Civil Registration in England and Wales

Civil registration of births, marriages and deaths in England and Wales started on 1st July 1837 and in theory every child born, every person dying and every marriage taking place was to be registered, although in practice a number of births went unregistered in the early years and probably some deaths as well.

Just three years earlier every parish in the country had been grouped with neighbouring parishes to form Unions for the purposes of providing poor relief and construction of Union Workhouses.  This was the beginnings of the local government structure in place to day, and the next stage was to use the Unions as Registration districts and sub-districts.  Not infrequently the Workhouse Master also became the local Registrar.  Over the years the boundaries changed and local government developed, outside of cities and boroughs, into Urban and Rural Sanitary Districts and then Urban and Rural District councils.  Today the Registration Districts are based on County Council and Unitary Authority areas but it still remains that each event is to be registered in the area where it occurred.

Births and Deaths
Births are to be registered within six weeks (three weeks in the early years) and deaths within ten days.  Late registration incurred a fine and a very late registration could only be done with reference to the Registrar General.  In the early years quite a lot of births slipped through the net, the onus was on the Registrars to make enquiries rather than parents voluntarily registering new babies but the regulations were tightened up in the 1850s and very few then slipped through the net.  With the co-operation of the clergy few deaths went unregistered; no certificate, no burial.

Every three months, at the end of March, June, September and December the Superintendent Registrars are required to send a copy of every birth and death registration to the General Register Office (GRO) where the staff there amalgamate all of those copies into national quarterly indexes.  Births and deaths are recorded by the local register offices in order of registration, not the date of birth or death, so quite often a child born towards the end of one quarter will be in the GRO indexes for the following quarter.  Until quite recently the index books were available for public search but with the closure of the Family Record Centre in London the indexes are only available on-line through Ancestry and www.freebmd.org.uk or on fiche held in numerous libraries and archives around the country.

Marriages
All marriages (other than Jewish or Quaker) had to take place in a CofE church.  With the introduction of civil registration the option of a non-religious marriage in a Register Office or a Registrar Attended ceremony in a non-conformist church became possible in addition to CofE church marriages.  In recent years many other secular premises have become  licenced for Registrar Attended marriages.

Once a quarter all CofE ministers are required to send to the local Superintendent Registrar a copy of every marriage solemnized in their church during that quarter.  These are added to copies of the Register Office and Registrar Attended marriages and forwarded to the GRO for compilation of the national quarterly index.  Each marriage is indexed twice; by bride surname and by groom surname.

The GRO reference for a birth, marriage or death certificate consists of the year and quarter, a registration district, a volume number and a page number and all of this is required if you purchase a certificate from the GRO, but these references are meaningless to local Register Offices who issue certificates from the original registers in their possession.  To purchase a birth or death certificate from a local Register Office you need to quote the name and approximate date of the event and the registration district in which that birth or death occurred.  For a marriage certificate most local register offices will also need the name of the church where the marriage took place.

GRO certificates can be purchased on-line from the GRO or from a the appropriate local register office.  GRO certificates cost £9.25 and local register office certificates cost £10.00.  The information on a certificate for any one event should be identical regardless of where it is purchased from.

See also the pages about:
Birth Certificates  -  Marriage Certificates  -  Death Certificates