The cost of BMD certificates from the General Records Office (GRO) of England and Wales is quite expensive (£9.25 at time of writing) but what is preventing the obvious streamlining of this?

The GRO, now part of the Identity and Passport Service, only send copies of certificates by post, and they're on fancy paper with an official stamp at the bottom. This works OK, even with international postage, although it usually takes a couple of weeks for them to arrive. Even with this cost, though, the GRO claim the process is losing money (hence the previous price increase).

There have been a number of discussions about doing electronic, research-only certificates by email, and even a recent petition (BMD ePetition) but I'm not aware of anything happening in response.

The advantages seem obvious to me: digital copies mean savings on paper, printing and postage. There must be some type of electronic scan in process now so why not persist the images and index them for potential further use. This would contribute to an image database from which the GRO could leverage further monies in the future. Furthermore, since people (including me) would be more inclined to buy extra certificates at the lower cost then the GRO might actually make more money, and also save further money by having to do less manual searches on behalf of people.

Is the lack of movement due to bureaucracy, legislation, or some other obstacle?

  • 2
    When was logic and common sense ever an important consideration in government policy making? Commented Oct 15, 2012 at 13:35
  • This "question" could serve as an interesting test of the acceptable boundaries for G&FH. The answer (Yes) is the same whether the respondent has expertise or not. It will prompt discussion but is this appropriate Q&A?
    – Fortiter
    Commented Oct 15, 2012 at 14:32
  • Is this effectively a duplicate of genealogy.stackexchange.com/questions/1387/…?
    – Fortiter
    Commented Oct 15, 2012 at 14:33
  • 1
    There was a specific question being asked (see last line). I have only heard theories so far but hope that someone with more detailed knowledge can shed some light. It is not directly related to the question on US census - meaning an answer to one is not an answer to both.
    – ACProctor
    Commented Oct 15, 2012 at 14:46

4 Answers 4


They did start work on digitising them, but suspended the work in 2010 and have no current plans to restart it. The most recent statement from the Identity and Passport Service on the work was:

Digitisation project

The digitisation and indexing project is the project to scan and digitise civil registration records for England and Wales from 1837 to present and create a new online index of events. This project has been in a pause status since September 2010.

Project update August 2012

Digitisation and indexing of civil registration records in England and Wales was partially completed by 2010. Completing the process would require significant investment and there are no current plans to resume this work. IPS will continue to monitor the scope for future opportunities to digitise all birth, death and marriage records.

I believe that when you request a certificate that has been digitised they produce it from the digitised version but that ones which have not been digitised are produced by some other means - not sure if that is from film/fiche or whether they have to lookup the paper copy.

A year or so back they did actually ask at least some people who were ordering certificates to complete a survey, as I spent some completing one. Ideas mentioned included electronic delivery and various subscription plans where an annual fee would be coupled with a reduced cost per certificate.


Stop Press: In the latest edition of the UK magazine Your Family History, #33 October 2012, p.19, there is an interview with Else Churchill, genealogist at the Society of Genealogists. In her responses, she makes the statement 'Sadly there seems little chance of any change in legislation to make historical BMD certificates available online'. This implies there is more to this issue than meets the eye.

I therefore did some more searching and found the following statement at: Online petition for cheap BMD certificates:

Under current legislation, the GRO (General Register Office) can only “release this information by means of the issue of a paper certified copy certificate of the relevant entry, and payment of the relevant statutory fee for a certified copy"...

I think that nails it for me. I now understand why the relevant department can claim to make a loss when it would be obvious to any entrepreneur how to turn it around.


The project to digitize registration records in England and Wales started in 2005 when Siemens IT Solutions was awarded a three-year contract to undertake the work as part of the Digitalisation of Vital Events (DoVE) Project. Processing of the records was done in India. The accuracy of the data captured contractually had to be 99.5%.

Contract Milestones * Go live on microfilm scanning: 31 October 2005 * historic births completed: 12 June 2006 * Historic deaths completed: 31 October 2006 * Modern births completed: 31 May 2007 * Modern deaths completed: 30 September 2007 * Historic marriages completed: 31 December 2007 * Modern marriages completed: 31 May 2008 * Still birth records completed: 31 May 2008

This timetable slipped and then Siemens pulled out because of "insurmountable technical difficulties" which made the contract unprofitable. There was speculation that the source microfilms given to Siemens by GRO were of insufficient quality to digitise (GRO keeps copies of information held in original form by local authorities - why is this not centralised??). Although it was also said that Siemens did not use sufficiently advanced equipment to cope with the records.

In November 2009, Phil Woolas, then Minister of State, confirmed that the DoVE project had been closed after digitisation of birth records up to 1934 and death records up to 1957. The total project cost was £8.33 million.

The 130 million + records that were digitised then formed part of Eagle, which is used within the GRO to fulfil requests for certificates from the general public. However there were problems with the system and on many occasions the staff had to complete the requests by hand.

Magpie was intended to make the indexes available online to the public, but this was not implemented. Instead, following a lengthy review of options, a new project, called the Digitisation and Indexing (D&I) Project, was initiated.

The D&I Project was planned to: complete the digitisation of birth, marriage and death records; create an online index to those records; and improve the certificate ordering process. This project was suspended in September 2010 pending the outcome a Comprehensive Spending Review. In August 2012 it was announced that "there are no current plans to resume this work". The option was left open to review the situation at a later date.

Compare this with Scotland, where all records are indexed online up to 2011 via www.scotlandspeople.gov.uk, and where we can go into any centre hosting the ScotlandsPeople Centre computer system and gain unlimited access virtually to the present day to additional indexes and digitised images of the original returns.

I saw one interesting suggestion: "push for a change in the law that would allow the historical civil registers (ie. those more than 100 years old) to be transferred from the IPS to the National Archives. The National Archives could then in turn licence the information to third parties such as Ancestry and FindMyPast, much in the way that they have already done with the censuses. Commercial companies would then have the responsibility of scanning, indexing and transcribing the information and providing the website solution, and they would charge fees to cover their costs (and their profit margin). The IPS could then concentrate on providing a contemporary civil registration service and be free of the burden of issuing historical certificates; the commercial companies would have another opportunity to expand their business; family historians would gain instant access to a wealth of data at considerably lower unit cost; the taxpayers would not be subsidising a few to indulge in an expensive hobby; and the government would be rid of yet another hassle."


While not in England in Wales; Ireland is putting some online in July 2015.

National Library of Ireland Launch Date for Online Genealogy Resource Catholic parish register microfilms to be available online for free from 8th July 2015**

The entire collection of Catholic parish register microfilms held by the National Library of Ireland (NLI) will be made available online – for free – from 8th July 2015 onwards. Click on the link for full details: National Library Ireland

  • Welcome to G&FH SE! As a new user be sure to take our Tour. Technically the answer (for Ireland) you provided does not directly address the question that was asked (for England and Wales), which is I suspect why someone downvoted it, but I think it is a valuable piece of information and I would like to encourage you to keep contributing to our site so I have upvoted it.
    – PolyGeo
    Commented Jun 18, 2015 at 3:04
  • Hi, Kathy -- welcome to G&FH.SE! I just wanted to note for beginners that parish registers are not strictly equivalent to civil registrations, since they records baptisms and burials where civil records record births and deaths. Some Irish Civil registrations are available online at irishgenealogy.ie/en/irish-records-what-is-available/… and unlike England and Wales, the registers are available to view.
    – Jan Murphy
    Commented Feb 26, 2017 at 16:51

Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service and acknowledge you have read our privacy policy.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.