Thursday, July 7, 2016

Certificates, transcriptions and Brexit

Well, here's some positive news at last about Brexit. As a result of events on June 23, it has become less expensive for Australians like me to purchase certificates from the UK General Registry Office (GRO). This time last year one British pound was equivalent to roughly $AUD 2.0. Now it's down to $AUD 1.70. That takes about $3 off the cost of a certificate.

Politics aside, ordering copies of birth, marriage or death certificates is an expensive way to do family history research. If I can find reliable information about the people I'm researching by some other means, I'm usually content with that. But there are times when the only way to find information, or check dubious sources, is to order a copy of the certificate.

Copy of Lily Whybrew's birth certificate from the UK GRO
Lily was the youngest child of Susan and David Whybrew.
She died in infancy.
Each country has its own approach to the issuing of certificates. The UK GRO allows orders to be made online or by mail, then sends a certified copy of the original registry entry by mail. Curiously, the cost (currently £9.25 each) is the same whether you provide complete details, including a reference to the GRO index, or just a few details such as a name, place and year, requiring the GRO to do the research themselves to find an entry on the index. Even more strange, the cost is the same whether it's posted to Highgate in London or to Highgate in Perth, Australia. There's no option to have copies delivered electronically.

Despite the ready availability of family history sources online, there's still something exciting about finding a long brown envelope in your letter box marked with Her Majesty's Government seal. If family history is your 'thing', nothing beats the thrill of seeing a certificate issued a hundred years ago and finding that vital piece of information that you were looking for inscribed in handwritten scrawl. Occasionally there's the disappointment of finding the certificate belongs to someone different than you were expecting, or it contains information that blows a long-cherished theory apart.

The Irish GRO also issues certificates by mail, which can be ordered by post or electronically, for €20. Alternatively they will send a photocopy of the record by email, for a reduced price (about €4). If all you want is the information, rather than something to hang on the wall, that's a good option. For some reason, emailed photocopies can't be ordered online, but have to be ordered by fax or mail after downloading the request form and ticking the box that says 'photocopy'. Odd, but that's the way it is.
Another of Brexit's effects is the appearance on the Irish GRO site of a warning that "Due to a significant increase in orders for certificates as a result of the recent referendum in the United Kingdom (UK), the delivery time for certificates from this service will be up to thirty (30) days from the date of order." A sudden increase in interest in family history? Maybe not.

Rosina Whybrew's death in Ireland in 1874.
This is a photocopy of the original entry from the Irish GRO.

Birth, marriage and death records in Australia are kept by each State's own registry offices, and certified copies are generally very expensive. (The NSW registry charges $32 for an emailed copy of a birth entry. That's twice the price of a hard copy British certificate mailed overseas.) One way around this is to order a modified version of the certificate through a transcription agent. They will send all the information that's found on a registry entry, usually laid out on their own attractive presentation form, for about half to two thirds of the price. Transcription agents can be found by searching online.

Transcript of Mary Mason's birth in NSW,
provided by a transcription agent from the original entry.

If you have ancestors in South Australia, and live outside the state, you're in luck. The City of Unley Library has a wonderful bunch of family history volunteers who will look up births, marriages and deaths in that state free of charge. All that's required is the details of the person you're researching, mailed or emailed on one of their request forms (up to a limit of 3 requests at a time) and a stamped, self-addressed envelope. Since they are volunteers, it can take several weeks to get a result, but they'll often add helpful comments to the report. A fantastic service. (I'm not aware of similar services in any other state, but if you know of one, please let us know about it in the comments box.)

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