Difficulties in Finding a Birth Certificate

The system of Civil Registration, introduced on 1st July 1837 is a fantastic research tool for family historians.  Its introduction was controversial at the time.  Previously all births, marriages and deaths were entered in church or chapel registers as baptisms, marriages and burials.  The new regime reduced the power of the religious bodies and resulted in an immediate fall in the number of baptisms.

In the case of births it was not compulsory until 1874 and it has been estimated that in the early years as many as 15% of births were not registered.  This could be one reason why a researcher cannot find the required entry.  Although it is worth bearing in mind the registrars were self-employed and paid by commission so it was in their interest to be aware of any impending birth.

The registration districts were defined geographically but there was probably no way of preventing an eager registrar from venturing across the border to earn a commission.  Maybe the family moved prior to or very soon after the birth and registration was made in a different district.

Try searching in the adjacent district or county.

If you have relied on internet searches it is not always apparent where the provider’s information has come from.  If they have used the GRO indexes these are copies from the district registrar and omissions did occur.

Try contacting the local register office were the birth took place.  A full list is on the GRO site.

Every surname can be spelt in different ways (even Smith – Smyth, Fox – Focks).  If the informant failed to spell out the name the registrar would write what they heard.  Pre 1900 many could not read or write or would not have understood the complications of a misspelling.  My grandfather was registered as George MeRidew rather than MeRRidew.  These names are fifteen surnames apart in the GRO indexes and over fifty entries apart in the quarter he was registered.

         Write down a list of the ways a name can be spelt and re-check.

The accuracy of the data you are using, be it from marriage, death or census may be incorrect.  Ages stated are often doubtful, particularly death certificates where the informant might well be guessing.  Dates at marriage for those close to the legal age may have been enhanced to prevent parental interference!

Try widening the age band for the search.

Often forenames would change during a person’s lifetime.  If a child was given more than one forename they may have been known by the second or third forename later in life.  In some cases a child is registered with one name and baptised with another.  In my father’s family all his elder siblings were known by their baptismal name which created some confusion when I was searching for their birth certificates.

Try switching the forenames around or in the case of less common names search without a forename.

The marriage certificate will have given the father’s name.  Or perhaps I should say the believed father’s name.  Is it possible the child was the result of a previous marriage or born illegitimately?  In the case of divorce or separation a child may have taken their stepfather’s name.

Try searching under the mother’s maiden name for the birth of the child and try searching for an earlier marriage of the mother.

Possibly the birth was never registered?  I have searched high and low for one of my great grandfather’s birth record without success.  I did find him in a Methodist register being baptised.

Try searching for a baptism, checking the local parish church and all adjacent parishes plus the parent’s home parishes if different from the birth parish.  Do not ignore non-conformist chapels.

Having exhausted the suggestions above the less likely causes are a change of surname.  Before 1927 there was no mechanism of legal adoption and children could have been brought up with the surname of their foster parents.  These could be relatives or neighbours.  Only the child can view adoption papers but if the person is deceased an application to the court where the adoption took place can be made.

In the UK a person can just decide to change their surname without any legal interference.  However some would choose to do this by deed poll or announcement in the London Gazette or local newspapers. 

Making an official change to a forename is rare but can be carried out up to ten months after registration and the entry is then re-indexed.  The Church of England I believe still allow change of baptism name at Confirmation.

Online sources for civil registration:

1       General Register Office: www.gro.gov.uk



2       District Registrars: As GRO above and www.ukbmd.org.uk

3       Free Indexes: www.freebmd.org.uk

4       Plus all the online genealogical sources.