Anyone researching their family history has to start with the two main life events: birth and death. Birth seems the obvious place to start, but finding certificates is not always straightforward. Adoption may be one reason, as Rose Haldane discovers in Ignoring Gravity, but there are lots of other reasons why births go missing. If you have hit a brick wall searching for UK records, try these tips by genealogist Laura Berry:-
Informal change of name: it is perfectly legal for a person to change name without officially informing the authorities. Add to that the confusion caused by people by interchanging their first and middle names, perhaps because they dislike it. Some names were simply mis-spelled, either by the record-taker or the person reporting the birth. If in doubt, search for the mother’s maiden surname.
A different quarter: until 1984, the GRO birth indexes for England and Wales were organised quarterly [after this it switched to annual]. Perhaps the birth you are looking for has been recorded in the next quarter. Parents at this time had 42 days in which to record a birth.
Common names: if you are searching for a common surname and common first name, try looking for siblings with more unusual first names. Search in the registration district covering the area of birth, around the birth date.
Illegitimacy: an area of much potential confusion, accidental and purposeful. The birth of a child born out of wedlock was usually registered under the mother’s maiden surname. The child may have acquired a stepfather’s surname at a later date, and that stepfather may have been recorded on further documents. But the chance of finding the name of the birth father is slim.
Age confusion: the usual route to finding a birth comes from the person’s age stated on another document. But, people do not always record their age truthfully for a variety of reasons: for vanity, to enlist in the army, for employment reasons etc. Expand your search of birth records by 10 years, plus and minus.
Birth overseas: if you suspect your relative was born abroad, there are numerous overseas birth records are available at Find My Past and The Genealogist. Available are the India Office birth and baptism records, children born at armed forces bases, births of British nationals born overseas which were registered with the British Consul or High Commission in that country, and births aboard British registered vessels and aircraft.
Father confusion: perhaps the child in question was born legitimately but the father subsequently disappeared or died. The child may consider the man who raised it as its father, but was actually their stepfather. If this is the case, check for a re-marriage by the mother.
No baptism: not everyone was baptised at the local parish church but in one of the UK nonconformist congregations. Try instead the national collections of nonconformist baptism registers at The Genealogist, Find My Past or Ancestry.
They are not in the GRO index: From 1837, Superintendent Registrars were responsible for registering all births. But this proved difficult in practice. In 1875, parents became responsible for registering their child’s birth, with a fine for non-completion, so after this date the registers become more reliable. Consider that your relative’s surname may have been spelt wrongly or missed out completely. You can apply to the local registration office where you think your relative was born, this is where the original local index are kept. Some regional indexes are going online at UKBMD.
This post was inspired by Laura Berry’s article ‘Search like a pro and Find Missing Births’ in the March 2016 issue of the UK’s Who Do You Think You Are? magazine. Click here for more information.
I used these tips when plotting the birth mystery of Rose Haldane in Ignoring Gravity. For more about Ignoring Gravity, watch the book trailer here.
‘Ignoring Gravity’ by Sandra Danby [UK: Beulah Press] Buy now
And if you’d like to tweet a link to THIS post, here’s my suggested tweet:
How to find UK birth records #familyhistory @historyberry http://wp.me/p5gEM4-1Xm via @SandraDanby