Civil Registration

Civil Registration of Births, marriages and Deaths started with the 1836 Act.

Births and Deaths Registration Act of 1836.

This act created the basis of today’s civil registration system in England and Wales. The Act required a Registrar General for England and Wales to be appointed. This person was responsible for registrations across the country. Local registration districts were also created and were broadly based upon poor law unions.

The guardians of those unions appointed a superintendent registrar for each local registration district,  who was to report to the Registrar General. Each area or sub-district under the local superintendent registrar had its own registrar.

The Start of Civil Registration

From 1st July 1837, births and deaths were to be registered in the area or district in which they occurred.  The local C of E or Anglican parish church still kept records of the Baptism or burial if one was performed there. Additionally some independent churches recorded these events. It should be noted that churches recorded the date of the Baptism of the child and the date of the burial, not usually the Birth and Death, although some church records did show it.

The local registrar had to find out about births and deaths, issue a certificate and  then copy the information to the superintendent registrar or send him the registration books when they were full.  The superintendent registrar would index the local records for the whole district and every three months copies were sent to  the Registrar General at the GRO where entries from all over England and Wales were collated. Our records cover the indexes kept by the national GRO not the local Register Offices.

Our indexes show the GRO reference number which shows the

  • registration district,
  • the year
  • quarter (M: January – March; J: April – June; S: July – Sept; D: Oct – Nov)

Births and Deaths Registration Act of 1836 – Recording Births

This Act required births to be registered, but it was up to the local registrar to find out about births and record the details. There were no penalties or fines for parents or anyone else if they failed to let the registrar know about a birth.  Some believed that baptism was a legitimate alternative to civil registration.  Either through ignorance of the new law or even people taking a stand against them, there were some gaps in the number of births recorded.

Births and Deaths Registration Act of 1874

This new Act of 1874 plugged many of the gaps in the previous act and made it the parent’s responsibility (or the occupier of a house) where a baby was born to register the birth within 42 days or they became liable to a £2 fine. This was a large amount of money  in the 19th century and equivalent to over £100 today.

Recording Deaths

The 1836 Act required a death certificate to be issued before a burial could take place, but certainly in early years this was ignored by some clergy who were willing to go ahead with a burial without one. As a result burial dates in parish register may show a date some days before the ‘official’ date of death on the certificate.   This was tidied up in the 1874 Act which stipulated that deaths had to be registered within 5 days, usually by a relative ,and required a doctor’s certificate.  If the death was referred to a coroner, a post mortem was required or an inquest took place’ In these situations registration could be delayed.  Civil registration of deaths was amended again in 1926 to require a registrar’s certificate or coroner’s order before someone could be buried or cremated.

Death certificates, provide valuable information and are worth collecting for main family members in family history research simply for the extra information they can provide.

Registration Districts.

One of the difficulties family historians may face is that over the years there have been changes to registration districts.  Some have merged, while others have been divided as the local population increased.

More Information

  • GEN UK gives detailed information about Registration Districts and changes