Civil Registration: births, marriages and deaths

A guide to searching for information about births, marriages and deaths in Derbyshire after September 1837, including the information provided on a certificate and how to order a copy certificate.


Civil registration is the official recording of births, marriages and deaths. In England and Wales, the system was established in September 1837 and is still in place today. The registration of births and deaths was not compulsory until 1874, although non-registration of deaths before this date is uncommon as burial could not take place without a death certificate.

Registrations districts (main source:

The country was divided into Registration Districts, each under the control of a Superintendent Registrar. The districts were based on the Poor Law Unions, with no correlation to existing boundaries.

District Name Dates Comments
Ashbourne 1837-  
Bakewell 1839- known as Matlock district until 1839
Belper 1837-1994 superseded by Amber Valley
Chapel-en-le-Frith 1838-1974 preceded and later superseded by High Peak
Chesterfield 1837-  
Derby 1837-  
Erewash 1997- created out of parts of the Derby and Ilkeston
Glossop 1898-1974 created out of Hayfield; superseded by High Peak
Hayfield 1838-1938 preceded and later superseded by Chapel-en-le-Frith
High Peak 1837-1838, 1974- re-created in 1974 from Chapel-en-le-Frith, Glossop and Hayfield
Ilkeston 1938-1997 created from Shardlow and Belper; superseded by Erewash
Repton 1937-1974 created from parts of Burton-on-Trent; superseded by Swadlincote
Shardlow 1837-1974 superseded by Derby (many parishes transferred out before 1974)
South Derbyshire 1997 created from parts of the Derby and Swadlincote
Swadlincote 1974-1997 created from Repton and superseded by South Derbyshire

Some parts of Derbyshire were covered by the following non-Derbyshire districts up to 1938: Ashby de la Zouch (to 1938), Basford (to 1936), Burton upon Trent (to 1936), Ecclesall Bierlow (to 1935), Mansfield (to 1936), Rotherham (to 1895), Tamworth (to 1895), Uttoexter (to 1935), and Worksop (to 1936).

Find out which district a particular place was in with this online guide. Lists of the places covered by each district are also available.

What information is on a certificate?
  • Birth: child’s name, sex, date and place of birth, father’s name and occupation (usually blank if the child is illegitimate), mother’s name (and maiden name from June 1911), informant’s signature, residence and description (i.e. relationship with child)
  • Marriage: date, place, denomination (if marriage in a church), names of bride and groom, condition (i.e. bachelor/spinster, widow, etc.), age (or note that the parties are ‘of full age’), occupation, residence at time of marriage, names and occupations of their fathers, signatures of bride, groom and witnesses.
  • Death: name, age, date, place, cause of death, occupation, informants: relationship, signature and residence. On children’s death certificates, the parents’ names are usually found in the occupation field.
Civil Registration Indexes

Indexes are available for the birth, marriage and death registers from 1837. The indexes are arranged by quarter, so there are four separate indexes for each calendar year:

  • Quarter 1: Jan – Mar
  • Quarter 2: Apr – Jun
  • Quarter 3: Jul – Sep
  • Quarter 4: Oct – Dec

From 1837, all the indexes provide at least the subject’s name, registration district, volume and page number. From 1865, the death indexes include age at death, with dates of birth included from March 1969. From 1911, marriage indexes include the spouse’s surname. From June 1911, birth indexes include the mother’s maiden name.

The indexes are available to search for free online at FreeBMD and General Register Office, as well as via subscription sites such as Ancestry and Find My Past until the early 21st century. Indexes can also be searched on microfilm at Derbyshire Record Office.

Ordering certificates

Derbyshire Record Office is unable to provide any copy birth or death certificates. We can provide copy marriage certificates if the ceremony took place in a Derbyshire church. Certificates can be obtained online from the General Register Office ( or by contacting the relevant local register office (contact details for the Derbyshire register offices can be found on the County Council website). To order a certificate you will need to quote the information obtained from the indexes (see above). There is a standard charge for all certificates set by the General Register Office.

What about before 1837?

Before September 1837, there was no official system for recording births, marriages and deaths. However, since the mid-16th century Anglican churches had been required to record baptisms, marriages and burials taking place in their parish, and where the registers survive, these are available to search at Derbyshire Record Office.

