Birth certificates

A typical birth certificate

A birth certificate and what to look for. You'll find:

  • Name and sex of child — a name can be misleading as some could be used for boys or girls
    Father’s occupation
  • Name of informant and address, usually a relative (see end panel)
  • The date of registration, which had to be within six weeks of the birth.
  • Although this copy was typed and not photocopied the original error was included deliberately. The correction in the margin was necessary otherwise the impression would that the parents were not married.
  • Date and place (often just parish but can be full address) of birth. A time normally indicates a multiple birth
  • Names of parents —the mother’s maiden name is also given and formerly usually indicates a marriage whereas alias or “also known as” indicates doubts about a marriage


A copy of a birth certificate entry can provide plenty of much-needed information about your ancestors. Newspapers can help you track down the possible date of birth by means of their births, marriages and deaths columns.

A birth certificate can be a start for many journeys into a family’s past.
The certificate itself provides a birth date and place (sometimes only a town or village but at other times a full address) and can also be a pointer to a multiple birth if a time is given (except in Scotland where timings are normally put on certificates even for single births.)

Local newspaper reports

Eastern Daily Press, July 1, 1913:
WATERS: June 30, at 120 Newmarket Road, Norwich, the wife of Mr Edgar E Waters of a daughter.

July 2:
ELLIS: June 29, at Heathside, Thurton, to Mr and Mrs C Wells, a daughter.

July 5:
ATTHILL: July 5 (sic) at 76 Park Lane, Norwich, the wife of Pierce Mannsell Atthill of a daughter.
LAMBERT: July 4, at 7 Poplars, Earlham Road, Norwich, the wife of Paul J Lambert, of a daughter.
PRESTON: July 4 at Nenufar, Boscombe, Bournemouth, the wife of Kerrison Preston of a son.

July 7:
MAYS: July 5 at Eaton lodge, Norwich, to Mr and Mrs H G Mays, a daughter.

Eastern Daily Press, July 2, 1927:
BRANFORD: June 29 at Dilkusha, Brundall, to Mr and Mrs E W Branford, a son.
CRACKNELL: June 30 1927 to Sybil Marion, wife of J S Cracknell, of Leicester, a son.
TAYLOR: June 30 to Mr and Mrs William Taylor, Manor Farm, Tacolnestone (sic) a son.

Normally the name of the child is given but sometimes this can be left blank (especially in the 19th century and early 20th century).

This happened if a father was away (a sailor on a long voyage or a soldier posted abroad or, in the early 20th century, fighting in the trenches). A birth had to be registered within a statutory period so a name was often chosen on Dad’s return and formally given at baptism.

A reason for a blank here may well be found in the father’s occupation section, further along.
The sex of the child is also given — not as silly as it sounds because many names we now accepts a specifically male or specifically female were once used for boys and girls.

Shirley Crabtree (the real name of wrestler Big Daddy) may have been an oddity in the 20th century but until well into the 19th century Shirley had been an exclusively male name.

Except where there is doubt about a father the names of both parents will usually be given.
In the 19th century a man could be named on a birth certificate even if he had not admitted paternity.

A mother’s maiden name will also be given — if it says “formerly” it usually means the couple were married, but if it says “also known as” it could mean they just lived together and the mother had taken her partner’s name for everyday use.

The name of the informant is normally the mother or father so does not add much detail.

Actually tracking down births is not as easy as you might think.

You cannot just wade through thousands of birth indexes so you need some form of approximate date to start from.

This could come from a baptism, a note in a Bible or even from a date of marriage (don’t forget you might find the birth within a couple of months of the marriage date.)

Unlike marriages and deaths you will not necessarily find birth details easily in newspaper columns.

In the 19th century it was frequently only the very well-to-do who could afford the cost of putting an announcement in the newspaper, and even then information provided was very sparse, offering little more than a date and the name of the proud father (it appears the mother was not worth the cost of the extra words).

Even into the 20th century most birth announcements were often placed locally for people who had moved away on marriage, or for other reasons.

The real boom in newspaper birth announcements did not really come until the middle of the last century.

Most birth dates from then are normally known in the family. The newspapers can be helpful at times, however, especially if someone had moved away from the area and vanished from other records.

A classic example of such a case appeared in the Eastern Daily Press, on July 7, 1927:

RIX: July 4, at Englefield, Williamstown, South Australia, to Mr and Mrs Rix (nee Chrystabel Newton) a son.

Someone, somewhere could well have been missing Miss Newton and at least this puts them on the right track.

The weekly papers sometimes contained some local births with more detail, as can be seen from the Yarmouth Independent, Gorleston TImes and Flegg Journal of September 30, 1927:

GILL, August 30 at 6 North Parade to Olive, wife of WP Gill, a son.

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