Users' Guide to the Death Indexes
- What areas are covered by the indexes?
- What information is contained in the indexes?
- How do I order a death certificate?
- Can I see the original records?
- Why are the reference numbers different from the national death indexes?
- Why can't I find a death in the indexes?
- What should I do if I find a mistake in the indexes?
1. What areas are covered by the indexes?
Our aim is to eventually cover all deaths which took place in West Midlands between 1837 and 1950, and beyond.
These records are now held at many separate register offices:
The Registration Districts in West Midlands have changed considerably since 1837, and very few records are now held at the offices where they were initially registered.
For the purposes of registering deaths, West Midlands was divided into dozens of Registrar's Sub-Districts. A full list of the Sub-Districts included in the database so far can be found on the Coverage of the Death Indexes page, which also shows the years for which the records have been indexed, and the places included within each Sub-District.
Because there are separate sets of records for each Sub-District, the dates covered will vary. But more information will be added to the database as soon as it becomes available, and the latest additions will be noted on the Updates page.
2. What information is contained in the indexes?
From the indexes, you can find out:
(a) The Name of the deceased, as shown in the registers. Bodies which have been found but not identified will be listed as simply 'Unknown male' or 'Unknown female'.
(b) The Year in which the death was registered. Remember that the year relates to when the death was registered, which may be weeks or even months after the death took place, particularly if there were suspicious circumstances.
(c) The Sub-District where the death was registered, which should be the same as where the death took place. There is a list showing the places within each sub-district.
(d) The Register Office in West Midlands which now holds the records. There have been a large number of boundary changes between districts since the start of registration in 1837, and as a result many records have been moved around.
(e) The Reference Number for the death entry, which can be used to order the death certificate. Please note that this is only applicable at the register office which holds the records, and is of no use anywhere else.
Please bear in mind that until recently the main purpose of these indexes was to supply certified copies of entries in registers. They were therefore written to help the registrar find an entry on information supplied by the applicant for the certificate. Consequently, they do not always provide information in an ideal form for family historians.
3. How do I order a death certificate?
If you find an entry you are interested in, it is possible to order a death certificate, which is a copy of the full entry from the original register. This normally contains the following information:
- Date and place of death
- Name of the deceased
- Sex and Age
- Cause of death
- The name and address of the person registering the death
- Date of registration
Applications for certified copies of the death entries should be made to:
|Address||Payments to:||Credit Cards|
Superintendent Registrar Stourbridge Branch Office,
Dudley District Register Office
Sandwell Register Office
The Register Office
Family historians are requested to apply for certificates by post and not call casually at the Register Office. Whilst staff will always try to help, they do have other statutory duties to carry out every day and are often very busy with current births, deaths and marriages. Postal applications are normally dealt with promptly as they are received.
An application should include:
- the name of the deceased
- their approximate age (if known)
- the date of death or registration (to within five years is sufficient)
- the reference number supplied in the index
Do not forget to include all the information asked for in the application - the better the information supplied, the greater the chance of being supplied with the certificates required. And a stamped addressed envelope will help get the certificate back to you more quickly. Applications sent from outside the UK should enclose two International Reply Coupons with their self-addressed envelope instead of stamps.
The fee for each certificate is £10.00 and should be sent with the application. Cheques should be crossed "/&Co/". Do Not Send Cash.
Applicants wishing to pay by credit card should include in their applications the relevant
details, i.e. type of card, name of cardholder, card number and date of expiry.
4. Can I see the original records?
Original records of births, marriages and deaths held at register offices in England and Wales are not open to the public, and information can only be released in the form of certificates issued by the registrars.
5. Why are the reference numbers different from the national death indexes?
The national indexes of deaths in England and Wales at Myddleton Place (formerly at St. Catherine's House or Somerset House) list all persons whose death was registered in each quarter year from 1837. They show the name of the deceased, their age (from 1866 only), the name of the registration district (as it existed when the death was registered), and a volume and page number, which is unique to the General Register Office and of no use to local registrars.
Every three months since July 1837, registrars have been required to send copies of their death register entries to the General Register Office. For various reasons, sometimes entries were missed, or details were copied incorrectly from the register; this can usually explain differences between certificates ordered by the GRO and those obtained from local register offices. Generally speaking, registers and indexes held by the local offices are less prone to error, and should therefore be more accurate than those at the GRO.
6. Why can't I find a death in the indexes?
A quick glance through the indexes reveals some unusual spellings of common names, and this often explains why a death can be hard to find. In the early days of registration, and because of the high level of illiteracy, the person registering the death gave their details to the registrar, who would spell them as he heard them. If the person could not read or write, he would not know whether the names were being spelled consistently. Sometimes the informant was a neighbour or friend, who may not have been sure of the deceased's full name or exact age.
To help overcome this problem the search pages have the ability to try to list names that sound similar but are spelled differently. Hint and tips about getting the best from the search of the indexes on this web site are available here.
As noted above, some people remain unidentified when their deaths are registered, and so they appear simply as 'Unknown Male' or 'Unknown Female', although it was sometimes possible to re-register the entry if their identity was subsequently discovered.
If you are satisfied that a name does not appear in the indexes, then your ancestor may have died outside the area. It was not unusual for people to die while working away from home, or visiting relations in other parts of the country. The GRO indexes may be helpful in locating where the death took place, but please remember that a lot of records have moved around due to boundary changes between districts.
7. What should I do if I find a mistake in the indexes?
Although every effort has been made to ensure the accuracy of these indexes, it is possible that an occasional mistake or omission can occur. If you think you have found an error then please send an e-mail to: West Midlands BMD Webmaster, giving as many details as possible.