General Register Office
and some other sources of records from abroad.
Registration of births, marriage and deaths in England started in 1837. Copies of certificates can be obtained from the General Register Office (GRO). It was not compulsory to register a birth, marriage or death with the British authorities whilst you were abroad, but if the event was registered, then a certificate can be obtained from the GRO.
The General Register Office is a subsidiary of HM Passport Office, which in turn is an an agency of the Home Office.
Records originally held by the GRO may now be part of The National Archives. Those records classified as Non-Statutory were transmitted from the GRO to TNA in 1977, where they have a National Archives catalogue reference, series RG. Some of the records in respect of military overseas births, marriages and deaths remain with the GRO. GRO documentation about the latter group of records is very brief. Some events are recorded in multiple places.
The GRO records are closed to the public.
The National Archives has produced a brief online research guide "Looking for records of a birth, marriage or death of a British national at sea or abroad", refer External links below.
Overseas records series RG
These records are classified as Non Statutory Returns.
|Series||Title||Contents details||Browse subsections||Notes|
|RG 32||General Register Office:
Miscellaneous Foreign Returns
|RG 33||General Register Office:
Foreign Registers and Returns
|Contents||Browse||RG 33/90-113 contains some entries, mostly 20th century, from the Princely States Bikaner, Eastern Rajputana, Gwalior, Hyderabad, Jaipur, Madras States, Mysore, Punjab States and Trivandrum (index - RG 43/15).|
|RG 34||General Register Office:
Miscellaneous Foreign Marriage Returns
|RG 35||General Register Office:
Miscellaneous Foreign Death Returns
|Contents||Browse||Some 19th and early 20th century deaths in French territories in India are in RG 35/16 and RG 35/20-44.|
|RG 36||General Register Office:
Registers and Returns
of Births, Marriages and Deaths
in the Protectorates etc of Africa and Asia
|Contents||Browse||Includes records for Sarawak, Malaya (inc Johore & Selangor) and British North Borneo, commencing at varying dates.|
|RG 43||General Register Office:
Indexes to Miscellaneous Foreign Returns
of Births, Marriages and Deaths
|Contents||Browse||Indexes to the non-statutory registers and returns in RG 32 to RG 34, and to certain Army and Statutory registers retained by the Registrar-General. Also appears to contain indexes to RG 35|
These non statutory return records are available on the pay site Ancestry in the dataset UK, Foreign and Overseas Registers of British Subjects, 1627-1965 RG 32-36. You can also access the RG 32-36 records on BMD Registers , (free search but pay to view) which is run by TheGenealogist.co.uk, a pay website, where the records are also available as a subset of “Births, Marriages and Deaths”
Findmypast (pay to search) has at least some RG 32-36 images and indexes, (it is unclear whether these are a selection, or a complete series) and also GRO indexes for Consular Returns which are Statutory Returns, together with Consular Returns records from the Foreign Office (FO), together with other indexes in respect of military overseas BMD. The findmypast datasets are now incorporated into datasets called British Armed Forces and Overseas Births and Baptisms, Marriages, Deaths (3 datasets). (Previously there were two separate series titled British Nationals Born Overseas... (3 datasets), and British Nationals Armed Forces Births... (3 datasets), change introduced 2018/01). There is also a fourth dataset "British Armed Forces and Overseas Browse" where some, but not all record sets may be browsed. There are a number of ways to browse, including by country.
FamilyRelatives.com has free Overseas Indexes, including indexes for Consular Returns, and in respect of military overseas BMD. These are viewable, not searchable images, refer Chaplains Returns for details.
If you find a reference in the indexes to a record in one of the above non statutory returns, the following options are available to obtain a copy of the record:
- Request a copy online from the GRO (see below). It is unclear whether this record will be an image of the original record, or a transcript.
- View the returns on microfilm at the The National Archives, Kew, and arrange a print of the image if required.
- View RG 32, RG 33, RG 34, RG 35 and RG 36 records online at Findmypast (noting the coverage may be incomplete), or Ancestry or BMD Registers which are all pay sites. (You may search for free for these records). The images may then be saved to your computer and/or printed.
