Searching for certificates
Here's a list of things to think about, when looking for the certificates that interest you.
Consider order of indexes. The various certificate indexes are arranged in alphabetical order of surname, with first names (as recorded on the certificate) listed alongside.
Consult the right index. There are separate indexes for births, marriages and deaths, with each volume containing lists of all people registered in one quarter of the year. Remember to consult the volume within the relevant quarter.
Establish your relative's place of birth. Only the registration district is recorded on the certificates (along with the certificate reference), so you will need to know at least roughly where your ancestor was born before you can look for relevant documents.
Try to work backwards. You will find that it is always easier to work backwards from more recent members of your family rather than forwards from some far-distant relative. If you are unsure about the real age of relatives, you can usually obtain a rough date of birth from other sources, such as 19th-century census returns.
Widen your net. Census returns are not always accurate. You will probably find that a hunt for data may involve searching the indexes covering several years either side of the presumed date.
Take care with common names. Common surnames present extra difficulties. You may find several possible candidates listed in the indexes, and great care must be taken to ensure you have identified the correct individual. You may need to order several certificates before you can be confident you have found the right person.
Expect some failures. A known individual can sometimes not be found in the indexes, particularly if they lived before 1875, when penalties for non-registration were introduced. Also, registration sometimes took place overseas, or was done by the military - you can search other records (such as separate military registration indexes, which you will find at the Family Records Centre, London) for clues about this.
Allow for more than one name. People can be known by names other than the one under which they were registered, so that the real name of, say, Aunt Julie, might be recorded as Mabel on the certificate and in the index.
Take one step at a time. Remember that the certificates will only give details of one individual per generation - so you'll find, for example, no details of siblings.