Civil Registration and the GRO Indexes
From 1 July 1837 all births, marriages and deaths were registered locally and the registers have been retained by the local register office ever since.
Every quarter each register office submitted copies of all births, marriages and deaths registered during the preceding three months to the Registrar General at the General Register Office (GRO) in London. These copies were bound into volumes and name indexes made of the name of each person born, married or deceased identifying the volume number and page within that volume on which the name appears. These indexes are variously known as GRO indexes or St. Catherine's House indexes (from the building where they were housed for many years).
The original GRO index books have always been open to free public inspection and in more recent years copies have been made widely available on microfilm and microfiche. More recently still, they have been published on commercial websites such as www.findmypast.co.uk and www.ancestry.co.uk
The copy registers are today held by the Office of National Statistics (ONS) and copies of any entry may be purchased from them (in the form of a birth, marriage or death certificate) by quoting the details from the index and paying the appropriate fee.
What is the problem with this?
The GRO indexes were compiled from copies of the original register entries. Errors and omissions could and did occur both in the copying of the register entries and in the compilation of the indexes. To compound these problems, the original manuscript index books were copied into typed indexes and further errors and omissions introduced. As if this was not enough, when the index books were filmed, pages were occasionally missed and some of the images are not always completely legible. In consequence, it may prove difficult, if not impossible, to find reference to some events.
Where does LancashireBMD fit in?
LancashireBMD is a free on-line index to births, marriages and deaths registered in the county of Lancashire (as defined before the local government reorganisation of 1974). It is compiled by volunteers from the original registration books which are still held by the local register offices. By working from the original registers, it is possible to produce indexes which are considerably more complete and accurate than the GRO indexes. Copies of any register entry may be purchased from the local register office by quoting the details provided by LancashireBMD and paying the appropriate fee.
Does LancashireBMD offer any other benefits?
In the case of marriages, search results always show the full name of the spouse and often alternative names, for example if the bride was a widow, the index will often show both the maiden and former married surnames. The place of marriage will also be given. In some cases, birth entries will show the mother's maiden name and death entries will show the age before these appeared in the GRO indexes (1912 and 1866 respectively).
How does LancashireBMD differ from FreeBMD?
FreeBMD (http://freebmd.rootsweb.com) is also a volunteer project but one which is working to compile a computerised index from the GRO indexes. FreeBMD provides coverage of the whole of England and Wales whereas LancashireBMD, as the name suggests, is limited to the county. Whilst FreeBMD volunteers work to high standards, the resulting index will be subject to all the problems of errors and omissions of the original index. FreeBMD is, however, much easier to search than the original printed quarterly indexes and does allow identification of possible marriage partners who appear on the same copy register page.