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The government began recording births, marriages, and deaths in 1837. These records are known as civil registration records. They are indexed and cover most of the population. Civil registration records are important sources for genealogical research.
General Historical Background
Before 1837, only churches recorded vital records in Wales (see the "Church Records" section of this outline). Birth, marriage and death registration by a civil authority began on 1 July 1837.
Civil registration in Wales is administered locally by superintendent registrars and nationally by the Office of National Statistics (formerly the Registrar General). The registration district is the jurisdictional unit upon which civil registration is based. Each county is divided into districts, and each district has a superintendent registrar, who is responsible to register all vital events within the district, perform marriages, and send a copy of the certificates to the Office of National Statistics. The original registrations remain in the district offices. These registration districts crossed both county and national boundaries! For example the town of Llangollen, in the county of Denbighshire, was part of the Corwen registration district, even though Corwen was in the county of Merionethshire. Similarly, the town of Chirk, in Denbighshire, was in the Oswestry registration district, even though Oswestry was in the county of Shropshire in England.
Births and deaths are registered with the superintendent registrar by an individual who was present at the event. Marriages are registered by the minister or public official who performed the marriage. Quarterly, Church of England ministers send copies of their marriage records to the superintendent registrar. Quaker and Jewish marriages are registered by their own representatives directly with the Office of National Statistics. Until 1898 the superintendent registrars were accountable to see that marriages preformed by other nonconformist denominations were registered.
It has been estimated that 90 to 95 percent of births and nearly all deaths and marriages were recorded. There was no penalty imposed for failure to register until 1874. By 1875, 99 percent of all births, marriages, and deaths were recorded.
For more information on civil registration records, see:
- Cox, Jane and Stella Colwell. Never Been Here Before?A Genealogist’s Guide to the Family Records Centre. Kew, England: PRO Publications, 1997. This guide about the Family Records Centre in London includes information about the birth, marriage, and death records of the Office for National Statistics. It also includes information about microfilms of census records, nonconformist chapel records, wills, and estate duty registers.
- Wood, Tom. An Introduction to Civil Registration. Birmingham, England: Federation of Family History Societies (Publications) Ltd., 1994. (FHL book 942 V27w;).
- McLaughlin, Eve. St. Catherine’s House. 8th ed. Solihull, England: Federation of Family History Societies (Publications) Ltd., 1991. (FHL book 942 V27m 1991). The records from this office were transferred to the Family Records Centre in 1998.
Other guides are listed in the Place Search of the Family History Library Catalog under:
WALES - CIVIL REGISTRATION - HANDBOOKS
Information Recorded in Civil Registers
Birth certificates give the child’s name, sex, birth date and place; the parents’ names (including the mother’s maiden name); the father’s occupation; and the informant’s signature, residence, and "description" (often a relationship). If the child was illegitimate, the father’s name is usually not given.
Marriage certificates give the marriage date, place, and denomination (if a church marriage); the names of the bride and groom, whether they were single or widowed, their ages, occupations, and residences at the time of marriage; the names and occupations of their fathers (and often whether deceased); and the signatures of the bride, groom, and witnesses. If either of the parties was illegitimate, the name of the father may be suspect or missing altogether.
Divorce required an act of Parliament until 1858 and was uncommon before the mid-nineteenth century. Private divorce acts are mainly found at the House of Lords Record Office:
House of Lords Library
London, SW1A 0PW
Civil divorce registration began in 1858. These divorce records are confidential for 75 years. Records more than 75 years old can be consulted at the Public Record Office, Kew. Indexes for 1858 to 1958 are available.
The Family History Library does not have any British divorce records.
Death certificates show the name, age and occupation of the deceased; death date, place, and cause of death; and signature, relationship, and residence of the informant. The informant did not have to be related to the deceased. A spouse’s name is sometimes given. If the deceased was a child, a parent’s name was often written in the space for "occupation."
Although the information on a death certificate may be sparse, the data is still valuable since a death certificate is usually the only civil registration record for persons born or married before July 1837.
Locating Civil Registration Records
Civil registration records are kept at the superintendent registrar’s district office. Duplicates are kept at the Office for National Statistics (formerly the Registrar General). The Family History Library has microfilm copies of the indexes from 1837 through 1980 and microfiche copies of the indexes from 1837 to 1983.
You can order copies by mail from:
- Government Records Office
Office for National Statistics
Southport, PR8 2HH
Civil registration certificates are not open to public inspection, but you can request individual certificates. Indexes are available (see "Indexes to Civil Registration Records" at the end of this section). To see more information than is given in the index, you must obtain a copy of the actual certificate. Certificates will be less expensive if you supply the index reference numbers.
When requesting a certificate by mail, bear in mind that it takes several weeks to obtain a reply. When you write, send:
A check or money order in British pounds for the search fee (the amount varies).
The information from the index, if you searched one, including the name of the individual, the year and quarter where you found him or her, the district name, and the volume and page number from the index.
If you did not search an index, send the following information along with the check or money order:
- The full name and sex of the person sought
- The names of the parents or spouse, if known
- The approximate date and place of the event
If you know the registration district, you may wish to order a certificate from the superintendent registrar since search policies are often more liberal and mail order requests less expensive than if you ordered one through the Office for National Statistics.
