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Newsletter – 12th July 2023



Instant online access to historic birth & death registrations

How your research strategy might change, and how you might benefit

I had a secret…..

How to order an image: a step by step guide

What could possibly go wrong?

How it all began

Last chance to save on Ancestry DNA in the UK ENDS MONDAY

Exclusive WDYTYA magazine offer ENDS SOON

Big savings on a wide range of magazines ENDS TUESDAY

Peter’s Tips

Stop Press


The LostCousins newsletter is usually published 2 or 3 times a month. To access the previous issue (dated 6th July) click here; to find earlier articles use the customised Google search between this paragraph and the next (it searches ALL of the newsletters since February 2009, so you don't need to keep copies):



To go to the main LostCousins website click the logo at the top of this newsletter. If you're not already a member, do join - it's FREE, and you'll get an email to alert you whenever there's a new edition of this newsletter available!



Instant online access to historic birth & death registrations

On Thursday 6th July the General Register Office (GRO) launched their new Online View service, which offers instant access to images of historic entries from their birth and death registers for England & Wales.


The service currently covers the following records:



The GRO have stated that for reasons of privacy their policy is to restrict the new service to births over 100 years old, so I anticipate that they will add 1923 births early next year, 1924 births the following year, and so on until 2035, when births from 1934 are added. Birth registers after 1934 have not been scanned.


To the best of my knowledge there is no legal reason to restrict access to deaths after 1887, and as the death registers have been scanned up to 1957 there could be a considerable extension in due course.


Note: the end date of 1887 has been unchanged since the beginning of the first trial of this service, nearly two years ago, so I’m not expecting an extension in the near future.



How your research strategy might change, and how you might benefit

When getting hold of a copy of a birth or death entry means a wait of a week – and a bill of £7 for a PDF (or £11 for a certificate) – it’s tempting to try and figure out the answer by other means. Sometimes I would spend a couple of hours trying to find the answer to a minor mystery in my tree, only to give up and order a PDF. Other times I’d put it on the back burner, and hope something turned up.


But with instant access to historic birth and death register entries at the very reasonable cost of £2.50 there was no reason, other than pride, to look for a workaround. Not only was I able to answer questions more quickly, and with less effort, I began making unexpected discoveries – sometimes it was the fact that a birth had been registered precisely 42 days after it had occurred – which can mean that the parent who registered it adjusted the date to avoid a penalty. (No doubt this explains some of the discrepancies in the dates of birth shown in the 1939 Register.)


Sometimes it was the identity of the person who registered a death, or the cause of death, or perhaps the length of time that the deceased had been ill: scraps of additional information that add to our image of life for our ancestors 150 years ago. Other times it might be what the entry didn’t say – if a married woman was described as ‘wife of’ rather than ‘widow of’ in a death register entry it tells us that her husband was still alive, even if he wasn’t the one who registered the death.


Occasionally one discovery leads to another – the place of birth of a child, or a different occupation shown for its father, might enable us to track down the family in a census that was taken around the same time. In general, the more we look, the more we’ll find – so having instant access to contemporary records of family members opens provides us with many more opportunities to solve mysteries and shed light on their lives.


Note: I wonder who will be the first fictional genealogist to make use of the new system?



I had a secret…..

In July 2021 I reported that I and a small number of others had been invited to attend a virtual meeting with the GRO.


A similar meeting 5 years earlier had led to the introduction of the PDF service, which has subsequently proved so useful, especially for researchers overseas who previously might have had to wait 2 or 3 months to receive a certificate through the post – so I was hopeful that whatever the GRO were going to unveil might have a similar impact.


However, as I explained at the time, those of us who were invited to the meeting were obliged to sign a Non-Disclosure Agreement – a standard precaution that I was perfectly happy to go along with (though had I known that I would have to stay tight-lipped for almost 2 years I wouldn’t have been quite so happy!).


