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Researching your Family History - Part 3

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Researching your Family History-More on Certificates

Tracking down more certificates


Four Generations




This article follows on from Researching your Family History and Researching your Family History - Part 2 Please read those articles before going on to read this one. 

By now your tree should be starting to take shape. You should at least have yourself and any spouse and children, your parents and your grandparents. If all these relatives are still alive then you may even have got as far back as some of your Great, Great, Grandparents (i.e. your Grandparents , Grandparents). You will have collected, or copied, all the certificates that you can locate in your extended family and entered the information on them into your system. 

Now is the time to start looking for gaps. Start with yourself and make sure you have entered your Birth date and place. Now, if married, check you have the date and place of marriage entered. Do the same for your spouse/partner and any children or grandchildren. Now think about your parents. Have you got all their information? If making a Family Tree from your children’s’ perspective then you need to look at your partner’s parents. Do you have all their information? After this move on to the grandparents. If, sadly, some of these loved ones are no longer with you, then make sure you have put in their death details.

You will have already noticed how much more information is required for each generation you go back. The amount of information required expands at an alarming rate and can be overwhelming. Just think about it. You have two parents, four grandparents, 8 great grandparents, 16 great, great grandparents and so on. This is why it is so important to enter each piece of data in your tree as soon as you receive it or you will begin to sink in a sea of names, dates, and places. 


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Now is any of this information still blank? If so this is where you will start. It may be that a simple call to a relative can fill in a missing date or place, or you may need to get hold of a missing certificate. There are a number of ways of doing this.


Local Register Office

If you know where the event you are trying to track down took place and have a reasonable idea of a date, then you can go to the local register office and buy the certificate directly from them.  I have always found staff very helpful and they will often conduct a short search for you. Do not expect them to trawl through eons of records they do not have the time and resources to do this for you.

As I live in Scotland I have made use of what is now called Scotlands People Centre   previously New Register House. On average I managed to trace about 30 records each time I spent a day there. Well worth the money for the entrance fee and train fares. I designed my own forms to copy down the information I retrieved from the records.



Many certificates in Britain can be bought on line

Having the official reference number of the certificate you are after always help.  A number of free sites are very useful for tracking these references down. FreeBMD in particular but also UKBMD


The sites below all have details of how to order certificates. You need to register for some of these sites and the certificates are not free. Please see the References for links to the mentioned websites.

England :

English Certificates  -  The General Register Website  - you must know an approximate date as they will only search that year and the one either side. It helps if you can track down the GRO Index.


Scottish Certificates - Scotland's People - on this website the images may be displayed on line and saved to be viewed at a later date.

Northern Ireland:

Northern Ireland - NI Direct - like English Certificates you need quite detailed information.


The States - In Family Search you can find information about where you can get records.

Do not order certificates from more than one generation at a time as, when it arrives, there may be some information on it that may alter what you had previously thought. A certificate may list a different father than you originally thought  or some other information may throw a proverbial spanner in the works. Enter any certificates into your tree and reassess the situation before ordering anymore.

Family Tree

I must admit that I try my best to avoid buying certificates unless I have no other option. Obviously, as your tree grows, if you start to  buy every Birth, Marriage and Death certificate you will be splashing a lot of cash. If you can find enough information from other sources on the web then try and make do.  I will discuss these sites another time.

Hopefully by now you will have traced your family back to the early 1900’s. If so then you are ready to start thinking about looking at census records. Cue Part 4.

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Dec 13, 2013 11:14pm
Interesting article on searching for your family history. I can understand where you are coming from as I searched for years for our grandparents we found a lot of them. The trouble is that my dads father changed the date of his birth and place even when registering in the army.
This made it very difficult. Without these details we cannot prove anything although we still have our own ideas. Can be both rewarding and very frustrating hobby that's for sure. rated up
Dec 14, 2013 6:31am
I have an ancestor who did that - I cannot trace his birth at all. I don't even believe a family certificate for his birth (Supposedly obtained by his wife years after his death to try and claim some inheritance! ) as it does not match with his age or even his name at his marriage and death.

Thank you for reading and I am glad you found it interesting.
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  1. "Scotland's People Centre." Scotland's People Hub. 11/12/2013 <Web >
  2. "Search page." Free BMD. 11/12/2013 <Web >
  3. "Welcome to UK BMD." UK BMD. 11/12/2013 <Web >
  4. "Most customers need to know." General Register Office. 11/12/2013 <Web >
  5. "Welcome to Scotland's People." Scotland's People. 11/12/2013 <Web >
  6. "Order life event certificates." NI Direct. 11/12/2013 <Web >
  7. "Online United States BMD records." Family Search. 11/12/2013 <Web >

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