Monday, January 9, 2012

Finding U.K. Vital Records on

Continuing my series exploring the databases available on commercial site, I wanted to determine what United Kingdom Vital Records were available on the website, and how to search them. 

The list of  Vital Record collections (I did an "England" search on the Collections page showed only:

*  "England and Wales Birth Index (1837 to 1983, 1983-2005),"
*  "England and Wales Marriage Index (1837 to 1983, 1983-2005),"
*  "England and Wales Death Index (1837 to 1983, 1983-2005),"

 The collection list says they are from the UK National Archives.

1)  The main Search page is at

I entered the following information in the search fields:

*  Select an Archive = "All Vital Records"
*  First Name = [blank]
*  Last Name (required) = "whittle" (not exact)
*  Middle Name = [blank]
*  Maiden Name = [blank]
*  Location (required) = "United Kingdom"
*  Record Type (required) = "Marriage Records"
*  Event Type  = "Marriage"
*  Year (required) = "1840" +/- "5 years" [1837 to 2005 required]

2)  Clicking on "Search" gave me 37 records:

All of these record marches showed only an initial for the first name and a last name.  Whittles were not ranked at the top of the matches.  There were only 3 Whittle persons in the list of 37 matches.

3)  I clicked on the link for one of the Whittle persons and saw:

This page has a link to "View Original Record."

4)  I clicked on the link for "View Original Record" and a PDF file opened in a new window (I chose to "Open" the page rather than "Save" it):

The Civil Registration page for Marriages registered in the second quarter of 1838 opened and showed nine entries with the "Whittle" surname.  "J. Whittle" was on the result list, and the screen above includes "John" or "Joseph" Whittle.  Apparently, not every name in the Civil Registration is found in a Last Name search.

5)  What about an "exact" search on First Name = "Alexander" and Last Name = "Whittle" with both "Exact" boxes checked?  I kept the Marriage year range to "1840" +/- "5 years" and saw:

There were 35 matches found, but only one of them was a Last Name = "Whittle" and that was an Alfred Whittle in 1842. 

This very simple search did not find the marriage record of Alexander Whittle and Rachel Morley in the September quarter 1840, that is in the Civil Registration for Marriages which I found on the UK Free BMD website ( ) and posted an image of it in Whittle Marriage Record in England.  I also looked for Rachel Morley on the website and did not find this listing.  Apparently, the search did not find this listing which I know is in the Civil registration database and images.

5)  All of the above raises these questions:

*  "Does really have ALL of the U.K. Civil Registration pages for all years and all counties?"

*  "Does the index not include all of the entries for a given surname?"

*  "Does the index only the first initials of names?"

6)  The Lessons Learned from this limited investigation include:

*  The "UK Vital Records" collection on includes the Civil Registration records but no other record collections (i.e., no Parish Registers or online indexes).

*  A search for not exact last names returns a number of similarly spelled surnames.  That's good.

*  A search for exact surnames does not limit the results to the requested surname.  This is terrible!

*  First names are not indexed.  This can be overcome as long as all matches are found.

*  Entries for every name in the U.K. Civil Registration database is not returned as search results.  This makes these databases useless!

*  A user cannot search across all of the years in the collection for a person - i.e., I should be able to search for Alexander Whittle for all years 1837 to 2005, or be able to limit the search to more than 10 years. 

7)  My suggestions for concerning the U.K. Vital Records include:

*  Provide a list of the counties covered in the U.K. Vital Record databases collections.

*  Improve the index so that results are provided for every person on the Civil Registration pages - first name and last name.

*  Make the "Exact" search work so that exact matches are the only ones listed.

8)  Needless to say (I think), I am very frustrated by the search capabilities on  In every post to date, I've shown that there are critical deficiencies in the search fields, search algorithms, result lists, etc. 

Subscribers to should expect that the collections are complete (or a summary of the limitations are provided), that the indexes used by the search algorithms are complete (or describe the limitations of the indexes), and that the search algorithms accurately provide all matches in the databases for the search entries (or describe limitations of the algorithms). 

Disclosure: provided a free subscription to their collection at the SCGS 2011 Jamboree which I appreciate. This did not influence my statements in this blog post, but it did enable them to be made!

The URL for this post is:

Copyright (c),. Randall J. Seaver, 2012


Audrey Collins said...

Sounds a bit grim! I was wondering what the databases on than were like, but I don't have access to it myself so it's good to see that you are giving them the once over.

It doesn't inspire confidence that they are listed as coming from The National Archives, because they are actually from the General Register Office for England and Wales, a completely separate and unconnected organisation.

There seem to be some fundamental flaws with the search algorithms on the site, judging by this and your last post on the subject. I hope they get it sorted out.

Meanwhile, keep up the good work, Randy.

Unknown said...

I finally, after a year, cancelled my subscription with them out of pure frustration. Claiming they have a "birth record" for a person I searched for, only to find out it's actually a listing from the SSDI. That is SO not a birth record. I finally had enough. I doubt I will resubscribe.