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When are we going to be able to examine the records of the Registrar of Births, Marriages and Deaths? And why can we not do it now?

My great-great-great-grandfather and grandmother both died between 1841 and 1851 in Erringden, Halifax, about two miles from Todmorden. Unfortunately there were 24 William MITCHELLs who died in Halifax and Todmorden during those dates, and four Susan MITCHELLs who died in Todmorden during the same period.

The staff at the Halifax Registrar’s Office have been most helpful but can neither spend the time investigating all these references, or allow me to do it myself. To purchase all these certificates would cost me almost £200 and would even then not guarantee a result. If I were a celebrity, of course, with the backing of the BBC I am sure there would not be a problem!


Malcolm Mitchell


Without a change in government legislation there is presently no alternative to buying a certified copy of the death certificate at a cost of £7 to view the information that you require. Over the last 100 years the government has attempted to reform or modernise the civil registration system on a number of occasions.

Most recently, to achieve this modernisation the General Register Office (GRO) decided to digitise the images and data capture an index of all birth, death and marriage records from 1837 to the present day. The objective was to create a more accurate index correcting the anomalies, errors and omissions of the existing indexes. The project, known as Digitisation of Vital Events (DoVE), was aimed at providing GRO with a modern system of registering information and streamlining the certificate production process. Additionally a new improved online index search facility – Multi Access to GRO Published Index of Events (MAGPIE) – was to be developed, allowing free public access to these new indexes via the internet.

However, in January 2007 the National Archives (TNA) and Office for National Statistics (ONS), whose umbrella the GRO currently comes under, announced that the public search facilities at the Family Records Centre in Myddleton Street, London, would close by April 2008, as they both needed to cut costs. In July 2007, ONS announced its intention to permanently close their ground floor public search facility at the FRC by 31st October – five months earlier than previously announced. The GRO also confirmed that the DoVE project was over 12 months behind schedule. Budgetary constraints and overspending mean that funding is not presently available to deliver MAGPIE, the online index search facility. The closure of the FRC was intended to go hand in hand with improved online indexes to birth, marriages and death records but evidently this now does not appear to be the case.

The decision by the ONS to permanently close its ground floor presence at the Family Records Centre from the end of October 2007 and the withdrawal of the paper indexes will have a major impact on all researchers. The only option will be to look at the indexes online (via a subscription or pay-per-view site) or on fiche or film, all of which have anomalies, errors and omissions. So until MAGPIE is available online (if it ever is) the situation will not improve.

Although it was in the parish of Halifax, Erringden was in the Todmorden Registration District. Therefore your searches need to concentrate on that RD rather than Halifax RD. Although there are several possible entries in the Indexes to Deaths, you can include a ‘Reference Check’ when you apply for the certificates: in this case their ages based on their dates of birth.

As discovering the deaths of William and Susan MITCHELL is causing a problem, why not search for their burials as you know they died in Erringden? FamilyHistoryOnline ( includes many burial and monumental inscription records from around the country, including the West Riding. Or there is the National Burial Index (2nd edition) which includes over 13 million entries, including Halifax, on four CDs.


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