Monday 12 March 2018

Comparing BMD indexes for England and Wales: FreeBMD

FreeBMD should normally be the first port of call for anyone who wants to search the General Register Office (GRO) birth, marriage and death indexes. The exception would be when you want to use the more recent indexes; FreeBMD coverage is only up to 1983, the last when the paper indexes were the master copies. Also, since it is an ongoing volunteer project, it is not yet complete - although it is very close. The site has coverage charts that you can check before performing searches in the more recent indexes. 

There a single search screen so you can see all your options at once. You can search births, marriages or deaths, any two of them, or all three at once. The search fields are; last name, forename(s), surname of spouse/mother’s maiden name, spouse’s first name, age at death/date of birth, year and quarter, volumes and page. You can also filter a search to a specific district or county, and a date range. this is ‘from-to’ range, by year and quarter, rather than a ‘+/-‘ by year, so you can define a very precise range, even single quarter.  

The search engine will return results for the surname exactly as entered, and first names beginning with the letters as entered; so ‘Ann’ will return results for Anne, Anna, Annabel etc, including any with middle names. This is the default search, but there are options to select exact search on first names, and phonetic search on surnames. A search for +Ann will produce results where names starting with Ann appear anywhere in the first name field e.g. Gertrude Annie as well as Annie Gertrude. This also works with initials, so +P in the First name(s) field produces results such as Percy, Annie Phyllis, Peter John G and Edith P V.

Birth searches can include the mother’s maiden name (in the indexes from the September quarter of 1911). These searches will only return results from September 1911 onwards. Birth entries for twins will normally have the same page reference, but sometimes they will have consecutive numbers, where one entry is at the bottom of a page, and the other is at the top of the next page.

Marriage searches can include the surname and/or first name of the spouse - spouse’s surname is in the indexes from the March quarter of 1912, but the search will identify potential matches in the earlier records, i.e. where both names have the same reference, which means they appear on the same register page. There can be up to eight names on a page, so matching references do not guarantee that the two people married each other. You can restrict your search to those entries where the spouse's surname is guaranteed by selecting ‘Identifiable spouses only’.

Death searches can include a year of birth or an age. If you put an age at death, it will return results showing that exact age, and also where the age in the index is indistinct, or no age is shown all. The results will also include all entries before 1866, when the age was first included in the index. Results from the June quarter of 1969 will be those with dates of birth consistent with the age selected. You have the option to select ‘recorded ages only’ to get exact results. If you select a year of birth instead of an age, the results before June 1969 won’t be exact, but +/- 2 years.

None of the search fields is mandatory so you can search with just a forename, or even with no name at all. The search screen also has some other useful features; you can save searches, and download search results; if you click on ‘Count’ instead of ‘Find’ you will first see how many results your search will return; there is a maximum of 3000 that can be returned for a single search. 

Search results are colour-coded, pink for births, green for marriages and grey for deaths; this is helpful when searching across more than one event type. The Registration District is a hyperlink to information about that district, and the page number is a hyperlink to a list of all the entries on that page - particularly useful for identifying possible spouses in the marriage search results. 

The ‘Info’ button links to information about the transcribers, but gives no more information about the entry itself unless there is a Postem - extra detail added by an individual, but which does not appear in the index. but if you don't need to click on 'Info' to find out of there is a Postem, because an envelope symbol will also appear against the entry. You can submit corrections via the Info button; a further symbol, of a pair of spectacles, will lead to an image of the original paper or parchment index page to help you do this. 

More information about the site and the data can be found under ‘Advanced Facilities’, and there is a ‘Help’ button for more detailed information on how to search. The search results page includes more links, including instructions on how to order a certificate from the GRO or a local register office. Even frequent users of the site can easily miss some of its many features, which are well worth exploring. if you subsequently use another site for GRO searches, the comprehensive background information found on FreeBMD will prove invaluable. 

No site is perfect, but FreeBMD performs better than other sites in many ways, and is continually updated and improved.

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