Death Certificates in England and Wales

A death certificate is important because after 1837 a burial was only allowed if a valid certificate was produced, which meant the civil authorities had been notified of the death.

Although the GRO Index on microfiche does not include ages at death of people who died before 1866, the GRO has now re-indexed these entries in their online index, adding ages at death in most cases, although you do have to register to use this index.  

Deaths were recorded where they took place, and this may not necessarily be where the person had lived. 

The certificate may also help you determine if you have found the correct death registration in the GRO Index, especially if your ancestor has a common name such as John Smith.

Information contained includes the death date, the place of death and their age. Their age is very useful because it could help you to find the correct birth registration in the GRO Index, although age was not always accurately recorded. After 1969 their full date of birth is recorded, but this could also be inaccurate.

The cause of death is also listed on certificates and this can be very interesting, especially if it was not because of natural causes. Deaths were usually registered within two or three days, but if it was unexplained and an inquest was held or a post-mortem was carried out, the death registration would be somewhat later.

It is possible to find some coroners' records in Record Offices but they cannot be accessed for 75 years. It is also possible the documents have been destroyed altogether because Coroners are not legally bound to keep them after 15 years have passed.

Should the deceased was a man, the certificate usually stated their occupation. If the deceased was a single woman, her occupation was sometimes stated, but should the deceased be a married or widowed woman, it invariably just stated she was either the wife or widow of her husband and listed his occupation.

After 1 April 1982, however, the maiden surname of a married woman was recorded, which may help you to find the marriage registration in the GRO Index.

Until 1969, if the deceased was a legitimate child, the certificate of death usually stated he or she was the son or daughter of his or her father and listed his occupation, but did not state the mother. If the child was illegitimate, it would state the mother's name and her occupation. The informant and their address is recorded. This person could be a relative previously unknown to you.

It is also useful to check whether the deceased prepared a will as this may again reveal relatives of which you were previously unaware.

Elizabeth Lambert Death Certificate

What information is on a death certificate:

  • Death Date
  • Abode of deceased
  • Name and surname
  • Sex of deceased
  • Age at death
  • Occupation
  • Cause of death
  • Signature, description and residence of informant
  • Registration Date
  • Signature of registrar

How to obtain a death certificate:

It is possible to order a certificate online from the ONS in Southport after you have found the appropriate registration in the GRO Index.

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