Find your origins using civil records – more than just birth, marriage and death certificates

There is little doubt that civil records will be a key resource for you when you try to find your origins.

Generally, civil records are created by governments to record the vital events of its citizens.

These are usually the typical ‘life’ events such as an individual’s birth, marriage and death.

However, there are also many more events that can be found. These include things like divorce, adoption, legitimisation, annulment of marriage, and foetal death.

In some countries it is a legal requirement to record these events with fines issued to those who don’t comply. So the data can be viewed as fairly reliable.

However, as is always the case, you must consider all aspects of the reliability of your source material before drawing any conclusions.

Generally, governments create these civil records so they know the size and behaviour of their population. This then helps them try to govern efficiently.

Civil registration gives people a name and identity within society which can be used for all manner of things such as the delivery of benefits and government services.

Government information about local trends will help you find your origins

The records also provides a data source for vital statistics so that a government can see any trends in its society and plan for the future using metrics of how many people died, were born in a year and so on.

Other pieces of information that can be found in civil records include evidence of parentage and thus entitlement to inheritance.

Civil registration also provides a facility for marriage and (in some countries) civil partnership that does not depend on religion.

So what does it all mean to you?

Well the civil records are a fairly reliable source of basic information if you are trying to find or locate an individual in your family tree.

You can see the children and birthdates of any mother and may discover unknown members of your family.

Some civil records include a person’s occupation which may be helpful in confirming or discounting an old family theory.

Civil registrations can also hold information about any marriages or civil partnerships recorded in your family outside the church.

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Key points to take away

  • Consider the reliability of your source. Civil records contain masses of information but you must consider if you can trust the data
  • Take note of all the children listed to a mother in the civil records. You may find out there are more members of your family tree than you realised
  • Civil records are a great source of life events such as marriage, divorce and children for any given individual, which will help you form a picture of the lives they led.