Searching the BMD Indexes

Searching for your ancestor’s records in the birth, marriage and death indexes is, in the most part, straightforward.  However, occasionally the entry can prove elusive.  The elusive entry could be down to something as simple as a misspelled surname.  Other explanations could be, when searching further back, errors on census records, whether they are deliberate or accidental.  After 4.5 years of searching for my ancestors within the indexes, I’ve learned a few things that make searching so much easier.

  1. Remain open minded regarding forenames and their variations.
    These days we leave a paper trail behind us no matter what we do.  When Civil Registration first began, it wasn’t taken quite as seriously.  When we register our children’s births, we understand that will be their name forever… it wasn’t though of so final in the 19th Century.  I’ve had ancestors recorded on census’ as Elizabeth, Ellen, Margaret, Thomas but their registered names were “nicknames”,  Bessie, Nellie, Maggie and Tom.
  2. Check for alternative spellings of surnames.
    I have found Boulter’s registered as Bolter’s and Bolder’s.  These weren’t transcription errors, the births really were recorded under variations of the surname (although Bolder was a new one on me).  Often, the parents of the child/spouse of the deceased/bride and groom were illiterate (although not always) and the registrar spelled the name as they said it.  This could explain the transformation of Boulter into Bolter and Bolder.
  3. Don’t take a given age as gospel. 
    Reiterating point 1, paper trails were not common; there were no National Insurance Numbers or driving licenses, credit cards or telephones.  Ages could be fabricated.  I have one particular relative whose birth certificate had him born in April 1886 and his death certificate registered in February 1954 stated he was 63 years old when he died.  He was actually 67 (almost 68).  I generally say start with one year either side of the suspected year of birth.
  4. Be prepared to find no records.
    Despite Civil Registration starting on 1st July 1837, it wasn’t rigorously enforced until 1875.  Even after 1875 a few births, marriages and deaths may have got through the net, so if at first you don’t succeed, prepare for the worst and try again.  However, that being said, I’ve discovered well over 1000 relatives and have found 99% of their records.

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