Births, Deaths and Marriages Indexes

Birth, death and marriage indexes are a starting point for obtaining certificates.
bdm indexes

I live in Victoria, and my ancestors came from Victoria back to between 1840 and 1863, so my early research was in the Victorian birth, death and marriage indexes.  I was lucky that my local library had copies of these indexes on microfiche.  When I first started researching, these indexes were divided into type of event (birth, death, or marriage) sections of years, and sometimes year by year, and then into surnames.  I started off by going through all the indexes for anyone with my maiden surname – Whimpey.  Then my mother’s maiden name and so on.  For the less common surnames, I jotted down all the entries, for the more common surnames, I jotted down entries for names I’d already come across.  As you can image, it was a fairly time consuming process.

In 2000, I bought the Birth, Death and Marriage Indexes for Victoria on CD Rom. The Indexes on CD Rom for Victoria were divided into Pioneer Index 1837-1888 (which included births, deaths and marriages), Federation Index 1889-1901, Edwardian Index 1901-1913, Great War Index 1914-1920, and then the Death Index 1921-1985.  Each CD rom was set up with a search function, so you just type in the information you’re looking for, and it brings up all the results for that time period.  This made researching a lot easier.
PioneerFederationEdwardianGreat WarDeath

In 1999, I first gained access to the internet.  Prior to this, my research was pretty limited to my local library, and later the State Library of Victoria, and their records were mainly for Victoria, with some birth death and marriage indexes for other Australian states, but limited information for overseas.  Over time, more records have become available on the internet, and I have been able to broaden my research to finding birth, death and marriage records for England and Wales, Scotland, United States, Canada, New Zealand

In my resources page, I have listed a few of these, but my next post will set out a list of websites that I have used that have birth, death, marriage indexes, and/or where you can obtain the certificates.

Birth Death and Marriage certificates

One of the most important types of record in family history research, are birth, death and marriage certificates.  These provide the best form of evidence for a birth, death or marriage, as they are the official record for the event.

Known as civil registration, these came into effect at different times, depending on the country or state your ancestor (or relative) lived in.  For example, in England and Wales, civil registration started in 1837.  In Scotland it was in 1855.  In Australia, it varies from state to state – South Australia was in 1848, Victoria in 1853.

Depending upon where the certificate was issued, the amount of information on the certificate also varies.  When I first started my research, the certificates I needed were all from Victoria, Australia, and I have found that the information on our certificates is the most comprehensive.

The birth certificates show: child’s name, sex, father’s name, age, birthplace and occupation, parents’ marriage date and place, previous issue, whether deceased or living, with ages, mother’s name (including maiden surname), age and birthplace, and the informant.



The marriage certificates show the date and place of the marriage, and for the bride and groom: name, birth place, and age, occupation, present and usual residences, father’s name and occupation and mother’s name and maiden surname; plus the name of the minister or celebrant, and the witnesses.



The death certificates show date and place of the death, and sometimes the usual residence, the deceased name, occupation and age, father’s name and occupation (if known), mother’s name, including maiden surname, informant, date and place of burial, names of undertaker and the minister or witnesses to the burial, birthplace and length of time in Australia, spouse(s) name(s), and age at time of marriage, and place of marriage, and children’s names and ages.

Although the additional information on the certificates can be incorrect – the reliability is dependent on how much the informant knew – it is a good starting point to find more information about the family.

In comparison, certificates from England and Wales have limited information, which makes it necessary to use the certificates in conjunction with census and other records.

I have found certificates from Scotland to be nearly as good as Australian ones – although the death certificates don’t list children’s names (except early ones in 1855), and only occasionally do they have a date and place of burial.