The Online View trial went live on 16th September 2021: I ordered three images the first day, another three the following day, and I’ve ordered about 70 others since. Previously I would have ordered no more than 3 to 4 PDFs or certificates each year, so my expenditure has increased by a factor of 3 – but I’ve gained 10 times as much information for my money, and more importantly I haven’t had to wait for it.


Note: although I wasn’t allowed to talk about the Online View service during the trial, several of the images I purchased appeared in the newsletter. Nobody noticed – and why would they – because PDFs and certificates are produced from the same register entries. The main difference is that certificates are printed onto standard forms, whilst PDFs have column headings pasted above the register entry. When you view an image online there are headings shown, but when you download the image there are no headings.



How to order an image: a step by step guide

Start by logging-in at the GRO website using this link – you’ll need to register if you haven’t done so previously. After logging-in you’ll see the Main Menu – don’t be confused by the range of different options, because there’s only one that you’re likely to need, Search the GRO Indexes.



Tip: the ONLY way you can order an Online Image is via the GRO’s own indexes – you can’t find an index entry on another site and use that to place an order, as you might with a certificate. So whether you want to place an order, search the indexes, or both, you can use the same menu option.


There are no marriage indexes on the GRO site (and no prospect of any in the foreseeable future), so the choice is between births and deaths:



Let’s suppose you’re searching for a birth – but the procedure is much the same whichever option you choose:



Start by choosing the year – if you’re not sure you can search up to 2 years on either side. Bear in mind that births could be registered up to 6 weeks after the date of birth, so a December (or late November) birth could well have been registered in the following year.


Surname and Sex are the only compulsory fields – don’t bother choosing anything other than Exact matches only as the fuzzy matching is poor, and using it will really slow the process down.


I’ve chosen to enter the Forename in this example, and that is sufficient to keep the number of results down, but if you were searching for a John Smith you might be forced to add extra information since a maximum of 250 results will be returned. Entering the Mother’s Maiden Surname (if you know it) is a good option.


Now click Search to view the results:



Notice there are two entries for the same birth, but with different volume numbers – we’ll be discussing this a little later. But for now let’s click the first entry to see what options are available:



In this case I could order a certificate (£11), a PDF (£7), or a digital image (£2.50). They’ll all show the same register entry – but with a few embellishments if you pay more and are prepared to wait.


As soon as you click one of those blue bars you’ll be taken to the next page, which shows a summary of your order, and allows you to alter it should you wish. But when you’re ordering a digital image there are no options, so I’m not going to confuse matters by showing the order summary – just click Submit near the bottom and you’ll see this:



If you’ve ordered PDFs in the past you’ll know that they have no legal status, and digital images are the same – though they’re both jolly useful for family historians like us (who needs a certificate anyway – you’re only going to scan it and file it away).


Tick the box and click Submit – now you’ll see a summary of your order. You can order more than one image at a time, but why would you – if you’re like me you’ll want to see how this order pans out (and you’ve only got a few more seconds to wait).


Click Continue to payment – and just to make absolutely sure you’ll see another summary of your order, ie:



As you can see, the GRO go to great lengths to ensure that customers don’t submit the wrong order, but in practice there isn’t much that can go wrong – other than picking the wrong entry from the index, which is always a risk. But when there’s only £2.50 at stake it’s not so bad….


Click Confirm to proceed to the payment page – at long last! If you haven’t ordered online from the GRO before I can tell you that it’s very similar to the payment process at LostCousins, except that you’re restricted to paying with Visa, Mastercard, or Maestro.


Once you’ve entered your credit card details you must click the box to confirm that you’re not a robot, then click the blue tick to the right of the words MAKE PAYMENT, not the words themselves. Since it’s not particularly intuitive I’ve highlighted it with a red arrow in the screenshot below:



Nearly there – just one more step:



At last – now you’re just seconds away from seeing the image (the annotations in red in the screenshot below are mine):



Excited? You should be – just click View Image Online and here’s your image at long last……



To download the image to your computer click the fourth button, the one with a downward facing arrow. If for any reason you need to access the digital again, click My Orders in the menu at the right and search for it by date or my order reference number (I always do it by date because it’s easier).