Registrars usually will not search marriage records because of the complex marriage registration procedures.
The superintendent registrars’ addresses are found in:
- The Official List of Registration Offices. London, England: Her Majesty’s Stationery Office, 1993. (FHL book 942 X4g 1993;).
- District Register Offices in England and Wales. 6th ed. Yorkshire, England: East Yorkshire Family History Society, 1989. (FHL book 942 E4ew 1989;).
Addresses for the superintendent registrars for England and Wales can be found through the GENUKI Web site at:
Keep in mind that over time district boundaries have changed and some districts have been abolished
The Office for National Statistics has records for British subjects outside England including registrations of events at sea at consulates and embassies and for military personnel For further information see
- Yeo, Geoffrey. The British Overseas.3rd ed. London, England: Guildhall Library, 1995. (FHL book 942 V24y 1995;).
Indexes to Civil Registration Records
An index can help you find an entry for your ancestor. The Registrar General compiled nationwide indexes after receiving the quarterly returns from the local superintendent registrars. These indexes are arranged by calendar quarter. A surname and given name, registration district, volume, and page number are shown in each entry. Later indexes also include:
- Age at death (post-1865 death indexes).
- Mother’s maiden name (post-June 1911 birth indexes).
- Spouse’s surname (post-1911 marriage indexes).
- Searching Civil Registration Records and Indexes
With the index reference, you can send for the certificate (see "Locating Civil Registration Records" in this section for the address). If you cannot find an index entry, remember:
Surnames are listed in strict alphabetical order and are often found under unexpected spellings.
Events are filed by the date registered, not the date occurred (for example, a birth on 20 March registered on 6 April will be in the April-June quarter, not the January-March quarter).
Indexes were hand-prepared and may contain copying errors and omissions.
A person may have been registered under a different name than was used later in life.
Persons with common names may be difficult to identify in the index.
Information (particularly age at death) is sometimes misleading.
Some deaths were registered without a name (unknown).
The surname for a woman in the marriage index may be her surname by a previous marriage, not her maiden name.
Marriages may be recorded under a patronymic name.
An illegitimate child may be registered under the mother’s maiden name.
When a given name had not been selected before registration, a child was listed in the index as "male" or "female" under the surname.
The names of the places shown in the index are the names of registration districts, which are not usually the names of the places where the events happened. A district is a civil jurisdiction, and in rural areas, many villages and parishes belong to one district. Large cities may encompass several districts.
If you know the town or parish where your ancestor lived the following source will help identify the district for that location:
Wilson, John M. The Imperial Gazetteer of England and Wales. 6 vols. Edinburgh, Scotland: A. Fullerton, . (FHL book 942 E5i; films 897325–7; fiche 6020308–36;). This is one of the few gazetteers which lists the district name. If you can’t find the place here, it may be too small to be mentioned. Look up the name of the place in another gazetteer to find its parish name or a nearby larger town; then return to this gazetteer to discover the district name.
Population tables, available each census year, are another source that can help you identify a district for a location. They are arranged by county, district, and parish. Population totals for the various census years are also shown. The indexes to these tables are very helpful because they are arranged in alphabetical order by parish or town name, showing the name of the district for each place. Refer to these indexes to determine changes in district boundaries. The Family History Library call numbers for the indexes follow:
- 1841 FHL book 942 X22ip 1841 (fiche 6036965)
- 1851 FHL book 942 X22ip 1851 (fiche 6036964)
- 1861 FHL book 942 X22ip 1861 (fiche 6036966)
- 1871 FHL book 942 X22ip 1871 (fiche 6036967)
- 1881 FHL book 942 X22ip 1881 (fiche 6036968)
- 1891 FHL book 942 X22ip 1891 (fiche 6036969)
- 1951 FHL book 942 X2i 1951 (films 410102–3)
- 1961 FHL book 942 X2p 1961 (film 990257)
- 1971 FHL book 942 X2p 1971 (not filmed)
The following sources contain alphabetical lists of districts in each county. The first source also has a series of maps. Sometimes it is helpful to use these maps when you want to know the names of the adjacent districts or to see where a district is in relation to others.
A Guide to the Arrangement of the Registration Districts Listed in the Indexes to the Civil Registration of England and Wales, 2nd ed. Salt Lake City, Utah: The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, 1977. (FHL book 942 V2icr 1977; film 990269 item 4; fiche 6020287.) This guide contains nineteenth-century maps and lists of districts.
Newport, J. A. An Index to the Civil Registration Districts, 1837 to Date. Selsey, West Sussex, England: P. Pledger, 1989. (FHL book 942 V22nj.)
Records at the Family History Library
The Family History Library has microfilm and microfiche copies of the civil registration indexes for births, marriages, and deaths from July 1837 through 1983. The library does not have any copies of the certificates. Microfilm or microfiche numbers for the indexes are listed in separate catalog entries in the Place Search of the Family History Library Catalog under:
WALES - CIVIL REGISTRATION - INDEXES
Several surname indexes have been compiled for other records, such as military records and colonial office records. The original indexes are housed at the Family Records Centre in London. Copies are now on microfiche in the Family History Library. They are found in the Family History Library Catalog under:
GREAT BRITAIN - CIVIL REGISTRATION