Births, deaths and marriages

1837 is something of a landmark year for family historians researching ancestors in England and Wales, because it saw the introduction of a national system of civil registration for recording births, deaths and marriages.  For the first time, the same information was collected throughout England and Wales and was,  because it usually included the names of one or more relatives, of immense genealogical value.  Possibly most importantly, civil registration provided a means of collating and organising birth, marriage and and death records nationally so that it became potentially far easier to locate ancestors who had moved from one area to another – as long as they hadn't moved to Scotland or overseas.    Lastly, civil registration was meant to include everyone and was intended  to be compulsory, although, in truth, it took some time before most events were routinely registered.

Prior to 1837, the main source of information for genealogists on family events, sometimes referred to as 'hatchings, matchings and  despatchings', was Anglican parish registers and similar records kept by other denominations.   Only Jews and Quakers were allowed to keep their own registers,  partly because their ceremonies were quite different from those of the established church and they also  kept meticulous records.    

Hardwicke's Marriage Act in 1753 meant that, for a marriage in England or Wales to be legal, it had to take place in a parish church after banns or with a licence.  Once again, Jews and Quakers were exempt from the Act, although strangely  it didn't specifically say that marriages they performed were actually legal.  The result of the Hardwicke Act was that almost all marriages, whether for Anglicans, non-conformists or Roman Catholics, can be found in those Church of England parish registers that have survived from the period 1754-1837.     

Regardless of the religious beliefs of the people concerned, for any ceremonies that took place in the church or chapel, the registers recorded baptism dates not births and burial dates not deaths, although some clergy chose to add birth or death dates.   Indeed some clergy added a variety of comments concerning their parishioners and their lives.

The details that were recorded varied from place to place and church to church.  For example, some of the burial registers included information about the family, such as “ John Page, infant son of William Page and Martha his wife was buried 18th January 1801”, while others simply read “John Page buried 18th January 1801”.  Some ministers obviously had an interest in what caused  their  parishioners' deaths and wrote remarks such as “general decay of nature” or “cholera”.  However, there is no way of knowing whether these were medically accurate or assumptions on the part of the person completing the register.   As some places only had Anglicans churchyards, it was quite common for non-Anglicans to be buried there and appear in the burial register for that church.

In 1812, Rose's Act tried to tidy things a bit by setting out the minimum information that had to be recorded for baptisms, marriages and burials and recommended the use of separate registers for each type of ceremony.  So from 1813, most registers were written on sequential, pre-printed pages as a means of reducing later amendments or fraudulent entries.

But it wasn't until 1837 and the start of civil registration that all these records began to be brought together locally and across England and Wales.  At last, searching for particular individuals became a little simpler for the genealogist.

Comments on this article

palmira mercadal 9 May, 2010

I love history and I found all this realy interesting. I am making some researches for a book and this information has been very useful to understand many thing so different for me. I am spanish.

Sheila Taplitzsky-Rous 11 September, 2011

I cant even find my mother on bmd and i have her birth cert! No site seems to be able to find her or my grand parents who hailed from Poland circa 1900s. My mother was born in london uk 1914. Her name is Bloomer Taplitzsky; her parents were Marks and Fanny Taplitzsky. He was a tailors pressor. It would be great if you could help. Regards Sheila taplitzsky- Rous

Adrian 22 January, 2012

Your mother is in the March 1914 quarter Births Index, District: Mile End Old Town, Volume: 1C, Page: 749. Mother's maiden name: Greenblove.

Will Allen 11 February, 2012

I would like to find out more about my gr gr grandfather William Allen. The details of him are as follows

He married Frances Huddlestone in 1835 in Leicester
He had a son also William born in 1838 On the birth certificate they are living in Burleys Lane Leicester
He is described as a labourer on his son's wedding certificate of 1859 but no evidence that he or his wife were present Frances may have died in 1841;

I have been unable to trace him on any census and I have been unable to find a birth or death record for him

His son William reemerges in 1859. He becomes a policeman in Leicester

Can you find anything about this earlier William

Anne Dixon 13 August, 2012

How can I find out anything about my birth father Reginald Walton who was in the RAF and died between November 1943 and March 1944 I have no further informatin

John Comer 31 August, 2013

My Great Grandfather William Alban Comer died 12th December 1914 but we cannot obtain a death certificate for him, although we have a Mass card for him saying he passed away on the above date, is it possible to lose somebody from official registers?

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