|GRO clerk 1899|
This follows several years of steadily increasing demand for certificates, during which staff were recruited first for evening and then overnight shifts on certificate production. Prices have increased before without a great drop in applications, although admittedly it is some time since the last one, and the increase is bigger. But on its own, this latest price increase may not be the only reason for the drop in applications.
I don't know if the reply that Peter received from the GRO included a breakdown of certificate applications by type, but I strongly suspect that it is the applications for marriage certificates that have dropped the most. Unlike births and deaths, which are only available in the form of certified copies, there has always been an alternative source for marriages, the marriage registers of the Church of England which are mostly deposited in county record offices. The great majority of marriages in England and Wales took place in the Church of England until well into the 20th century, so these registers have always been a very useful source, provided you knew which register to look at.
But now many of the post-1837 marriage registers in record offices have been digitised and published online, and, crucially, they are indexed. When the registers from the London Metropolitan Archives were released on Ancestry.co.uk I wondered what the effect would be on applications to the GRO for marriage certificates. And that was just the beginning; they have now released registers for Liverpool, West Yorkshire, Dorset and Warwickshire. Findmypast.co.uk now has digitised and indexed images of post-1837 marriages from Cheshire and Devon. These are not the only online sources of images and transcripts, but they are the most accessible.
So it may or may not be coincidental that within the last few months a number of record offices have received letters from the GRO, enquiring about their arrangements for access to church registers:
"We are not clear as to the variety and detail of access arrangements in place across the country for those who seek access to register information via record offices. As a result we intend to carry out a short fact-finding exercise over the next two weeks whereby we aim to speak to record / archive offices to seek information on the access arrangements they offer for these records.Some offices were contacted by telephone, and asked a number of questions regarding the number of (post-1837) marriage registers held, access and copying arrangements, and whether any copies or transcripts were published anywhere. I have no inside knowledge regarding the current actions of the GRO (although I know an awful lot about what went on there in the 19th and early 20th centuries!), but as an outsider it looks to me like one way of trying to find out where some of their expected certificate applications have gone. Just a thought.
Once we have more information we will review the position and decide what further action, if any, may be appropriate."