1 July 1837 Civil Registration started in England & Wales

On the 1st July 1837 Civil registration of births, marriages and deaths, in England and Wales began, Scotland did not commence until 1855.

England & Wales were divided into Registration Districts, each under the control of a Superintendent Registrar. Registrars issued certificates for births and deaths which occurred in their area, it was their duty to actively collect the information and they were paid according to their success. Between 1837 and 1875 there was no penalty for not registering a birth or death, so records from this period are incomplete, and up to a third of the population maybe missing from these early records, something bear in mind when searching the registers.

When the local registers became full, they were sent to the Superintendent Registrar who produced local indexes of events and 4 times a year sent copies to the Registrar General in London.


Parents were not obliged to give information on a birth, unless requested by the Registrar. Parents had to pay if the registration was made more than 6 weeks after the birth, so parents were not always truthful about the date of birth of their offspring.


From 1837, marriages could take place in a local register office, instead of a church, as a result a new type of marriage register was introduced for all marriage ceremonies. The Church of England, Jews and Quakers were able to conduct and register their own marriage ceremonies, 2 registers were completed, one for the church the other for the state.

Other denominations (Methodists, Baptists, etc) had to apply for their chapels to be licensed to conduct marriages and a ceremony could only take place there if, in addition to the minister, a Registrar was also present to record the events in a Register Office marriage register. This procedure did not change until 1898.

1874 Onwards

From 1874 registration became compulsory for births and deaths. The onus for registration of a birth was passed to the parents, or the occupier of the house where a birth took place. The birth had to be registered within 42 days or a £2.00 fine was imposed. Many parents still believed that baptism registered the birth, also if the parents missed the 42 day deadline, they would then either lie about the date of birth or simply not register and hope not to get caught.

The responsibility for recording a death was placed on a relation of the deceased. Registration of a death had to be supported by a certificate signed by a doctor, and the death had to be registered within 5 days of it occurring.

From 1926 to prevent the irregular disposal of bodies, it became a requirement for a registrar’s certificate or coroner’s order to be produced before a burial or cremation could take place. It also required a notice of burial or cremation to be sent to the registrar after the funeral had taken place.

Also in 1926 registration was introduced for stillborn children.

In 1929 the age of marriage with consent of parents was raised to 16 years for both boys and girls.