Family History Federation

How To… GRO Search

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You may have read How To… FreeBMD and How To… Uncles And Aunties.

This information builds on that knowledge.

General Record Office Births, Marriages and Deaths Index

The index is the official version of BMD records since 1837.

There are no indexes to marriages on this site. Although you can use the site to order marriage certificates you will need the details found on the FreeBMD website.

General Record Office (GRO) is the best site to purchase certificates either as paper copies, or cheaper as a pdf or jpg file. Here you will find all the details of How to Order and pay for Civil Registration Documents.

The GRO offers historical birth and death records for England and Wales in Portable Document Format (PDF) format and these are £7 each. Since the Autumn of 2023, the GRO has also introduced digital images costing £2.50. This new service, largely replaces the need to order a PDF image as they are available to download as soon as your payment has been completed. These options are available for birth registration records over 100 years old and deaths from 1837 to 1957.

Official birth certificates with a seal cost £11 each. You need one for official purposes such as to apply for a passport or a driving licence, for example. If you want a birth certificate for a person born in the 1930’s, it is unlikely they will need to apply first time for a passport or driving licence, so save money and get a pdf online. You will receive the handwritten text strip across the centre. You don’t need the official seal or certification for family history, just the dates, places, and names of the parents. Save £4 and access the details faster too.

Sign up to the GRO

When you have a few spare moments and your credit or debit card handy, it is a good plan to sign up to the GRO site.

Do it while you have ten minutes to spare and before you desperately need to find an ancestor’s maiden name in a 1910 marriage.

Go to the Register/Login page at GRO.

You will need your email address, full name/address, card details.

Once you are logged in and have set up a password, save these carefully for when you do need to use the site.
Next time you can just LOG IN. The site will remember you.

Do read the help in the sidebar sometime.

Search the GRO Indexes

Most people want to search the indexes or order a certificate.

Let’s select Birth

I selected Birth as I was looking for the maiden name of a Mrs Blackaby who had a baby called Thomas in 1862 in the St. Giles area of London.

I found the birth record details on FreeBMD, but there are no maiden names there before 1911.

I tapped on Year and selected from the box that appeared.

Then select the +/- years option.
It's a bit more complex to search here. I can only search 5 years - 2 years either side of my target year at a time. Select 2 That lets me search from 1860 to 1865.

Enter Surname and Forename

Then I often forget to select a gender here………
It has an asterisk for Mandatory, but I often have to go back and tick it.

Don’t try to fill every box! Press the Search button.

Now the Detective Work. I have followed a Thomas Blackaby back through his life via the census entries to 1871, when he was a young lad with a mother named Sarah Blackaby.

Now that I have a maiden name for her, I can go back to FreeBMD and search for a Marriage, before 1862. Hopefully finding Mr Blackaby marrying a lady named Sarah something. Fuller perhaps?

Having used FreeBMD, GRO and Census images on yet another site, have I found Tom’s correct parents?

You could find the answer – go back to FreeBMD and search for a Marriage, before 1862. Hopefully finding Mr Blackaby marrying a lady named Sarah something?

Fuller if this is the mother for my Thomas.

Having found Thomas…Is this birth the right one?

I could press the button and order his birth or parent’s marriage certificate by post,
a pdf or a digital image (jpg)

How to order a Certificate, a PDF or a digital image

Select whether you wish to order a birth certificate, a PDF or a digital image. In this case, we do not need a full certificate, just the historical data, so we will tick the Digital Image button.
Once you have done this, the following screen will appear.

Correct mother or not, we’ll order this entry for young Thomas Blackaby.

Before ordering, decide if you NEED a certificate, with the seal and the authorisation?
Or would a cheaper PDF or digital image be available or suit you? As stated before, the new digital images are available as soon a payment has been made.
PDFs take about 4 working days to be made available. You will receive an email with a link advising you that your PDF is available. Please note that PDFs are only retained on the site for 3 months, so do ensure that you access the image and save a copy to your files before it expires.


There have been instances of sites offering to sell you a certificate for £35.
They then buy a certificate for £11, wait for it to arrive, then post it to you.
You paid PRIORITY price and got everyday service. Do not fall for that.

Use the GRO or a trusted source for your certificates.

Discover Your Family History has this 26 page pdf document.

One chapter explains exactly what you will find on each certificate.

Now would be a good time to join the Devon Family History Society, if you are not already a member. You will get lots of help and advice.

All the members started just as you have. There are lots of Zoom meetings and In Person meetings again now too. Interesting and helpful. Look at the membership details on this website.

It would also be a good time to look at the website of the Family History Federation.

They have a free and very extensive family history guide called Everyone has roots which can be found via this link.

Similar guides in this series include How To… FreeBMD and How To… Uncles And Aunties.

The Devon Family History Society would like to thank our member Peter Blackaby for producing this guide.

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