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  • Writer's pictureWendy Percival

Opening a can of worms?

Today in 1836 legislation was introduced in Britain, requiring all births, marriages and deaths to be registered. The first certificates were issued in September 1837 and are the bread and butter in the family historian's research toolbox.

But an incident occurred earlier this year when I feared "let sleeping dogs lie" would prove to be the wisest move.

Having only ever had a "short" birth certificate, I thought it was about time I got a copy of my full certificate for the family history files, so I ordered one via the General Register Office website.

When it arrived, I noticed to my alarm, that my middle name had been spelt wrong! Suddenly the thought of the bureaucratic nightmare I might be about to wade into to get the situation corrected made me break out in a cold sweat.

My concerns were heightened when I telephoned the GRO to explain, only to be told that to "make any changes" would cost me £94! Thankfully, when I pointed out that I had no intention of paying £94 for errors made by their office, the representative must have realised she was talking out of her ear and backed off. She suggested I speak to the local office where my birth was originally registered to see if it had been wrongly recorded there.

I telephoned Wolverhampton Register Office and spoke to a very friendly lady who kindly checked their own record book. She confirmed that the original entry was correct and we concluded that the mistake must have been made when someone mis-transcribed my name on to the certified copy sent to the GRO as part of their quarterly returns, back in 1958. Phew!

So I placed another order for my birth certificate, this time directly to Wolverhampton Register Office and was delighted - not to mention relieved - to receive a full, and correct, copy of my birth certificate. In one way, this one is more authentic than a certificate obtained from the central GRO, as it's a copy of the actual page from the register book which was filled in when my dad attended the office to register my arrival into the world.

Since then, I've receive a refund from the GRO for the cost of the certificate along with an apology for the error.

I've left the local office and the general office to fight it out between themselves as to how they go about correcting the mistake in their central files!


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