Ignore the despatch date shown – I’m writing this article on 11th July and it’s telling me that the image I’ve already seen and downloaded won’t be ‘despatched’ until tomorrow!


And don’t bother clicking View details – that’ll just show you a summary of the order. What you actually need to click is E/W Birth Digital Image (E/W stands for England & Wales).


The whole process may seem rather tortuous, but that’s partly because they’re allowing for the possibility that customers might order digital images, PDFs, and certificates at the same time. Now you know what to do, next time you place an order it’ll just be a series of clicks.


Note: there is also a guide to ordering Digital Images on the Frequently Asked Questions page at the GRO site, but it’s not as comprehensive.



What could possibly go wrong?

The birth and death register entries were scanned over 15 years ago as part of the Digitisation of Vital Events (DoVE) project – which was abandoned in 2008 because it was proving too costly. However although the project wasn’t completed, the scanned images were used internally by the GRO to produce certificates and, from 2016 onwards, PDFs.


Online View is a fully automatic process, whereas producing certificates and PDFs requires human intervention – that’s why Online View is so much cheaper. The downside is that if the image isn’t perfect, there’s nobody who can put it right.


The most common problem is that the entry is trimmed at the top or the bottom, or slightly angled – you may get to see a small part of the preceding entry, or the one that follows, but there’s a little bit missing from the entry you paid for. Often this isn’t a problem – you can figure out what it is supposed to say. But if you can’t, as in the example below, contact the GRO and they will probably issue a refund.



Note: what they won’t do is provide you with a realigned image – if you want a better copy then I’m afraid you’ll need to order a PDF (or a certificate). Put it another way, if you want personal service you have to pay for it! 


Another problem you might encounter is the omission of an entry from the indexes. I revealed in 2019 that there were several large blocks of missing entries, and that some other entries had been duplicated, either in the wrong quarter or with the wrong volume number.


Note: please don’t report missing or incorrect entries to me unless you discover a large block of thousands of entries from the same volume which hasn’t previously been found (see this article for the latest find, and follow the link in the article for a list of other missing or duplicated blocks).


There’s an example of a duplicated entry in the previous article – here it is again:



I’ve bought both of the images for Matilda Emily Wells and they’re identical – almost all of the volume 4A entries for that quarter have been duplicated as volume 3B, whilst all of the volume 3B entries for the quarter are completely missing. Considering that the online birth and death indexes were used internally by the GRO for years before they were published on their website in November 2016, I don’t anticipate that the missing entries are going to be added any time soon – if ever.


Note: it’s possible that the scans for volume 3B for that quarter are missing, so even if the index was updated you still might not be able to view the entries.


This extract from the quarterly birth indexes for the third quarter of 1881 confirms that 4A is the correct volume number:



The handwritten, typed, or printed quarterly indexes were compiled by GRO staff shortly after the end of each quarter, and they are the basis for the indexes you will find at sites including Ancestry, Findmypast, and FreeBMD. By contrast the indexes on the GRO site were compiled in the 21st century working from the registers that had been scanned – which is how they can include information that was not in the quarterly indexes.



How it all began

Although family historians have long called for online access to the historic registers of births, marriages, and deaths in England & Wales held by the General Register Office (GRO), it is only in the past decade that legislation has been passed to authorise the use of modern technology.


Appropriately it was on Christmas Day 2014 that I wrote “Baroness Scott of Needham Market, a Liberal Democrat life peer, recently put forward a proposal for electronic versions of birth, marriage and death certificates - basically what we've been asking for all along” though at that time there was no expectation that the Government would accept the amendment.


But just two months later I delighted to report that “the Government has accepted an amendment to the Deregulation Bill currently going before the House of Lords that allows for the publication of information from Birth, Marriage and Death Certificates in England and Wales to be issued otherwise than in the form of a certified copy.”


