In carrying out research on all three areas, a large measure of scepticism is necessary with regard to the dates of births, marriages and deaths reported by family members before 1900. This is especially true for births; the ages given in census returns, for example, are almost always inaccurate, and round figures - 50. 60, 70, - should be treated with particular caution. The true date of birth is almost always well before the one reported, sometimes by as much as fifteen years. Why this should be so is a matter for speculation, but it seems unlikely that vanity or mendacity are to blame. It would appear more probable that, up to the start of this century, very few people actually knew their precise date of birth. Since, at least after middle age, almost no-one feels as old as they actually are, a guess will usually produce an underestimate. Whatever the explanation, charitable or otherwise, it is always wiser to search a range of the indexes before the reported date, rather than after.
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From 1864 to 1877 the indexes consist of a single yearly volume in each category - births, marriages and deaths - covering the entire country, and recording all names in a straightforward alphabetical arrangement. The same arrangement also applies to the non-Catholic marriages registered from 1845.
From 1878, the yearly volume is divided into four quarters, with each quarter covering three months and indexed separately.
This means that a search for a name in, for example, the 1877 births index involves looking in one place in the index, while it is necessary to check four different places in the 1878 index, one in each of the four quarters. From 1903, in the case of births only, the indexes once again cover the entire year, and only from this year also supply the mother's maiden surname.
In all three categories, each index entry gives