C for Certificates

4 April 2016

Certificates, they are a genealogist’s best friend, right? Erm, wrong! Civil registration began in England and Wales on 1 July 1837 and Scotland joined in on 1 January 1855. Ireland caught up with what was going on and came to the party on 1 January 1864. The indexes are now available across various sites from Ancestry, FindmyPast, ScotlandsPeople and several free (though incomplete) volunteer transcription sites. FreeBMD lists the indexes of birth, marriage and death and then states, by year, the percentage completion. Quite impressive statistics to be fair when the project is entirely reliant on volunteers….

Anyway, you’ve searched the indexes and you have located a birth, marriage or death reference you are interested in. So, you go to order the certificate. Why do you do this? Well, in Scotland you don’t have to! As they have many more records available to download via a credit-driven system on ScotlandsPeople. You pay £7 for 30 credits and you can see the images online – hurrah! When will England, Wales and Ireland join that party, I wonder?? Did you know that, right now, if you use the code ‘scotland’ on the ScotlandsPeople site, you receive 20 free credits! Who doesn’t like getting something for free!?

If the event took place in England and Wales, then you have to either obtain a copy of the certificate from the General Register Office for £9.25 (or £23.40 on priority), or you can contact the local Register Office to purchase a copy. Charges at a local level do vary widely, as does the service provided. If only all the certificates we need were from South Tyneside, I’d be much happier! The staff there could not be more helpful. I digress….

So, you pay your money, you receive your certificate. Oh, it’s not the one you wanted….? Tough. Your loss. Try again. [Can be expensive when you have a more common surname or a greater genealogical challenge!] Oh, so the certificate says that the father of the groom is X and you thought it was Y. Does that mean you were wrong in your assumption/conclusion? No. It could be an error on the certificate! But that’s what has been recorded, so it must be right. Not the case…. how did Whitby Baynham marry as John Ford, stating his father was William Ford? Imagine the scenario: Whitby rocks up the Register Office in Bedford in June 1900 and tells them his name is John Ford. “What was your father’s name?” Response from Whitby/John: “William”. So, what is recorded? You’ve got it – William Ford.

There are numerous other situations where the facts aren’t quite the facts. For example, where there is a large age gap between bride and groom and hence some interesting mathematics is used to calculate the details recorded in the age column! Or, when someone says they are a spinster when really they have been married previously (or is a widow/er when their husband/wife is still alive!) …. I am sure you can think of many more scenarios.

If the event took place in Ireland, then you will need to contact the General Register Office of Ireland. Their certificates can be produced as photocopies or certified copies, depending on what they are needed for. Photocopies are considerably cheaper and can be requested by (and received by) email. When will England and Wales catch on to this idea!?

Certificates are crucial to our work, wherever we may be researching. But don’t believe everything you read…. some of it really is a work of fiction!

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