Start with yourself, add your family, your parents, grandparents, uncles, aunts, cousins, etc., in fact any relatives you can remember. Question older relatives who can be invaluable in providing knowledge of ancestors you may not know of or have forgotten. Put all this information into chronological order and you will be surprised what a good start you have made. Research back from this information and, if within the last one hundred years or so, you will need to refer to the General Register Office (GRO) Indexes, formerly known as the St Catherine’s House index after the house where the Indexes were kept.
Since 1st July 1837, records of births, marriages and deaths throughout England and Wales have been kept by the Registrar General although registration in the early years is not complete. Indexes are published for each quarter ending March, June, September and December for all the births, marriages and deaths that have taken place in England and Wales during that quarter. Each of the indexes is in alphabetical order for the quarter and collectively form the GRO Births, Marriages and Deaths (BMD) indexes. These indexes are available at various centres. The full GRO index, up to 1999, is held on fiche at our Cornwall Family History Society (CFHS) Library and, up to 1939 on film, at the Cornwall Studies Library (CSL), Alma Place, Redruth.
If you cannot reach Truro, try FREEBMD.org – their information is not yet complete but improves almost daily.
By searching the index, you should be able to find the relative you are looking for in a particular quarter, together with the Registration District (RD) in which the event took place. Even if you are not entirely sure when a birth, marriage or death took place, it doesn’t take long to look through several years. Most people were in their mid-20s when they married, few marrying before 18-20, so if you have a marriage but no ages, it is worth assuming that the birth of the bride/groom took place at least 18 years earlier and search forward from there. You may be lucky and find the birth quickly but, if it was a late marriage, you may need to check several years. If you have a birth and are looking for the marriage of the parents, it is as well to search back from the date of the birth since many marriages took place only a short time before the birth of the first child. With family history, it is largely a question of keeping on searching but you will gain a great sense of achievement when you finally find that relative you have spent so much time looking for.
As the GRO Index will only give you the year, quarter and RD, you may need to acquire further details by obtaining a certificate. There are three main methods:-
1. From the local superintendent registrar of the RD concerned. RD areas and addresses can be found on the GENUKI web site. The local Registrars do not use the GRO Index references so they will need to know the approximate date and, if possible, the parish in which the event was registered.
2. There is an online service for certificates. Now open to all and costs only £9.25 including postage.