Author Archives: Lois Mackin

How the “New” General Register Office Birth and Death Indexes Can Help Your Research

At our May meeting Lois Abromitis Mackin, Ph.D., presented a short program on the General Register Office (GRO)’s new online birth and death indexes introduced in winter 2017. These are newly created indexes, different from previously available indexes. Thus, they provide a fresh view of the information from the version of the GRO indexes previously extracted and published online by the FreeBMD project.

The GRO’s new birth index is searchable by

  • Surname (required field)
  • 1st and 2nd forenames (AKA first and middle names)
  • Gender (required field)
  • Mother’s maiden surname
  • Registration year (required field, with ranges of +/- 2 years) and quarter
  • District of birth
  • GRO reference details (volume/page, referring to the original indexes).

The new death index is searchable by

  • Surname (required field)
  • 1st and 2nd forenames (AKA first and middle names)
  • Gender (required field)
  • Age at death
  • Registration year (required field, with ranges of +/- 2 years) and quarter
  • District of birth
  • GRO reference details (volume/page, referring to the original indexes).

As with previous indexes, the new birth and death indexes enable users to locate certificates they want to order. Handily, index search results are linked to certificate ordering–just click the Order button in the search result you want, and a fully populated order screen pops up.

The ability to see the mother’s maiden surname in birth index search results is the most exciting feature of the new indexes and opens up new possibilities for identifying unknown maiden names of mothers and for differentiating between children of the same name born in the same year and registration district.


Despite these two features, you won’t want to abandon the indexes you’ve used in the past. The FreeBMD indexes you’re likely familiar with appear on several websites–, Ancestry, and Findmypast, among others. I am not sure whether Findmypast also uses the FreeBMD transcription of the indexes. has the most flexible search features–you can search all entries or only births, marriages, or deaths; set your own ranges of years; search by district; search by county; and save your searches for future reference and analysis. Be aware that FreeBMD’s indexing is not complete for all counties; look for the coverage link on the site’s search page.

At Ancestry and Findmypast you will need to search births, marriages, and deaths separately, as they reside in separate databases. (Combined searches are available, but searching at the level of the individual database provides access to fields peculiar to that database that are not available at a more general level of search.) Ancestry allows a maximum date search range of +/- 10 years; Findmypast allows a maximum of +/- 40 years. Both Ancestry and Findmypast link to the original images of the GRO indexes.

Opportunities to Learn about English and Welsh Research–Webinars, Online Classes, and the FamilySearch Wiki

Julia Mosman presented a program February 25 on opportunities to learn about English and Welsh research through webinars, online classes, and the FamilySearch wiki. Julia provided an overview of Legacy Family Tree Webinars, FamilySearch online classes, Ancestry Academy, and the FamilySearch wiki.

Brought to you by the developers of Legacy Family Tree genealogy software, Legacy Family Tree Webinars offers a large collection of webinars by well-known genealogists. Genealogists can sign up free to watch live webinar broadcasts–usually two each week. The webinars are recorded, and Legacy makes the recordings available free for about a week after the broadcast. After the free period, the recordings are available to subscribers. At press time, annual subscriptions are available for $49.95, and monthly subscriptions are available for $9.95 per month. English and Welsh webinars in Legacy Family Tree Webinars Library include:

  • Kirsty Gray, England and Wales–Rummaging in the Parish Chests (2016).
  • Jen Baldwin, Getting to Know Findmypast–Your Source for British and Irish Genealogy (2016)
  • Kirsty Gray, Researching Your Ancestors in England and Wales (2015)
  • Claire V. Brisson-Banks, The Quest for your English Ancestors (2012).

Upcoming English webinars are

The second group of classes Julia highlighted are the videos and other resources in the FamilySearch Learning Center–more than 20 for England and Wales, including the England Beginning Research Series, Church of England Church Records, England Estate Duty I, II, III, England Nonconformist Church Records, England Online Websites, and more.

The third resource is AncestryAcademy, from English videos available there include Exploring Your English Roots on Ancestry and Marriage Mills and Gretna Green.

Another resource is the FamilySearch wiki. The wiki contains more than 85,000 articles on genealogy records, countries, and research strategies. The “England Genealogy” article provides general country information about England, resources for getting started, research tools, links to English records online at FamilySearch, a clickable map linking to articles on English and Welsh counties, and links to wiki articles on record types, background resources (gazetteers, history), ethnic resources (Jewish records), and local resources (archives and libraries, societies, and Family History Centers).

Thank you, Julia, for a great program!

