What are Birth, Marriage and Death (or BMD) records?
The formal recording of birth, marriages and deaths in England and Wales by the Government began on 1st July 1837 with the introduction of civil registration. Civil registration in Scotland started in 1855 but we don’t have these records available to search.
Before civil registration, each individual parish was responsible for maintaining their own parish register with baptisms, marriages and deaths. With civil registration, when an event was registered a certificate was given to the individual who registered the event and the information was kept on file. A summary register, or Index, of all the events was created allowing someone to order replacement or copies of certificates. As in books, the Indexes won’t tell you everything, but will give you key information, such as names, dates (specifically, quarters) and places (the district the event occurred).
How do I search BMD indexes?
As with all records the most accurate way to discover your ancestors is to search a specific collection, rather than doing a general search.
Go to the Birth, Marriage and Death Indexes page
and then search in the relevant collection. If you’re looking for births, marriages or deaths between 1837 and 1915 search the FreeBMD collections (these have been transcribed by FreeBMD). There are separate birth and marriage collections for the years 1916-2005, and for deaths between 1984 and 2005. Searching’s easier with these records because they’ve been fully transcribed – so you’ll be given individual person matches to your search.
For deaths between 1837 and 1983, we’re still working on the transcriptions of these records, so your search will take you to an individual Index page, where you can then look for your ancestor’s name yourself. By the end of the year you’ll be able to search these records by individual too.
What happens when I've found an ancestor in the BMD records?
You can then order a certificate online to help you find out more information. For instance, a birth certificate will tell you the date and place of birth, mother and father’s names and his occupation, whilst a marriage certificate contains the names of the bride and groom’s father’s and their occupations.
To order a certificate through the Ancestry Shop
click on the trolley icon next to your ancestor’s name or make a note of the name, year and quarter the event occurred, volume number and page number, and district of registration and then visit the Ancestry Shop.
Certificates not only help you to go back a further generation in your research but can help solve family mysteries and are also great records to scan and attach to your tree.
What are Census records?
Taken every 10 years, the national census gives a detailed picture of a country and its inhabitants. The first census which holds information useful for family history is the 1841 census.
We offer the complete England, Scotland & Wales Census collections 1841-1901
, and these invaluable records can help you build up a detailed picture of your ancestors - where they lived, who they lived with, even what they did for a living.
All census records included details of anyone who was staying in a property on census night - including guests. So you may discover some strange names in your search!
How do I search Census records?
If you have details of someone alive and living in the UK in 1901 you can search for them in the 1901 Census.
Look for your ancestor as a child and you should find out the names of their parents (which you can confirm on their birth certificate) as they are likely to be listed living at home. You can trace the family back through the census collections every 10 years - 1891
and so on.
But be sure to cross-check your ancestors with other family records and family stories, if you can (look at names of siblings and parents, occupations and places) – the last thing you want is to take a wrong turn in your journey back!
What other records are available?
There are more than 820 million British records on Ancestry.co.uk – and we’re adding more all the time.
From military records
to immigration lists
, there are more places than ever where you could find your ancestors. If you go to the Search tab on the top toolbar and then select Card Catalogue
you can see a list of all the record collections available.
We’ll help you discover your ancestors’ military history - and find out a whole host of fascinating information - with our extensive military records.
We have the largest UK online World War One collection - so if your ancestor served, the chances are you’ll find them here. Records include British Army Medal Rolls Index Cards
records UK Soldiers Died in the Great War, 1914-1919
, and the British Commonwealth War Graves Registers, 1914-1918.
There are also Naval records
, and British Army Prisoners of War lists
and the Army Roll of Honour
for World War Two.
The different military records can tell you fascinating information about a person’s service, but they can help you discover a lot more – some records contain physical description, next of kin and family information, clues as to their character, occupation and more.
How do I search military records?
To find your family members in military records it would be helpful to have an idea of the armed service in which they served and the regiment name or a regimental number. You can try to identify this from a photo of your relative in uniform and the help of the internet.
If you don’t have this information you can search by name and then look at the results and narrow them down with other information you know. Military records can be difficult to understand as they contain a lot of military terminology, but they’re well worth searching. For more information on military records, click here
or visit the search page for the collection you want to use and read the description under the search box.
Immigration and Emigration
To help you discover ancestors who left these shores (or arrived on them), it’s good to have a look through Immigration & Emigration
There’s the UK Incoming Passenger Lists
, which consists of the passenger lists for ships arriving in the UK from outside Europe from 1878-1960. These include people who have been abroad for a holiday so they’re always worth searching if you think one of your ancestors may have been to visit “foreign parts”. There are also lots of collections which include information about people who left the UK or Ireland, whether for the US, Canada or Australia.
Directories and Member Lists
Newspapers & Periodicals
This section contains lots of collections which can provide fantastic stories about your ancestors’ lives and sometimes their deaths. It also gives you background on the period in which our ancestors lived. Peruse the pages of national and local newspapers plus collections like The Gentleman’s Magazine
, which includes essays, biographies, illustrations, poetry and more.
Search hints and tips
When you’re searching through our records, we want you to get the best results possible - these search hints will help.
- Instead of doing a general search from the Search tab, start your search at a specific collection, like the 1891 English census. You are much more likely to get relevant results.
- Tick ‘Exact’ on the information you’re sure about to narrow down the number of results that you receive.
- However, if you’re not finding your ancestors make sure that ‘Match all terms exactly’ is not ticked, this will give you a larger number of potential matches.
- When entering important dates, it’s best to leave a couple of years’ leeway, as the information given is not always correct.
- If you can’t find your relatives in expected records try a different spelling. Variations in spelling (especially surnames) occur frequently in historical records - so if you can’t find an ancestor, just enter the first three letters of their surname, in your search, followed by an asterisk (*). Also try different spelling variations on a name.
- Finding your ancestor’s name does not guarantee that you’ve found the right ancestor. So cross-check your findings with other records. For example, if you have a birth record, you can cross-reference it with a census document.
- Keep a record of your searches, if you don’t keep track of where you’ve been you’re likely to keep searching the same records over and over again.
- Finally, if you’re really stuck with finding an ancestor why not email us for help? If you email email@example.com with the details you know about your ancestor we will do our best to try to find them for you.