As with all detective work, be it police work, archaeology or genealogy, you start from the known and work back into the unknown.  Obtaining a birth certificate of a child can provide valuable confirmation of the parents of the child, in particular (if this is not known) the maiden name of the mother.  Working with this information, you can then hopefully find a marriage, and on that certicate, the fathers' names of the bride and bridegroom, plus their occupations.

The example below is a birth certificate for Thomas Steele, born 20th August 1855 in Hayton, Cumberland. The certificate shows his date of birth, his given name, sex, name of his father (Thomas Steele), name of his mother and her maiden name (Mary Steele formerly Finnian), the occupation of the father (Coal Miner), the signature,description and residence of the informant (in this case the father,Joseph Steele of Hayton), the registration date (12th September 1855) and the signature of the registrar (Daniel Pape).
However, there was no obligation to register births in the first decade or so after the 1836 Act of Parliament and if a child was not registered within six months of their birth there was no mechanism of including them later.  With the introduction of fines for non-registration in 1874, the take up increased greatly.  It is estimated that in the period 1837-1847, up to 15% of all British births went unregistered.

Common errors in the names given on certificates are linked to people not knowing how their names should be spelled, as well as being reflective of a largely illiterate society in the nineteenth century - in which case registrars were left to guess how a name was spelled.

The General Record Office (GRO) compiled quarterly indexes from the registrar returns: Q1 (Jan-Mar); Q2 (Apr-Jun); Q3 (Jul-Sep); and Q4 (Oct-Dec), and the entries recorded in the indexes are from the quarterly dates of registration rather than the date of birth (or marriage or death).  So, if an event took place near to the end of a quarter it is most likely to appear in the index for the subsequent quarter.  By using these indexes, copies of birth certificates can be obtained from the GRO.

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