If you’ve got a subscription to Ancestry, FindMyPast or any similar genealogical website you probably use it to search for post 1837 civil registrations of births, marriages and deaths. Or maybe you use FreeBMD ? As you probably know what you are searching is the General Register Office’s indexes (or should that be indices?) collated from the quarterly returns submitted to them from each of the Registration districts in England and Wales. Once you have found an entry in the index it will give you a reference number including a volume and page number and this can be included in your order for certificates directly from GRO .
But if you are unable to find an entry for an event you are searching for is this because it didn’t take place (or the registration of it didn’t) or because it has been misindexed. As genealogists we are always striving to use original sources and yet when it comes to BMD registrations we often seem content to use the GRO indexes which are quite distantly removed from the original registers. In order to locate original register entries it obviously does make sense to make use of indexes but the ‘primary’ indexes are those compiled and held by local register offices. These were then transcribed,submitted to GRO and then reindexed by them to form the quarterly GRO indexes. So how do we get to view the original indexes? Well, in some registration districts such as Birmingham or Coventry, the answer is ‘with difficulty if at all’. But in some other parts of the West Midlands (Sandwell, Dudley, Walsall) local family history societies are collaborating with local registration offices to transcribe the original indexes and make them available via West Midlands BMD . So although these are transcripts rather than the original they are still closer to the originals than the GRO indexes – and can be particularly useful in the case of marriages.
What the GRO marriage index doesn’t help you do is to identify the particular place where a marriage took place. But local indexes compiled from the marriage registers held by local register offices can do this. And this can lead to both cost and time savings. If possible I will seek out church marriage registers by visiting local archives and searching either the originals or their microfilmed copies. But this often involves a fair amount of guesswork as to which church particularly if you’re not sure where both the bride and groom were living at the time of the wedding. So, for instance, in the case of my GGGrandparents Joseph HEAFIELD and Mary MOON, a search FreeBMD provided me with the information that the marriage was registered in Jun Qtr of 1852 in Dudley Registration District and had the GRO Reference of Vol 6C p.153. But a search on West Midlands BMD gave me the following result:
From this result I know that they got married at St Martin in Tipton and so I can choose to go to Sandwell Archives and find the entry in the parish register they hold there or purchase a copy of the entry from the register held at Sandwell Register Office at a cost of £10. In case you’re wondering the Pepper Box was the local name for the distintively shaped church as can be seen in the image.
But I would have searched parish registers in vain for the marriage of Thomas James HEAFIELD to Frances M CRADDOCK in Dec Qtr 1876 in West Bromwich for the simple reason that they married at the Register Office. In this case the use of the locally transcribed indexes gave me this result and saved much time in fruitless searching. If I want to see the marriage entry I will have to purchase a copy certificate and can do this from Sandwell Register Office.
Clicking on the reference number in these results from West Midlands BMD takes you through to a page on the UKBMD site which will show a summary of any results you have clicked on and also whether online ordering is possible (where it is it would link directly to the correct page for certificate ordering for the appropriate register office). Where online ordering is not possible clicking a link takes you to a copy of the certificate ordering form prefilled with the appropriate reference and other details and also showing the correct address to mail the order form to. All you need to do is print it off, add your own name and address details and pop in the post.
Searching local indexes for Births and Deaths don’t give so many advantages as for marriage entries but they should be more accurrate so if you haven’t been able to locate registration of a birth or a death it is worth checking out these indexes on West Midlands BMD or UKBMD and they may just help you break through a genealogical brick wall.