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White Pages Guide to Using Public Records

Governments throughout history have had systems in place for permanently recording the details of their citizens, with The Doomsday Book (1086) being the most famous example of one of these historical documents.

In the United Kingdom, the Public Record Office Act of 1838 stipulated that by law, public information records had to be formally held and maintained in Public Record Offices, so that members of the public could access these documents.

Public information includes things like, birth, marriage and death certificates as well as the edited version of the electoral register.

With access to Peopletracer, you can access this information in an instant, should you ever need to find the contact details of a friend, relative or customer you have lost touch with over the years.

Here is an overview of the information contained within public records and tips on how you can use these details to help you find the person you're looking for.

Birth Certificate

Birth certificates are often used as official proof of identity for things like passports, drivers licences and marriage licences.

The information on a birth certificate includes;

  • The baby's full name
  • Name and surname of the father
  • Name, including maiden name and previous married surnames of the mother
  • Sex of the child
  • Birth registration district and sub-district
  • When and where the baby was born
  • Time of delivery (in the case of multiple births)
  • Occupation of the father
  • Date of registration
  • Address information of mother and father

People finding tip: The registered district/sub-district on the birth certificate may give you clues as to the residence of other members of the same family.

Marriage Certificates

Marriage Certificates contain a wealth of information about both the wife and the groom. Since 1837 the information printed on marriage certificates has included;

  • Names of the bride and groom
  • Registration district
  • Place of marriage
  • Register entry number, plus the method of marriage be that banns, licence or certificate etc...
  • Age of both parties
  • Status and occupations
  • Address
  • Name and occupation of both the bride and groom's father. Alternatively, this entry might read 'deceased' if the father is dead
  • Signature of the couple and marriage witnesses

People finding tip: In some instances, ages on marriage certificates may be inaccurate. Some may read "of full age," this implies that the person was at least 21 years old at the time of marriage. The address of the bride and groom may also be inaccurate, as one of the parties may have told the authorities that they live in the same home, in order to avoid paying two sets of banns fees. If you are looking for members of your family that may be on the bride's side, then checking the marriage certificate's registered parish may provide you with clues as to their rough geographical location.

Death Certificates

Death Certificates contain important pieces of information, which may be of use to those who need to check if there is a history of genetic disease in their family or alternatively, find the location of wills and other probate documents.

Death certificates include the following information;

  • Name and last address of the deceased
  • Registration district and sub-district
  • Register number
  • Time and location of death
  • Sex
  • Age of death (including details of parentage, if the deceased was a child)
  • Occupation and that of the spouse
  • Cause of death
  • Name and address of the informant
  • Date of registration

People finding tip: Some ages on death certificates may be inaccurate as the informant may not know the deceased person's date of birth. If the deceased died in unusual or violent circumstances, the coroner is usually named as the informant on the death certificate. If this is the case and you wish to know more about the circumstances of the death, try reading local newspaper reports at the time the death was registered, as inquests often make the local news.

Other Public Records of Note:

Criminal and Civic Check – Criminal background checks are often carried out by employers, who by law have to ensure that potential employees are cleared to work either with children or in healthcare. Those who are looking to foster or adopt will also go through a criminal background check. The checks are carried out by the Disclosure and Barring Service (DBS) and were formally known as CRB checks.

Typically a DBS check will involve a search of police databases for spent and unspent convictions, cautions, reprimands and final warnings. It takes around two weeks for the DBS to conduct a background search. If you would like to find out what personal information the UK authorities have about you, you can send a subject access request. These forms are available from your local police station.

Divorce Records –Divorce records are prepared by the UK courts and can include petitions, certificates, and decree nisis /decree absolutes. Decree nisis outline the reasons for the divorce, whereas decree absolutes are the finalised certificate of divorce. Decree absolutes include the names of the petitioner, respondent, date and place of the marriage.

Adoption Records – Adoption records are very similar to birth certificates except that the parent's names will be those of the adopted parents. The document will also show the address of the court and the date the adoption was granted.

Stillbirths – Stillbirths have been registered in the UK since 1927, but in order to view a record, a request to the Registrar General is needed for a certificate to be issued.

To begin your Public Record search go to the top of this page and simply use our search bar.

More Information on Public Records:

The Art of Finding and Reconnecting with lost Friends

White Pages Interactive People Finder

Frequently Asked Questions about the Electoral Register

Peopletracer - Guide to Electoral Roll

Peopletracer - Births Deaths and Marriages

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