If you find an GRO index reference for a Consular Return record, either on FamilyRelatives.com or Findmypast, to obtain a copy of the record, for Findmypast first check if there is an image available for an equivalent FO record (same database). If not, it it suggested, if you have convenient Ancestry access, you then check to see whether there is a record in the Ancestry database "UK, Registers of Births, Marriages and Deaths From British Consulates, 1810-1968, refer next section, as these appear to be equivalent records from the Foreign Office originating from the same source, and if not, you should request a copy online from the GRO (see below).
Other records at the National Archives
- There are Foreign Office (FO) files at the National Archives such as Consular Returns containing copies of entries of birth or baptism, marriage and death or burial of British subjects, Copies of some of these Consular returns are also available at the London Metropolitan Archives, (previously the Guildhall Library), some of whose records have been microfilmed by FamilySearch.
- Most of these records will also be found in the records available from the General Register Office, described above. There are, however, some registers at Kew from which the entries were not transmitted to the Registrar General.
- There are however, FO records such as cemetery files, which may not be available elsewhere.
- Index records (with the possibility that some records may include an image) from some of the National Archives FO series are available in the Findmypast datasets described above, including some cemetery files.
- Update: In April 2016, Ancestry introduced the database UK, Registers of Births, Marriages and Deaths From British Consulates, 1810-1968 consisting of various Foreign Office records. This database consists of a selection of specified Consular returns, not all Consular Returns.
- There are some records in the military series WO 156 "War Office: UK and overseas garrisons: Registers of Baptisms, Confirmations, Deaths/Burials, and Marriage".
- Some of the Registers of burials, described as "Selected pieces from the National Archives WO 156/103-122'" have been digitised and are available on the pay website "deceased online", refer below.
- Index records (with the possibility that some records may include an image) from some of the National Archives series WO 156 are available in the Findmypast datasets described above. The overseas records appear to be WO 156/106 Cyprus burials; WO 107-110 Egypt burials; WO 156/111-117, 121-122 Malta burials; WO 156/119 Singapore burials; WO 156/594-595 Malta baptisms & marriages; WO 156/596-598 Malta baptisms.
- TNA record series Division within CO Government gazettes from the colonies 1794-1990. Also includes mandated territories such as Iraq, CO 813 1921-1955, and Palestine, CO 742 1919-1948, although Egypt is not included. These Government Gazettes, known as Blue Books often contained occupational details, although sometimes a Civil List was issued as a separate publication. As an example see Hong Kong or Ceylon where some of these publications are available online.
Military Overseas records for BMD
- See Chaplains Returns.
- England and Wales census records. See Census and British Army Records
- FamilySearch contains a database "World Miscellaneous", in addition to records for individual countries. See IGI. You must be signed in to FamilySearch to view records.
- See Society of Genealogists for overseas records from various sources. An archived webpage c March 2013 lists some of the Overseas records which were held at that time. Search the online catalogue for current holdings.
- Ancestry database "England, Andrews Newspaper Index Cards, 1790-1976", part of Newspapers and Periodicals. Original data from the Andrews Collection. Institute of Heraldic and Genealogical Studies, Canterbury, Kent, England. Includes overseas information including BMDs and filings under the Colonial Probates Act of 1892 (which recognized probates from courts in British possessions).
- Ancestry Card Catalogue of all Record Databases (located as an option under the Search tab). Search by name of country.
- Birth, marriage and death notices in Newspapers and Journals. See Newspapers and journals online and links included on that page. including Newspapers. An example is The London and China Telegraph, published in London, available online from 1860 to 1875, which included notices in respect of China, and the general area east of India, but a few deaths were noticed for India, and one noticed for Alexandria.
- The Lambeth Palace Library, London, the principal repository of the documentary history of the Church of England, holds some limited overseas registers and transcripts including Mesopotamia (Iraq), Sudan, China as set out on pages 5-6 of "Lambeth Palace Library Research Guide Sources for Family History and Genealogy". Some/all? the records for China are available on FamilySearch microfilm, catalogue entries A, B and C, however only the first is available as digitised microfilm (restricted to FamilySearch Centres and FS affiliate libraries) and the other two must be viewed as microfilm, either at the Family History Library in Salt Lake City, or the second at the Society of Genealogists in London.
- The records for Mesopotamia include
- MS 2503-2507 Registers of St. Peter's church, Basra 1934-1968. MS 2669-2676 Registers for Mesopotamia (Iraq) 1883-1972, which in turn includes MS 2669 General register of baptisms in Mesopotamia, 1916-22, and in St. George's church, Baghdad, 1922-8. C.M.S. and civil chaplaincy baptisms are entered from 1921, and Royal Air Force baptisms from 1926; MS 2672 General register of marriages in Mesopotamia (including Baghdad), 1917-1928. Civil marriages are registered from 1922.
