UK Research Guide | England & Wales Bmd records
The civil registration of births, marriages, divorces, and deaths in England and Wales began on 1 July 1837. Prior to that, only churches recorded birth, marriage, and death information.
A birth certificate usually includes:
It should be noted, there is a possibility that a birth went unregistered, especially before the adoption of stricter laws in 1874 for failure to register a birth.
A birth had to be registered within 42 days by the father, mother, neighbour, or another person present at the birth. The 1874 act imposed a late registration fee for births registered between 43 days and 6 months. A birth could no longer be recorded after six months, which may have motivated some parents to “change” their child’s birth date to avoid paying the cost.
A marriage certificate records the:
Throughout the nineteenth century, most marriages took place in Church of England churches. The minister served as Registrar and retained two copies of the marriage register. One of them remained the property of the church and the other was to be turned over to the Registrar once completed. Since the marriage information found in civil certificates of marriage is an exact replica of the information found in Church of England church registers, it is unnecessary to purchase civil records if the church register has already been obtained.
Arrangements similar to these were also used in Quaker Meetinghouses and Jewish synagogues. Marriage was only permitted in nonconformist churches before 1898 if a Registrar was present. The Registrar entered the marriage in his own register, which he kept. From 1899, nonconformist churches had the option of appointing an Authorised Person who would keep their own records, similarly to those of the Church of England. Some churches, however, did not take advantage of this option right away; Roman Catholic churches did not do so until 1950 or later.
It was also possible to marry at the Register Office. These marriages were recorded in the Registrar’s register.
A copy of all marriage entries recorded for the preceding three months was required to be submitted by the Registrar or the minister holding a marriage register, as part of the Registrar General’s quarterly requirements. Each quarter’s entries were compiled into numbered volumes and indexed in a composite manuscript book.
From 1837, the only information required to be reported on a death were:
From the middle of 1969, the information shown additionally includes date and place of birth, usual address, and, if the deceased was a married woman, her maiden name.
Up until 1874, registering a death was the responsibility of the registrar, but that information was provided by an informant. Ages may be reliable if the informant was a family member but should be treated with caution otherwise. After 1874, it was the responsibility of the deceased’s next of kin or closest relative to ensure that the death was registered.
Pictured: Midsummer Eve, The Costume of Yorkshire (1814), George Walker (1781-1856)