Touring TNA’s Website

At our January 2017 meeting, Lois Abromitis Mackin, Ph.D., gave a tour of the website of The National Archives, the official archive and publisher for the U.K. government–

The tour highlighted the website’s extensive educational resources and online records of interest to family history researchers.

The educational resources available on the website include

Like many archives, TNA is digitizing record collections. Some online collections are available on TNA’s own website, and others are available on the websites of TNA partners, including Ancestry and findmypast. The Online Collections page provides a portal for locating and searching these records. Collections available include many military records; wills; passenger lists; nonconformist and non-parish births, marriages, and deaths; railway records, merchant seamen registers, and more. TNA has also digitized many of their microfilm records covering military and naval records, Foreign Office correspondence, and Home Office correspondence. See their guide to digital microfilm at

Time spent exploring TNA’s website offers enormous payoff–improving your knowledge of British records, enhancing your research skills, and finding online and archival records to move your research forward.

2017 Meeting Schedule

Our 2017 meeting dates and topics have been posted on our Meetings and Topics page. Join us at Maplewood Library on January 28 for a tour of The National Archives website. There’s lots of great information here, but the site can be daunting for new users.

Are you on Facebook? Like our Facebook page for news about our meetings and speakers, as well as links of interest to English researchers.

If you have questions, please email us at

Guild and Apprenticeship Records

A very big Thank You to Nicola Elsom, who presented our webinar on guild and apprenticeship records on April 23! Nicola is a London-based professional genealogist who holds a Post-Graduate Certificate in Genealogical, Palaeographic and Heraldic Studies from the University of Strathclyde and an Intermediate Certificate in Family History Skills and Strategies from Pharos Teaching and Tutoring in association with the Society of Genealogists. A graduate of Oxford University, Nicola is currently participating in the ProGen Study Group program. She is a member of the Society of Genealogists and the Guild of One-Name Studies and volunteers as the Guild’s regional representative for North London and Hertfordshire.

Just for our group, Nicola compiled a list of resources for researching English guild and apprenticeship records and placed it on her website. You can access these resources here.

Thank you, Nicola!

Basic Resources for English Research

This is the English research handout from the Beginning Genealogy class conducted in conjunction with the Canadian Interest Group and the Irish Genealogical Society International. The handout was prepared by Lois Abromitis Mackin, Ph.D., and is used here with permission.

Steps to find your English ancestor

  1. Identify the locality. Start from the known—in the U.S. look for identification of the locality of origin in vital records, cemetery markers, obituaries, county histories, immigration or naturalization records, census records, and military records.
  2. Locate the individual or family. Post-1837, start your English search either in census or civil registration records. Use GRO indexes and census records to find likely families.
  3. Identify and find relevant records. Order birth, marriage, or death certificates from the GRO. Compile a complete census history. Locate parish register entries.

Basic English records

Beginning researchers should familiarize themselves with census, Civil Registration, and parish records.

Census records

English censuses were taken in years ending with “1.” Records are available from 1841 to 1911. Unlike the American census, where enumerators went door to door during a sometimes-lengthy period of time, English census records list the names of people abiding in a place on “census night.” As in the U.S., older censuses contain less information—even the 1841 English census lists all names!

Census records are available on microfilm and online.

  • Microfilm. The National Archives has filmed (microfilm and microfiche) all English censuses. You can find microfilmed indexes and manuscripts for 1841-1911 in the Family History Library.
  • Online. Look for British census indexes and images in three large collections:
    • FamilySearch has indexes and images of all English censuses from 1841-1911. Images of the 1901 and 1911 censuses are hosted at findmypast.
    • Ancestry’s World subscription has indexes and images for the 1841-1911 censuses.
    • Findmypast has indexes and images for the 1841-1911 censuses. Index searches are free, but you must pay to view transcripts and images.

A fourth collection,, consists of transcriptions of census entries made by volunteers. Not all counties are complete for all censuses on FreeCEN.

Civil Registration records

Beginning in July 1837, English law required all births and deaths to be reported to local registrars, who sent them on to district registrars. The district registrars sent copies every quarter to the national General Register Office (GRO). (Compliance with the law was not complete until about 1870.)

  • Birth records. Birth registrations give names of father and mother, father’s occupation and address, and place of birth.
  • Marriage records. Marriage registrations give names and occupations of the groom and bride, names and occupations of the fathers of the bride and groom, residences of the bride and groom, and place of marriage, along with the names of the officiant and witnesses.
  • Death records. Death registrations give name, age, address and name of informant. Unlike American death certificates, English death registrations do not give names of parents or place of birth.

