Use GRO to Grow Your Female Line


Who is the earliest married lady in your UK tree? Was she born after 1837? Use General Registration Office (GRO) records to trace more of your female ancestors!

1. What Was Her Surname? – If you only know her husband’s name, follow these steps to discover her birth surname:

  • Helena Logan circa 1930
    Helena Logan circa 1930

    Go to the search page at FreeBMD.

  • Select “Marriages”.
  • Enter her first husband’s details in the “Surname” and “First Name” boxes. Be sure to get these the right way round!
  • Enter her first name in the “Spouse First Name(s)” box.
  • Enter a date range.
  • Leave the other fields blank.
  • Make a note of the most likely results. including the District, Volume and Page. If there is a pair of spectacles next to the results, click on “Info” to see an image of the index page as an extra check!

2. Have I Got the Right Marriage? – If you think you have found the right marriage but are not sure, order the marriage certificate for £9.25. Yes, it costs money, but if you don’t, you risk collecting the wrong ancestors! You will need to register if you have not ordered a certificate online before and you’ll need the District, Volume & Page . Check out the GRO guide to marriage certificates.

3. What is the Bride’s “Condition”? – The “Condition” column on the marriage certificate tells you whether she was e.g. a spinster or a widow. If she was a widow, the certificate may just give her surname prior to this marriage. Go back to Free BMD to look for her previous marriage:

  • Select “Marriages” again
  • Enter her previous surname in the “Surname” box.
  • Enter her first name in the “Spouse first name(s)” box  and
  • Enter a date range.
  • If you get too many results. narrow them by District, but if unsuccessful, repeat the search for neighbouring Districts as well as the most obvious one.

4. Who’s Baby? – If the condition of the lady is “Spinster”, write down her maiden name. Go back to FreeBMD, select “Births” and enter her full birth name. Enter a Date Range. The results list will again give you District, Volume and Page. Make a note if you want to order the certificate! For some years, the search results will give you her mother’s maiden name as well.

Grandma Betty Youlden's Shop early 1960s

Grandma Betty Youlden’s Shop early 1960s

5. Diversion! If she was born before 3rd April 1881, take a look at the 1881 UK Census. Results for the 1881 census index can be viewed on Ancestry for free. Who was she sharing her home with?

6. More About Her Mother – Once you have her mother’s name from her birth certificate or from the census, check the date of this information. If it is after 1837, go back to step 1 and start over for her mother!

The earlier you go the less detail you will find in GRO and census records, but your research doesn’t need to stop there! More Anon!

For more help tracing your female line, contact Woods for the Trees or read more of Steph’s Family History Blog!