In 2016 I was delighted to be invited by the GRO to a meeting at the Home Office where they revealed their plans to trial a new service providing PDF copies of entries – but though the question was asked, it was clear there was no firm plan to provide a completely automatic online alternative.


But on 7th October 2020 the Parliamentary Under Secretary of State at the Home Office signed Statutory Instrument 2020 No. 1093 (which you can find here). This made possible the service that launched last week, though nobody seems to have noticed it at the time – even I didn’t discover it until the spring of last year.  


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Please use the link below so that LostCousins can benefit from your purchase (note that you may need to log-out from Ancestry and click the link again).


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Tip: be sure to follow the advice in my DNA Masterclass, which was updated last week: it’ll save you time, it’ll save you hassle, but most importantly it will help you knock down your ‘brick walls’ more quickly and with far less effort.



Exclusive WDYTYA magazine offer ENDS SOON

It’s not too late to take advantage of the exclusive offer I’ve arranged – but don’t leave it too long, since the offer will end this month.


There's an extra special introductory offer for members in the UK, but there are also offers for overseas readers, each of which offers a substantial saving on the cover price:


UK - try 6 issues for just £9.99 - saving 68%

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To take advantage of any of these deals (and support LostCousins) please follow this link.



Big savings on a wide range of magazines ENDS TUESDAY

Until next Tuesday (actually until 10am on Wednesday 19th July) you can save on subscriptions to a wide range of magazines – in many cases UK readers can get 6 issues for just £9.99, a fraction of the price you’d pay at the newsagents, and in some cases you can get 6 issues for just £6.


You will be signing up for a rolling subscription, and the renewal will be at a more normal price – so if you don’t want to continue make sure you cancel in good time. I eventually had to cancel my Country Life subscription – not because my wife and I didn’t enjoy the magazine, but because we simply didn’t have time to read it!


Please use this link, or click the banner above so that you can support LostCousins with your purchase.



Peter’s Tips

A lot of people have had their email accounts hacked at some time or other, and once hackers get access to your address book they’ll milk it for everything they can get.


The email below is fairly typical – it discourages contact by any method other than email, and simply asks for a ‘favor’ (in England we generally write ‘favour’, of course):



It seems likely that the hacker no longer has control of Shirley’s website because he has requested that replies are sent to a different address. I can see both addresses with my email program, but it might not be so obvious to you.


If your email account has been hacked in the past, and the contents of your address book have been stolen, you can’t get them back – but what you can do is warn your friends and relatives that they might receive emails asking for assistance of one kind or another. Sadly some people do get fooled, and end up losing large sums of money.


Here’s another example, also received today – this time on my mobile phone:



This couldn’t fool me because I’m not a ‘Mum’ – I’m not even a ‘Dad’ – but a lot of people are, and they could well get sucked in. This opening gambit seems innocent enough, but it’s what comes afterwards that will cost you money.


I’m lucky – very few people have my mobile phone number and it isn’t published anywhere (my wife gets many more ‘smishing’ texts than I do). By contrast the LostCousins email address may not be published on the website, but it’s in the address books of thousands of members, so I get quite a few ‘phishing’ emails.


But you can be too cautious – I’ve known LostCousins members to close their account because when they logged in they got a message warning them that their password had been compromised. In fact, what the message was telling them is that someone else used the same password at a different site, one that had been hacked. No matter how secure your password might seem, unless it has been generated randomly there’s a good chance that someone, somewhere has had the same idea.


I use a different email address for every site I register at, including LostCousins – that’s how I know which of the sites I have used have been hacked and which ones haven’t. Not everyone can do that, of course – and in any case it does have some disadvantages.



Stop Press

This is where any major updates and corrections will be highlighted - if you think you've spotted an error first reload the newsletter (press Ctrl-F5) then check again before writing to me, in case someone else has beaten you to it......





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Peter Calver

Founder, LostCousins


© Copyright 2023 Peter Calver


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