This article will explain the benefits of ordering a First World War era death certificate, how to find the information to order them and where to buy them from. This is part of a series of guides enabling you to research a soldier who served in the First World War. Clicking on the blue link below will take you the guides:
I also offer a First World War Soldier Research Service.
What is a Death Certificate?
Death certificates for England and Wales have been kept at the General Register Office since 1837 and are available to order online. A death was required to be registered for a funeral to take place and on a death certificate you will find the following information:
- Where and When a Person Died
- Name and Surname
- Cause of Death
- Signature, Description and Residence of Informant
- When Registered
- Signature of Registrar
Not all the information above appears on a death certificate for a soldier who died while serving in the armed forces.
Why Ordering a Death Certificate can be Beneficial
When researching your family tree you will no doubt use British census records which were taken at intervals of 10 years. However, 10 years is a long time between records, and while you may find your ancestor in the1891, 1901 and 1911 censuses you may wish to find out more. If your relative’s WW1 service record hasn’t survived, the 1911 census may be last time you have their address. Unfortunately, this period had a very high level of infant mortality and you will come across children in your family tree who died young. A death certificate whether to a family member or the soldier in question can help you in the following ways:
- A death certificate sometimes records a soldier’s service number and unit which can be very useful if no service record has survived. I have found the service number and unit of a husband recorded on a wife’s death certificate.
- Find out where the family was living, which may explain why a man decided to join a particular unit. It will also enable you to add context to how the outbreak of war effected the local area by looking at local newspaper reports.
- If a death required an inquest, e.g. suicide or accident, then there is a good chance that a report can be found in a local newspaper.
- The cause of death. I don’t recommend ordering a death certificate for a soldier killed in action for reasons outlined below.
- If the soldier you are researching died just after the war or in the 1920s, then it is possible their death was related to their service in the war. A death certificate can be very precise when noting the cause of death and you may find that the death was caused due to wounds sustained/illness contracted during the First World War.
Death Certificates to Soldiers who Died while Serving in the Armed Forces
Death certificates to soldiers who died while in service can be found by searching the indexes for British Nationals Armed Forces Deaths 1796-2005. These can be searched on Findmypast which is a subscription based website. I wouldn’t recommend ordering these certificates for soldiers who were killed in action as they are unlikely to provide any new information.
However, I would recommend ordering them if a soldier died of wounds in the UK, as the death certificate should record their place of death or where the cause of death is not known. Soldiers who were killed in action are listed as such in Soldiers who Died in the Great War 1914-1919. This record set can be found on FindmyPast and Ancestry. Clicking on the banner below will take you to FindmyPast which usually has a free two week trial period.
Ordering a Death Certificate
I use Ancestry to find the correct indexes to order a death certificate. However, you can use the following site for free: www.freebmd.org.uk or search the indexes on the General Register Office (click the link below). Once you have the correct information you can order a death certificate from the General Register Office for £9.25 and they take approximately 10 days to arrive. There is no extra charge if you’re ordering a certificate and you live outside of Britain but they will take longer than 10 days to arrive. Click on the link below to search the death indexes and order your certificate: