Baptisms, marriages and burials were recorded in parish registers maintained by Church of England Anglican clergy. However, with the great increase in nonconformity and the gradual relaxation of the laws against Catholics and other dissenters from the late 17th century, more and more baptisms, marriages and burials were going unrecorded in the registers of the Anglican Church. The increasingly poor state of English parish registration led to numerous attempts to shore up the system in the 18th and early 19th centuries. The Marriage Act of attempted to prevent 'clandestine' marriages by imposing a standard form of entry for marriages, which had to be signed by both parties to the marriage and by witnesses.
Additionally, except in the case of Jews and Quakers, legal marriages had to be carried out according to the rites of the Church of England.
Sir George Rose 's Parochial Registers Act of laid down that all events had to be entered on standard entries in bound volumes. It also declared that the church registers of Nonconformists were not admissible in court as evidence of births, marriages and deaths. Only those maintained by the clergy of the Church of England could be presented in court as legal documents, and this caused considerable hardship for Nonconformists.
A number of proposals were presented to Parliament to set up centralised registries for recording vital events in the s but none came to fruition.
Eventually, increasing concern that the poor registration of baptisms, marriages and burials undermined property rights, by making it difficult to establish lines of descent, coupled with the complaints of Nonconformists, led to the establishment in of a parliamentary Select Committee on Parochial Registration. This took evidence on the state of the parochial system of registration, and made proposals that were eventually incorporated into the Registration and Marriage Acts.
In addition, the government wanted to survey matters such as infant mortality, fertility and literacy to bring about improvements in health and social welfare.
We have split up our vital records by origin: civil records versus parish records. Civil records have been divided into official government births, deaths and burials. Our England & Wales Birth, Marriage and Death (BMD) Index collections ( - ) provide the most complete resource available online. All of these records.
The medical establishment advocated this because a rapidly growing population in the northern industrial towns — caused by the Industrial Revolution — had created severe overcrowding, and the links between poor living conditions and short life expectancy were now known. The answer was the establishment of a civil registration system.
It was hoped that improved registration of vital events would protect property rights through the more accurate recording of lines of descent. Civil registration would also remove the need for Nonconformists to rely upon the Church of England for registration, and provide medical data for research. This took effect from 1 July England and Wales were divided into registration districts from , each under the supervision of a Superintendent Registrar.
The districts were based on the recently introduced poor law unions.
The registration districts were further divided into sub-districts there could be two or more , each under the charge of Registrars who were appointed locally. Although the GRO was not specifically established to undertake statistical research, the early Registrar Generals, Thomas Henry Lister —42 and George Graham —79 , built up a Statistical Department to compile medical, public health and actuarial statistics.
Under these men the Annual reports of the Registrar General became a vehicle for administrative and social reform. During the First World War the GRO was responsible for co-ordinating National Registration, which underpinned recruitment to the armed forces, the movement of workers into the munitions industries, and rationing. National Registration was not, however, continued after the war and the GRO was absorbed into the Ministry of Health in Until then it had had several statistical functions, including the conduct of population censuses and the production of annual population estimates; all these were moved elsewhere within the new organisation.
The move followed changes to make Office for National Statistics ONS more independent of the British Government, which included relinquishing the registration role. For a short time after the move the death records were stored at Alexandra House , until room was found for all the records at St Catherine's House. This facility was jointly operated by the National Archives so that public access to census returns was also available at the same location. The FRC was closed in , in response to steadily decreasing visitor numbers caused by the increased online availability of the records.
In the early days of the system, it was up to each local registrar to find out what births, marriages and deaths had taken place in his sub-district. Births had to be registered within 42 days at the district or sub-district office, usually by the mother or father. If more days had elapsed but it was less than three months since the birth, the superintendent registrar had to be present and if between three months and a year, the registration could only be authorised by the Registrar General.
Until , there were no registrations at all of still born children. For illegitimate children, the original legislation provided that "it shall not be necessary to register the name of any father of a bastard child. In a child father could also be recorded on the birth certificate, if not married to the mother, without being physically present to sign the register.
Clergy of the established Church of England are registrars for marriage. In each parish church two identical registers of marriages are kept and when they are complete, one is sent to the superintendent registrar. In the meantime, every three months it is required that a return certified by a clergy person detailing the marriages that had taken place, or else that no marriages had taken place, in the preceding three months, be submitted directly to the superintendent registrar.
The Marriage Act also permitted marriages by licence to take place in approved churches, chapels and nonconformist meeting houses, other than those of the Church of England. Marriages were only legally binding if they were notified to the superintendent registrar by the officiating minister so in effect, this required the presence of a local registration officer as the authorising person. When a nonconformist minister or other religious official, such as a rabbi, performed the ceremony it was necessary for the local registrar or his assistant to be present so that the marriage was legal.