Useful tips: Births
  • Before 1874 the Registrar would to travel within his sub-district to ask about new births. After 1874 when birth registration became compulsory the person having charge of the child was responsible for informing the Registrar; and there was a fine for late registration (after 6 weeks).
  • It was common for widows and widowers with small children to remarry quickly. As the bride will be registered under her first husband’s name it can affect the process of searching for her birth. At you can search for a marriage using only the bride’s first name and groom’s surname. However, the number of results may be too large to identify the correct entry with certainty.
  • Records (especially census returns) may not always record ages accurately. Search at least two years before and after. Inaccuracies and deliberate untruths mean the search often needs to be wider.
  • Still births are not included at all until 1927, but from 1 July 1927 onwards are recorded separately in their own volumes. Adopted children are also recorded separately from 1 January 1927. 
  • Children whose name has not been decided at the time of registration are listed as Male/Female at the end of the list of the relevant surname. Many such children died shortly after birth, so check the same or next quarter for a matching death record. If one cannot be found, this birth entry may be the one you are seeking. Children with no surnames are listed after Z at the end of each quarter.
Useful tips: Marriages
  • If you can’t find an entry, start by confirming the birth of the oldest known child (try the census for this). If you can only establish the birth of one child, assume it is the youngest of many, and search back from that child’s birth until the mother would have been 12 (the then legal minimum age for marriage).
  • Don’t assume there is a marriage just because a birth certificate implies one – unmarried couples were more common in large towns, though examples exist in rural communities too. Divorce was not an option for most, and long-term, stable unions could not be made legal because of earlier marriages.
Useful tips: Deaths
  • Burials could only take place after the death was registered; therefore it is unusual not to be able to find a death entry. If it can’t be found in the indexes, the problem is likely to be an error in the transcription. It may be necessary to pay for a search of the original registers at the local registry office covering the area where you think your ancestor died; or search for a burial first. You can also browse the original indexes on Ancestry.
  • Ages on a death certificate may be inaccurate, informants may remember the birth day and month but not known the exact year, so don’t necessarily rule out an entry where the year of birth is incorrect.
  • Name Changes: Surnames might be changed for a number of different reasons e.g. to inherit a legacy, to identify with a much-loved stepfather, to evade the police, desertion (army or spouse/family). Christian names could also change, with some never using their birth names in adult life or taking on names later for personal reasons. Changes are not always deliberate: order of names can change, spelling is not fully standardised, and with low literacy rates, spelling was determined according to how a name sounded to the person writing it down.
  • Missing Information: A woman’s previous married name may not be recorded; forenames are not always given in full; the lack of a father’s name on a marriage certificate implies illegitimacy but check the birth certificate; a marriage certificate will record the father’s name and occupation, but may not always indicate if the father is deceased (as it was not compulsory to record this information); where only one address is recorded on a marriage certificate, it does not necessarily mean that they were previously living together (it may be an administrative convenience, the bride’s address is the mostly likely to be recorded).
  • Human Error: Mis-spellings may occur at the time the original register and indexes were being written (e.g. due to illiteracy on the part of the parents, the registrar mishearing or misunderstanding the information, or simply more than one way to spell the name as standardisation of spelling had not yet occurred). Rare names are often mis-spelt as common names or something similar sounding. Errors may also occur on the online indexes that don’t appear in the original index (when the modern transcriber is entering the information into the online database).
  • Date of registration: events are filed in the index by the date they were registered, not the date that they occurred (e.g. a birth of 25 Dec 1867 was probably registered in Jan-Mar quarter 1868)
  • Events outside England and Wales: certain classes of people are not found in the indexes, including army, war deaths, at sea, abroad. Separate registers were kept for such events. See The National Archives online guides for more information.

Further Reading

  • Langston, Brett (2001) A Handbook to the Civil Registration districts of England and Wales
  • Dixon, Barbara (1999) Birth and Death Certificates: England and Wales 1837-1969
  • McLaughlin, Eve (2001) Civil Registration of Births, Marriages and Deaths


6 thoughts on “Civil Registration: births, marriages and deaths

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  5. Brilliant guide Becky – though I would add the info that the GRO birth and death indexes recently made available online now give mother’s maiden name for ALL births from 1837 (with the caveat that out-of-wedlock births registered by mother may have only a hyphen instead of her surname) PLUS age at death is also now given in ALL death regs from 1837 onwards. When you spoke of trouble finding maiden names for widows remarrying, birth regs of any children born to her and that next husband will have her maiden name included – these additions to the GRO indexes are a MASSIVE boon to research. All we need now is for post-1837 Register Office marriages to be available online somewhere, the actual marriages in full that is, same as many church marriages, not just indexes!

    • Thanks Celia, I wasn’t aware of these additions – this is really very helpful, and if they have added this extra info perhaps there will be more info in the future. Watch this space I suppose …

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