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This briefing paper is no longer being updated. Information about obtaining civil registration records is available at:

England and Wales

Current position

Anyone is entitled to search the indexes which the Registrar General and superintendent registrars are obliged to produce of all the records they hold. There is no charge for searching the indexes.  It is possible to search for older records online.

However, at present, the only way to access the information included in the records is by buying paper certificates.   Some people, including, for example, family historians, consider this to be an inefficient and expensive method of providing access to civil registration information.

For a number of years there have been calls for improved access to civil registration records. Proposals for reform of the civil registration system were considered by the Labour Government but were not implemented. 

New provisions                                 

The Births, Deaths, Marriages and Civil Partnerships Records Regulations 2016 were made under new powers inserted into the main legislation governing civil registration by the Deregulation Act 2015. The Regulations will enable the General Register Office (GRO) to provide information from civil registration records in a portable document format (PDF), as an alternative to certified paper copies, which could still be purchased.

The GRO has conducted a three phase PDF pilot scheme, which has now concluded. A review of the pilot is to be undertaken which will inform longer-term implementation.

The Digital Economy Act 2017 will allow for electronic verification between public authorities and the General Register Office, removing reliance on paper certificates.


The statutory indexes from 1855 to the present day have been computerised since 1989 and now include links to digital images of the register entries.

Records are available as index-linked digital images. It is also possible to order an official extract (or certificate) from the registers. 

On the ScotlandsPeople website it is possible to search the indexes without charge, but payment is required to view and save images of records and to order certificates. 

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