- For some death records for Baghdad, Iraq/Mesopotamia 1921-1937, see External links below.
- There are some overseas records at the London Metropolitan Archives.
- See Cemeteries for websites including BACSA, Commonwealth War Graves Commission, Find A Grave, BillionGraves.
- Records at the General Register Office and The National Archives for Statutory Returns, including Consular Returns, and all the records covered by the GRO Indexes, may not include records of persons originating from Scotland and Ireland, and records must be looked for in Scotland and Ireland. For more details, see the FamilySearch Wiki article below. Online sources include ScotlandsPeople, see Scotland.
- Order a certificate online from the GRO. This is the only GRO website. Once you are logged in, it is now (introduced November 2016) possible to search for GRO Historic Birth and Death Index References through the website. "... the new GRO indexes enable researchers to click through from their findings and make purchases on the same platform. Crucially, the birth index also provides mothers’ maiden names for the full range of entries. In other online indexes, it is only possible for researchers see these details for births registered from July 1911 onwards.
- Note: If you do not supply the GRO Index Reference, the certificate will cost more, and may take longer to be sent. The cheaper PDF format is not available for Forces or Overseas Records, or UK marriages.
- Contact details for the GRO on Gov.uk, including email address for queries about certificates and advice to include ‘GQ’ in the subject of your email.
- Additional email address for "General Register Office Enquiry" current 2020/06 [email protected]
- Searching for overseas records Archived website GRO.gov.uk January 2006
- Research your family history using the General Register Office from Gov.uk. Includes main locations in England "and other locations" which includes locations within, and outside of the UK, where GRO Indexes may be viewed in person, including the British Library, noting holders of GRO Indexes may only have partial sets.
- Also includes details of two sources for online GRO references for England and Wales births and deaths. The differences between these two sources, sometimes referred to as the new, and old, GRO Indexes, is explained in Understanding how the GRO's indexes [for England and Wales] were compiled (if necessary scroll down) Lost Cousins Newsletter - 7th January 2019.
- findmypast. Refer Overseas records series RG, above. Previously there was a dataset called "British Overseas Marriages" 1818-2005, which were transcriptions only, elsewhere  stated to be from records at the Society of Genealogists. Noted were records from the Cape of Good Hope, Malta, Turkey etc., in addition to records from St John's Church, Calcutta. These records appeared to be very limited in detail, those looked at only stated the year of marriage, and did not state the spouse name. However, this dataset no longer appears in the list of datasets under this name, and may have been incorporated into the larger database.
- GRO Wikipedia
- British Births, Marriages and Deaths Overseas FamilySearch Wiki. Based on three articles by Anthony Camp, formerly Director of Society of Genealogists, in Family Tree Magazine [UK] in July, August and October 2000, and probably available at the British Library UIN: BLL01008526371
- Sources for the British Overseas in the GRO, TNA, Guildhall, SoG Library by Else Churchill. Images, but minimal text, one of a series of 2013 presentations. sog.org.uk. Images of actual records available.
- Fact Sheet: The British in India from the now closed Family Records Centre which was run jointly by the GRO and the National Archives. familyrecords.gov.uk, now archived. The records from the Family Records Centre are now divided between the two mentioned organisations.
- The National Archives brief guide Looking for records of a birth, marriage or death at sea or abroad
- Levantine Heritage: Registers levantineheritage.com. Retrieved 2 October 2014. The term “Levantines” designates primarily those Europeans and Americans who settled in the Levant - a region generally conterminous with the Ottoman Empire - from the early 17th century until 1923.
- FamilySearch catalogue entry microfilm 1999050, items 8-9, Church of England Parish registers and notes, 1763-1959: Izmir, previously Smyrna, Turkey, from the London Metropolitan Archives (previously Guildhall Library).
- Egypt had compulsory civil registration for births and deaths from 1912 for all, including foreigners.  Egypt Genealogy FamilySearch Wiki.
- Also see a reference to Egyptian Garrisons, on the Fibiwiki page Chaplains Returns, in a description of records from Regimental Registers which have never been indexed.