This legalisation was not repealed until , after which date, nonconformist ministers and other religious leaders could take on the role of notifying official, if so appointed, and on the condition that their premises were licensed for the solemnising of marriage. The civil authorities, i. Changes in marriage laws since have also affected how marriages are registered, for example, civil partnerships for same-sex couples were introduced by the British Government in and the GRO records these ceremonies through its civil registration system. A death was to be registered by someone who had been present at the death or during the final illness.
If that wasn't possible, it could be registered by the owner of the building the person died in, or if the dead person was the owner, by some other occupier of the building. There were more complicated arrangements for eventualities such as unidentified bodies being found, and cases where there was a coroner's inquest.
A death was supposed to be registered within eight days. Since there wasn't necessarily a unique person clearly responsible for registering a death, in order to make sure deaths were registered, clergymen were made responsible for checking the death certificate before performing any funeral or burial service. However, they were given some leeway in case the death hadn't been registered yet, and could go ahead with the service provided they notified the registrar themselves within seven days. If they failed to do so they were liable for a ten-pound fine. From the cause of death had to be certified by a doctor before registration.
A death would normally be registered in the district in which it occurred. Once a death has been registered, the registrar would normally issue a Certificate for Burial or Cremation, unless the death were being investigated by the coroner or there were an inquest.
This certificate would give permission for the body to be buried or for an application for cremation to be made. The Births and Deaths Act tried to ensure all deaths were registered, by placing a duty on the persons who were supposed to register the death to do so. No specific penalty was imposed if they failed to do it, but if the registrar became aware of any deaths that hadn't been registered within the past year, then the registrar had a duty and was empowered to summon the negligent parties to the register office to get it registered.
If the death had occurred more than a year previously, it wasn't to be registered late without special permission. A different registration system operates today in other parts of the United Kingdom.
Every three months, at the end of March, June, September and December, the superintendent registrars send a copy of each entry of birth, marriage and death registered by their office in that quarter, to the Registrar General in London. From these returns the General Register Office produced indexes to its records which are open to public inspection and the indexes can be used to order birth, marriage and death certificates.
Therefore, a single tier registration system was introduced, based on the administrative poor law unions, which had been set up in , and previously the administrative hundreds. These became the registration districts. The Act also permitted marriages to be performed in Register Offices and outside the confines of the Anglican Church.
Many nonconformist chapels were authorised to perform marriages. Since there has been much fine tuning of the system and various new regulations and legislation have been introduced from time to time.
Although civil registration was introduced in , it was not until that the registration of a birth became compulsory. Between these dates, children may not have been registered. There was in fact a loophole as the act was not fully understood and people genuinely thought that to have a child baptised was to register that child.
The Act made registration compulsory within a 6 week period and imposed a fine for non-compliance. These are considered to be prime evidence of someone's existence.
However, a common occurrence was the illegitimate child. From the reputed father HAD to be present at the registration to consent to his name being added. Illegitimacy may also be proved by a subsequent marriage of the parents but in such circumstances you cannot assume that this husband was in fact the father of the illegitimate child, unless there is some other known clue to confirm this. When a time is given, this may indicate a multiple birth, so look for another child born on the same day!
When extracting the information from a birth certificate, pay special attention to the address as this will very often lead you to census returns, directories and poll books or the workhouse records. This aspect will be discussed in greater detail elsewhere. Pay particular attention also to the registration and sub-district as this may give you additional clues enabling you to locate other family members. In , the format of the marriage register changed and significantly more information is recorded. Such registers remain unchanged to the present day. Ages on a marriage certificate can be inaccurate or at the very least suspect.
No exact age may be shown and it may simply be recorded that bride or groom was "of full age". This implies an age in excess of 21 years. That statement may have been false to avoid a minor having to obtain parental consent. Where an actual age is given, it is usually reasonably accurate but it may also have been altered for a variety of reasons.
Be wary of an address which is the same for both parties. Marriages usually took place in the parish of the bride. This may be a good clue to two possibilities, that of illegitimacy or that the father was dead at the time of the marriage. In the latter case, the name was usually filled in and the word deceased written alongside it. The inclusion of the name of the father without the word deceased did not automatically mean that he was alive at the time of the marriage.
These carry the least information from a genealogical point of view but they are nevertheless important sources particularly with regard to genetic diseases and for the location of wills and other probate documents. They have undergone greater changes in format than the other certificates. From , the only information requested was date and place of death, name, age, sex, occupation, and cause of death.
From the middle of , the information shown includes additionally, date and place of birth, usual address and, if the deceased was a married woman, her maiden name. All of which is extremely useful to the family historian. Although up to , the onus of registering a death was placed on the registrar, the information was provided by an informant. Later it was the responsibility of the next of kin or closest relative of the deceased to ensure the death was registered.