Civil registration indexes are available online and on microfilm. The online indexes, available at FamilySearch, findmypast, Ancestry, and FreeBMD ( are much easier to use! Once you find the index entry for an individual, you can order certificates from the General Register Office (GRO) at (Alternatively, you can request certificates from the appropriate County Record Office (CRO), which holds the district registrar copies.)

Church records

Parish registers are the most important readily available source for research before 1837. Beginning in 1538, when King Henry VIII broke from the Catholic Church, the law required parish priests to keep registers of baptisms, marriages, and burials. Indexes and images of many parish registers are available at FamilySearch, findmypast, and Ancestry.

Baptismal records ordinarily include the child’s given name, name of father and date of baptism. Some clergy recorded the mother’s given name, but rarely her maiden name. Baptism usually occurred soon after birth, but not always. After 1812, a standard form asked for both parents’ names, place of abode, father’s occupation and minister’s name.

Marriage records include the names of bride and groom, whether bride and groom were “of the parish,” whether the marriage was by banns or license, and the date of the marriage.

Burial records usually give name and date of burial, but may identify spouse or cause of death. From 1812, the standard church register form asked for name, abode, date of burial, and age.

“Nonconformists,” “dissenters,” and “recusants”—Puritans, Independents, Baptists, Presbyterians, Methodists, Quakers, Catholics, and others—maintained their own records. Ancestry, FamilySearch, and findmypast have indexes and images.

To learn more


  • (online classes, research guides, wiki).
  • (large site organized by counties with information about archives and libraries, records, geography, history, maps, and more. It’s the British counterpart of USGenWeb.).
  • A Vision of Britain Through Time, (historical surveys, maps, statistical trend information, and historical descriptions).
  • England Jurisdictions 1851, (maps of the English counties as of 1851, parishes, villages, hamlets, surrounding parishes, non-Church of England denominations, courts, districts, and topographical underlays. Integrated with the Family History Library catalog, record collections, and the FamilySearch wiki.).
  • The National Archives (TNA), (catalog, research guides, documents online).

Useful reference books

  • Herber, Mark D. Ancestral Trails: the Complete Guide to British Genealogy and Family History. Baltimore: Genealogical Publishing Company, 1998.
  • Irvine, Sherry. Your English Ancestry: a Guide for North Americans. Salt Lake City: Ancestry, 1993.

Submitting a Genealogical Problem

Our March 2016 meeting will focus on problem-solving. Here are some guidelines for boiling down the information you have about your research problem before you bring it to the group. They are based on a problem proposal developed by Thomas K. Rice, CG, and J. H. Fonkert, CG, in 2008 for the MGS Research Study Group and were adapted by Lois Abromitis Mackin, Ph.D., in 2015 with the permission of the original authors.

Formulate your question

Most genealogical problems center around establishing the identity of a person, identifying the relationship between several people, or learning more about a person’s life. You might want to

  • Find a person’s parents, siblings, spouse or children
  • Find where a person came from or moved to
  • Find out if someone served in the military or practiced a particular religion or occupation
  • Find when someone was born, when they died, or when they became a citizen.

Clearly identify what you are looking for as specifically as possible. Break big general problems down into smaller ones. Bring a smaller, specific problem to the group.

Define the focus person

Because genealogical problems/questions almost always center around a clearly identified person, please provide as much information about that person as you can. Your description of the focus person should include the following facts if you know them:

  • Name variations–both given and surname
  • Date and place of birth
  • Parents’ names
  • Siblings–names, dates of birth, places of birth
  • Spouse’s name, date of birth, place of birth, parents
  • Marriage date and place
  • Occupation, economic status
  • Places of residence
  • Religion, churches attended
  • Military service, pension, bounty land, discharge and draft dates and places
  • Land ownership
  • Death date and place, informant on death record, cause of death, newspapers reports or obituaries
  • Burial place
  • Probate and will specifics
  • Emigration, immigration, naturalization, citizenship information–embarkation, ship record, first and second papers, alien registration, etc.
  • Criminal and/or civil court records
  • Mention in local or church histories.

You may not have all the information listed. Provide what you have. This list is designed to jog your memory for what you know. It is clues in this information that may lead to the answer you seek.

Explain how you know, and where you looked

For each piece of information you provide, please indicate where you found it, using a simple notation such as death record, federal census, tombstone, family history, marriage license, etc. If a piece of information is supported by several sources, list all of them. If your sources disagree, give all the versions of the information, along with the source of each.

Let the group know what sources you searched even if the search resulted in no findings. This will help us avoid suggesting something you have already tried.

Submit your problem

Please write up your problem, including what you know, where you found it, and where else you looked, and bring copies to the meeting. It may be helpful to provide a pedigree chart and family group sheet.