Many people might be thinking about getting started on researching their family history but don’t know where to begin. Our own expert, local family historian Chris Sutton has been putting together a guide to help you in the right direction.

Chris has offered advice on how birth, marriage and death certificates can have great value to the family history hunter. In his third article, he looks at the General Register Office and Paris Records

YOU can easily search for birth marriage and death certificates on the Ancestry or Findmypast websites, the no-charge site Free BMD or the General Register Office.

Certificates are listed under the quarter they were issued in March, June, September and December. Each certificate indexed on these sites will tell you the registration district it was issued in along with the volume and page number of the book it is recorded in.

You now have two choices, either order from the central repository which is the General Register Office (GRO), or order direct from the issuing local registration office.

To order from the GRO or search their files you need to create an account with them at

If you want to order direct from the local registration office you will need to make a phone call to confirm if they still hold the records.

The reason for this is that districts have changed over the last 180 years or so. The records refer to the original districts so that is where you need to check first, either on the office’s website or emailing them or by calling them on the phone.

For example, if you have a marriage that is listed as being in Kings Norton, this is held by Birmingham Register Office. Back in the day this was not so.

Kings Norton itself included Smethwick’s registers in the early part of the 20th century. So it’s never as obvious as you might think. If in doubt then just go for the GRO to order certificates.

The whole community centred around the church and there is so much to look through easily in a small parish

The whole community centred around the church and there is so much to look through easily in a small parish

Parish Records 

ONE point to remember is that you can save a lot of money on marriage certificates by searching in local record offices.

If you trace your ancestors back to a small town or village then you will find a visit to the local record office a very happy day out! My maternal family three generations back and earlier all lived in either Kineton (the Bratt family) or Norton Lindsey (the Jakeman family).

The parish registers recorded by the churches in these two villages are now held at Warwick Record Office.

When I went to Warwick I found the baptism, marriage and burial records for both villages.

Read more: Taking the first steps in tracing your family history

The advantage here was that you could print off any records you found, which was considerably cheaper for the marriage entries than ordering from the GRO.

The other advantage is that you can find entries very quickly in the church registers for many ancestors. Just searching through the marriage records got me lots of marriages in one go, because up till the late 19th century a lot of people didn’t move far, if at all, from where they were born.

Parish Registers also include records of Poor Relief, schools, magistrates etc.

The whole community centred around the church and there is so much to look through easily in a small parish. All of these can be found at local record offices.

It’s much harder to sweep through records in this way if your ancestors migrate to a big town or city. All the strands of my family ended up moving to Birmingham and due to the size and huge number of churches with records it is a daunting task to search through records.

Baptism entries in 1861 for St. Leonards in Bridgnorth. At the bottom is Chris Suttons ancestor Minnie, daughter of Henry and Thirza Sutton

Baptism entries in 1861 for St. Leonard's in Bridgnorth. At the bottom is Chris Sutton's ancestor Minnie, daughter of Henry and Thirza Sutton

You can obviously search through a district at a time, my Sutton ancestors came to Birmingham from Bridgnorth and settled in Ladywood.

So the church of St John’s was the one with the primary records of interest.

Even so it didn’t take long for the family to marry or work outside this district. People soon vanish into the records in big towns and cities, only popping up in births, marriages, deaths and censuses.

Read more: How marriages and deaths can help you trace your family tree

Sometimes people can be hard or impossible to find in the birth, marriage and death records.

There are may reasons for this the birth was not recorded or was not recorded under a name known to you, the marriage has been indexed under a misspelt name or never took place.

With deaths it is even more mystifying if one is missing from the registers. There are cases of people going missing but there is always a nagging doubt that it is there somehow, perhaps under a wrong name.

Christiana Woodford Sutton on my tree was born in Bridgnorth in 1863 and appears on two censuses before vanishing completely.

She never appears on another census, there is no marriage record in Britain and no death record either.

The obvious theory is she emigrated but passenger lists are very incomplete. If you find someone going out or coming into the country that’s great, but if you don’t it doesn’t mean they didn’t make the trips it might mean the records have gone.

Speaking of censuses, we will look at them in the next couple of articles in considerable detail.