in quarters of the year eg. January to March. When you find the reference to the certificate you need note the year, months of index or what quarter, the district, the volume and page number with certificates between 1837 to 1983. Also note that births may be registered in a later index; as some people took a while before filling out the paperwork. Check for alternative spellings if you cannot find the certificate. To find the GRO reference number, you can use This website is free to the public, so you can find British birth, marriage and death certificates. Otherwise if you have an Ancestry subscription that covers the UK, you can find the information there. Just be aware that if you order a certificate through the Ancestry website, you will be paying double then it would cost you if you order it yourself. Findmypast website also has information from the indexes.

To order the certificate that you want online, you need to go to the General Register Office webpage address below. You will need some type of debit or credit card and an email account. Make sure that you have the information that you need to enter with you. The name of the person, their parents or spouse’s names, the approximate date of the birth, death or marriage and the district that it was in. Also have the GRO reference number if you have found it. Searches can be done if you don’t have the GRO reference number but it will take longer and may cost you more money.

If you are looking for a birth, death or marriage before 1837, then you need to find a parish register in the local archives of your ancestor. Getting a British birth, death or marriage certificate from the GRO is very exciting, but a little bit disappointing.  When you get used to a the amount of information that is available on Australian certificates; it really feels like you haven’t got the whole picture with a British certificate. But you may still need that piece of the puzzle to go forward.

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