Civil Registration of births, marriages and deaths (known as "Vital Records" in some countries) started on 1 July 1837 for England and Wales under the control of the General Register Office and its head, The Registrar General - For further information see Civil Registration in England and Wales.
You can find records of a birth, death, marriage or civil partnership at a district record office (if it was registered at that register office).
If ordering from a District Office, please note the following:
- the cost of a certificate is currently £10.00 (July 2016) - send a Sterling cheque payable to the Superintendent Registrar plus return postage or two International Reply Coupons.
- the reference numbers from the St Catherine's Index are of no value, but the year and quarter may reduce the amount of searching that the office has to perform.
- for marriage certificates, the precise place of marriage must be given.
The current administrative county of Essex provides details of areas covered by each Register Office and contact details. (The Register Offices are at Basildon, Billericay, Braintree, Brentwood, Chelmsford, Clacton, Colchester, Dunmow, Epping, Halstead, Harlow, Harwich, Maldon, South Benfleet, Rayleigh, Rochford, Uttlesford, and Witham.)
The Government's Find a register office service enables one to locate the nearest Register Office based on postcode.
The changes to administrative areas that have occurred over time have not always made it easy to determine who holds the historic records for a particular place when some places in a registration district move to one district and others to a separate one. This is a result of how the records are held. For example all the births in a district are recorded togther in the same register. If a district splits into two the register cannot be broken up and so it will be held by one of the new districts and the other one will know to refer requests for historic records to the other district. Deaths are treated in a similar way.
Marriages can be easier to split up as each church with an authorised person to conduct the marriage (for civil registration as opposed to religious purposes) held its own register. Originally these were mainly Anglican churches, the marriages in other churches and in the register office itself being held in a single register. Over time the ministers in other churches have been deemed authorised persons and so separate registers start to have been held for them.
The current register offices record all current events taking place in their districts, and if they do not have the historic records for places now in their district, they do know which of their neighbours hold them and work with them to make them available.