- Egyptian Government Website (English Language version)
- Electronic Services/Subjects/ Personal document services. Note however the links within the latter are not "active", they do not lead anywhere (at 2020/08/22). Elsewhere it has been stated that the application for BMDs is in Arabic. Perhaps you could contact your Embassy for advice.
- Baghdad, Iraq. Burials at Hinaidi RAF Cemetery, (now Ma'Asker Al Raschid RAF Cemetery): Searchable Database of 299 Graves from 1921-1937. 196 of the 299 graves are for Royal Air Force casualties from eight RAF squadrons. There are also 71 graves for British Army personnel, 2 Royal Navy and 30 civilian. There are additional internal links about the cemetery. 6 Squadron, Books & Early Military Aviation website.
- deceased online, a website which is free to search but pay to view, has some records for military burials in Malta, also Egypt and Cyprus. For more details, from the deceased online Home Page, select Coverage and scroll down to " “The National Archives - Military Burials” date added: 12 Dec 2013". Includes records from the National Archives series ADM 6, ADM 73, ADM 305 and WO 156. At least some of these records are also available on Findmypast, refer above.
- Malta Family History, now an archived website. Includes data for births, marriages and burials. Also includes data about other areas such as the Ionian Islands, including Corfu and has a section called "Other Mediterranean Cemeteries" which includes Gibraltar and Smyrna, Turkey. The Smyrna database also includes baptisms and marriages (1795 – 1832). Although this site is now archived, most/all of the internal links appear to be available. Note there are two Index pages, the first Index page is linked from the Home Page, and the second Index page is linked from the first Index page.
- There is also some information about deaths, including some photographs of grave inscriptions, and also baptisms and marriages, scattered through the regimental pages on British Army Medical Services and the Malta Garrison 1799 – 1979. Includes a website Search.
- Details of Malta Registers at The National Archives and Registers in Class ADM. Includes B, M, B. (Note: (selected) burials are now available online, refer above). Alan McGowan’s "Garrison Church Registers", now an archived website.
- Pieta Military Cemetery [Malta]findagrave.com. Memorials from the cemetery, almost completely photographed.
- Malta Public Registry The Public Registry was set up on the 3rd August 1889 although the records date back to 1863. Records kept at the Public Registry include births, marriages and deaths. Transcript copies are available for a fee, and can be ordered online. Government of Malta website.
- Links to FamilySearch page Indexed Historical Records: Malta and catalogue entries for microfilms and digitised microfilms relating to Malta, some available on your home computer. Also additional microfilms for Gozo, not currently included in the Search result. You must be signed in to FamilySearch to view records.
- Gibraltar National Archives now has a Search facility for free transcriptions of Military Births, Deaths and Marriages in Gibraltar 1869-1914, based on records from the Gibraltar Civil Register office. Note a previous comment that a certificate obtained in Gibraltar, from the Registrar of Births and Deaths of Gibraltar, contained additional information to the certificate obtained from the GRO . There is also a Search for Gibraltar Inhabitants 1704-1914, based on transcriptions of Census data.
- FamilySearch has some Civil registration digitised images, see below in the Family Search item.
- Civil Status and Registration Office, Government of Gibraltar
- British Overseas Territories/select Gibraltar from Ireland & United KingdomGenWeb, now an archived website. Select Articles/ ‘Cemetery Records' for burial records from King’s Chapel (Witham’s Cemetery). Where an occupation is shown, the burials appear to be of British Army soldiers, and seamen. Select ‘Military Records’ for transcriptions by Donald Brett of the Gibraltar Indexes for the Chaplains Returns for Deaths and Marriages (to 1880). The Gibraltar Chaplains Returns Indexes for Births have been transcribed separately by Donald Brett: rootschat.com download - depending on your browser, you may need to locate this in your downloads folder. (Full records, in respect of these Index records, are available at the GRO).
