Birth Certificates, 1837-1969

Whatever the format of the certificate, across cross the top will be the Registration District, sub-district and city or county plus the year of registration.

Number
On the left hand side, before column 1 is a number between 1-500.  That is the number of the entry in the original register book.

Column 1 - When and where born
Date of birth in day/month/year format (if there is a time as well it indicates a multiple birth) and the place of birth.  Early registers usually only show a village name but towards the end of the nineteenth century the street address was usually shown.  USD, RSD, UD or RD after the address just means Urban or Rural Sanitary District, or Urban or Rural District.

Column 2 - Name if any
Whatever name(s) the parents had chose.  A blank in this column usually indicates that a baby had died before being given a name, although very occasionally parents refused to name a child before it had been Christened.  The child’s surname is not shown, that is implied from the parents’ surname.

Column 3 - sex
Boy or girl

Column 4 - Name and surname of the father.
As supplied to the Registrar.  If there is a blank in this column the parents were not married (to each other).  If it says ‘deceased’ it means that the father had died during the pregnancy.

Column 5 - name and maiden name of mother
This should show her current married name, any previous married surname and her maiden surname, this Mary Smith, late Jones formerly Brown means that her current married surname was Smith, her previous married name was Jones and her maiden name was Brown.  A maiden name is the name by which a woman is known at the time of her first marriage, usually but not always her birth name.  Unfortunately not all Registrars asked the correct questions and sometimes a previous married name is shown as a maiden name!  If the mother is unmarried this column often shows her occupation as well.

Column 6 - Rank, profession or occupation of father
Whatever the informant said his occupation was.  If column 4 is blank then this column should also be blank.

Column 7 - Signature, description and residence of informant
Signature or mark of the person registering the birth, description is relationship to the child and address of the informant, often only a village name on early certificates.  The preferred  informant in all cases was the mother.  If the parents were married (to each other) the father, or if not married to each other both parents together as a joint registration.  If neither parent could do the registration it could be someone present at the birth, (often a female relative) or the occupier (ie the matron of a nursing home or Master of the workhouse) and lastly someone in charge of the child, rarely used except for foundlings or if an unmarried mother had died during childbirth.

Column 8 - When registered
The date of registration should have been within six weeks of the birth.  Late registrations, up to a year after the birth incurred a fine and had to be countersigned by the Superintendent Registrar.  Anything later had to be referred to the GRO.

Column 9 - Signature of Registrar
Not particularly relevant unless your ancestor was a Registrar, but if there were two signatures it means that the birth was registered late and if it says ‘on the authority of the Registrar General’ it means either a very late registration or, more likely, a re-registration.  This is unusual on early certificates but fairly common in the twentieth century.  A re-registration is made to show the father’s name and occupation if the parents have married each other after the birth and original registration.

Column 10 - Baptismal name entered after registration.
In most cases this is blank but occasionally it contains a name or names.  Sometimes it is an additional name, sometimes a reversal of the order of the Christian names, sometimes just a spelling change, sometimes a totally different name.

The bottom of the certificate shows the date of issue and a local office certificate will have the signature of the Registrar who issued it.

If a mistake was made in the register and noticed at the time of registration the incorrect word(s) will be crossed through, the correct word(s) inserted and a number entered in the margin.  If an error was discovered afterwards there will be a correction note in the margin signed by the Registrar and countersigned by the informant or other appropriate person.