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Tracing your family tree

Civil registration records

The General Register Office (GRO) indexes are the national indexes to births, marriages and deaths in England and Wales.

The system came into effect on 1 July 1837. There were no penalties for failing to register until 1874 however and significant numbers, particularly births, were not registered prior to this date.

Local registrars kept records for their local areas (registration districts), copies of which were sent to the Registrar General for inclusion on a national register.

Entries on the index are arranged by quarter (for example, January, February and March make up the March, or first, quarter) and then by surname. There is an online searchable index if you wish to search the indexes at home. This is not complete, but has good coverage up to about 1950.

Alternatively, you can take out a subscription to a website such as Find My PastAncestry or The Genealogist. You can access these sites free of charge at the NRO, NHC and King’s Lynn Borough Archives.

The indexes supply limited information but provide the details necessary to order a birth, marriage or death certificate, including the quarter and year, the volume and page number and the district in which the event was registered. Each registration district covers many parishes.

Birth certificates usually show:

  • Date and place of birth
  • Name and sex
  • Names of parents (including mother’s maiden name)
  • Father’s occupation
  • Name, description and address of informant
  • Date of registration

Marriage certificates usually show:

  • Date and place of marriage
  • Forenames and surnames of bride and groom
  • Ages of bride and groom (‘full age’ means 21 or over)
  • Abode of bride and groom
  • Father’s name and occupation for both bride and groom
  • Names of witnesses

Death certificates usually show:

  • Date and place of death
  • Full name
  • Age at death
  • Occupation
  • Cause of death
  • Name, description and address of informant
  • Date of registration

You can apply for copies of Norfolk birth, marriage* and death certificates up to 31 March 2011 from the NRO. 

You can also apply to the GRO for certificates.

*Marriage register dates vary, please contact us for specific details