- Indexed Historical Records: Gibraltar. FamilySearch. You must be signed in to FamilySearch to view records. In addition, or possibly included in the previous group of indexed records, FamilySearch has a catalogue entry Civil registration, 1848-1990 from the "Registry of Births, Marriages and Deaths in Gibraltar" , with most of the records viewable on your home computer. Includes Card Indexes. Also a catalogue entry Anglican Chaplaincy, Gibraltar, christenings, 1807- 1812 Microfilm 883701 and a similar entry for marriages. These records have been transcribed and may be browsed by using “Batch Number” C-89999-1 and M-89999-1 in the “Search Historical Records” on the FamilySearch website. In addition there are some Gibraltar Baptisms 1704- 1876 index records, at least some/(all?) of which are Roman Catholic records transcribed from microfilm 1729828. Also Gibraltar Marriages, 1879-1918 index records, at least some/(all?) of which are Roman Catholic records transcribed from microfilm 1738755. There are also microfilms for Roman Catholic records available for additional periods, and also for burials, catalogue entry.
- See the Fibiwiki page FamilySearch Centres for information about microfilms and digitised microfilms.
- findmypast includes a group of records from Gibraltar, some baptisms, marriages and burials from St Andrew's Kirk, which appear to be related to the military, or seamen, and some marriage indexes supplied by FamilySearch. From the Search, select A-Z of record sets, then use Search term Gibraltar to locate the record databases.
- Trace and tell your family’s Empire stories with links to pages "Government Records of Britons in … " including
- Government Records of Britons in Cyprus, Cyprus was part of the Empire between 1878 and 1960. Includes reference to Cyprus Gazettes dating from 1878-1965 in the National Archives, Kew reference series CO 70.
- Editions of the Cyprus Gazette and the Cyprus Blue Book appear to be available online from cypruslibrary.moec.gov.cy Ministry of Education and Culture, although a sample download was so slow to load that the attempt was terminated.
- Government Records of Britons in Egypt. Egypt was part of the Empire between 1914 and 1922.
- Government Records of Britons in Cyprus, Cyprus was part of the Empire between 1878 and 1960. Includes reference to Cyprus Gazettes dating from 1878-1965 in the National Archives, Kew reference series CO 70.
- These pages c 2008 are from the archived website “Empire’s Children”, a website connected with the 2007 Channel 4 television series of the same name. Note, some of the information may now be outdated. Many of the internal links have not been archived.
- There is a "Resources" chapter in the book Empire’s Children: Trace Your Family History Across the World by Anton Gill 2007, available at the British Library UIN: BLL01013623894 . This book accompanied the television series Empire's Children.
Historical books online
- "Monumental Inscriptions of the British Cemeteries in the Ionian Islands" by Ortho Alexander, British Consul, pages 13, 71, 110, 146, 320 Miscellanea genealogica et heraldica, Volume II, Fourth Series 1908. Many Army and Navy entries. Archive.org
- "Monumental Inscriptions in the English Cemetery in Ithaca" [Greek island] by Arthur F G Leveson Gower page 177 Miscellanea genealogica et heraldica Volume V Fourth Series 1914. Mainly military related. Archive.org
- The Msida Bastion cemetery , Malta : a brief history of the Msida Bastion cemetery and the research conducted by R. G. Kirkpatrick prepared and edited by James Cannon 1990. Includes military and seamen records. FamilySearch Digital Library. You need to sign in to FS to view the book.
- Comments about "The registers of Persons Baptised etc Abroad: [mainly Europe]" page 240 Registrum ecclesiae parochialis : the history of parish registers in England : also of the registers of Scotland, Ireland, the East and West Indies... by John Southerden Burn 2nd edition 1862 Archive.org.
- "British Births, Marriages and Deaths Overseas" FamilySearch Wiki, see External links above.
- "Fact Sheet: The British in India" from the now closed Family Records Centre, see External links above.
- British Armed Forces and Overseas Births and Baptisms; British Armed Forces and Overseas Banns and Marriages; British Armed Forces and Overseas Deaths and Burials Findmypast.
- British Armed Forces and Overseas Browse Findmypast.
- "England, Andrews Newspaper Index Cards, 1790-1976" Ancestry database.
- "GRO launches new digital services" by jonbauckham, 4 November 2016 whodoyouthinkyouaremagazine.com, now archived.
- W., Hugh Genealoge September 06, 2008. Retrieved 8 January 2015
- "The Development of the Vital Statistics System in Egypt" by Gamal Askar January 1981.
- aitch2o. "Info ommitted from GRO supplied birth cert" Who Do You Think You Are? Forum 21 November 2015, and later posts. Now no longer available http://www.whodoyouthinkyouaremagazine.com/forum/topic12548.html
- Gibraltar WorldGenWeb Project, now an archived webpage