If you need a copy of a birth, marriage or death certificate issued in the United Kingdom, you need to apply to the General Register Office for England and Wales, Scotland or Northern Ireland, as appropriate. Before civil registration began the main sources of information on these vital events are parish registers, usually held in local archives.
Many family historians will find all the entries that they ever need in one or other of these sets of records. So you might not think that The National Archives will have much to offer in this area. In fact, we have a surprisingly large number of records relating to births, marriages and deaths, in a variety of record series. They include many registers of baptisms, banns and burials, as well as births, marriages and deaths. There are thousands of files, and most of them fall into four main categories:
- Nonconformist and non-parochial registers, mainly from the 18thand early 19thcenturies, handed in to the Registrar General of England and Wales.
- Registers from British consulates, legations and embassies, found among the records of the Foreign Office.
- Records of births and deaths on merchant vessels at sea, reported to the Board of Trade.
- Records created or collected by the various armed services.
This last category is in many ways the most interesting, for a number of reasons. For sheer variety it is hard to beat with a date range of more than 300 years and entries from all over the world and, unlike most of the others, new items are still being added to the collection. The earliest record in the collection is a baptism register from Sheerness Dockyard, starting in 1688.