FreeBMD Deaths, 1837-1925

[Anonymous], Somerset House: Interior view of the vaults at the Registrar-General's Office (1863). Collage, record number 307901. © London Metropolitan Archives.

Origins and Content

The mandatory registration of births, marriages and deaths began in 1837 and continues to the present day. Our FreeBMD deaths data uses data from the FreeBMD transcription of the General Register Office (GRO) index of death registrations between 1837 and 1925.

Each GRO death index entry provides an abstract of the full registration details for a specific death. This information will include the surname and given name of the individual for whom the register entry was made, the year and three-month quarter in which the registration was made, the district in which the death was registered, and the volume in which the full entry is contained. Transcribers at FreeBMD have transcribed these index entries and so made them digitally searchable.

The indexes are intended as a guide to register entries. A full entry for an individual death (or for that matter birth or marriage) can be obtained from the General Register Office as a certified copy (certificate) for a fee.

Relationship to Other Sources

The FreeBMD deaths data links to any other dataset in which the name of an individual is known. Linking FreeBMD deaths works best when as much other information as possible about an individual is known. This can significantly increase the likelihood of obtaining a correct match. The other two key pieces of information are the district in which the event took place (county or town) and a year range. As such, deaths data is likely to link best with other civil data such as the Census. However, due to the scant level of information contained in each FreeBMD death entry, and the sheer size of the dataset, all links to life archives are only possible, rather than probable, and multiple records of death might be suggested within a single life archive.

William Henry Prior, Bunhill Fields Burial Ground (1876). Collage, record number 322370. © London Metropolitan Archives.

Strengths and Limitations

The legal requirement for the registration of births marriages and death from 1837 means that the FreeBMD indexes provide some of the most accurate records of birth year, marriage and death year available. In cases where the index entry for an individual can be easily identified, for example in the case of an unusual name, the information from our deaths data can provide a definitive answer for criteria such as age, which may be reported inconsistently in other records.

Of course, the limited data offered by death index entries, usually just name, year and quarter, and parish, makes it very difficult to link to other datasets with a high level of certainty. The deaths database contains millions of entries, between which it is hard to distinguish.

Original Source and Digitisation

The original indexes to the General Register Office’s Birth, Marriage and Death registers are available to view on Microfilm. The indexes for each county are usually held locally at a county record office or local studies library. More information can be found here

Further Information

Author Credits

This page was written by Lucy Williams, with additional contributions by other members of the Digital Panopticon project team.