Philippines Civil Registration- Vital Records
Civil governments created records of births, marriages, and deaths. Sometimes called vital records, they refer to critical events in a person’s life. These are the most important documents for genealogical research, but they are not complete. Because of geographic distances, inefficient governments, or incomplete civil registrations, many people’s births, marriages, and deaths were never recorded by the civil authorities.
This section describes the vital records kept by the civil government. However, the Catholic Church has a long history of participation in civil matters in the Philippines, and many vital events are recorded only in church records. For pre-twentieth century events, and even some more recent ones, see the “Church Records” section of this outline.
The Family History Library has microfilmed all twentieth-century civil vital records in the National Census and Statistics Office up to 1988. See the Family History Library Catalog, Place Search, under:
PHILIPPINES, (PROVINCE) - CIVIL REGISTRATION.
The library also has filmed local civil registry records. These records are often indexed and cover from about 1900 to 1990. You can find local records in the Family History Library Catalog, Place Search, under the city or place-name. To find a civil record, you will need at least the approximate year and place in which the birth, marriage, divorce, or death occurred. To find clues about these events, you may need to search:
- Family Bibles
- Local histories
- Cemetery records
- Pension files
- Newspaper notices
- Probate files
- Mother’s name and usual residence.
These records must sometimes substitute for civil vital records (which were not always kept before 1950). However, these records may not be as accurate as church and civil records.
General Historical Background
Until 1889 there was no central civil administration to collect, interpret, and preserve the civil registration records. Most vital records from before 1889 are in Catholic parish and diocesan archives.
In 1889, however, the Spanish government created the Central Office of Statistics (Central Estadística). This subdivision of the Bureau of Civil Administration (Dirección General de Administración Civil) required each parish priest to periodically give the government a detailed list of the births, marriages, and deaths in his area. Although the Catholic clergy had previously maintained such records and even occasionally submitted them to the government, this was the first time that they had been required to regularly submit detailed reports. This system continued until the end of the Spanish administration in 1898.
After the Philippine Revolution of 1898, the church and state became separate. Within the first few years, officials responsible for civil registration were appointed in each municipality. In 1922 the Civil Records Centralization Act required “all municipal secretaries to submit quarterly reports on all registration matters to the Chief of the Division of Archives.” The Family History Library has filmed some of these records. In 1930 civil registration became mandatory and in 1932 the Bureau of Census and Statistics was created to oversee all civil registration in the Philippines. It was not until 1940 that most registrations began to be recorded.
Unfortunately, most twentieth-century civil vital records in the Bureau of Census and Statistics were destroyed during World War II. In 1974 the Bureau of Census and Statistics changed to its current name, the National Census and Statistics Office. Most records in this office are in English, but some are in regional dialects.
Information Recorded in Civil Registers
Birth records generally give the following:
- Child’s name.
- Child’s sex.
- Child’s birth date.
- Child’s birthplace.
- Child’s legitimacy.
- Father’s name, religion, nationality, race, and occupation.
- Parents’ marriage date and place of marriage (city, municipality, and province).
Late registrations (beyond 30 days after the fact) are recorded in red ink. If the registration is over six months late, additional documents testifying to the validity of the parentage and legitimacy of the child will be included with the birth certificate. The additional documents may be:
- Baptismal certificates
- Local civil registrar reports
- Third-person affidavits
- Police investigation report
Registration almost always took place where the birth occurred.
When a couple marries, the marriage is recorded in four documents:
- Marriage contract
- Marriage license
- Application for a marriage license
- Marriage certificate
Only the marriage contract is forwarded to the National Census and Statistics Office. The other three remain in the office of the local civil registrar, although the couple may be given a copy of their marriage certificate. The contract is the vital record and is of most value to the researcher. The other three records, though they have much of the same information, may provide other valuable clues to the discerning genealogist.
The marriage contract gives the following information for both parties:
- Premarital status (single, widowed, annulled, and so forth)
- Parents’ names and nationalities
- Place of marriage
- Date of marriage
- Witnesses’ names
- Name of the official who married the couple
Annulments, Legal Separations, and Divorces
Divorce is not legal in the Philippines, but some records of annulment and legal separation are kept in the National Census and Statistics Office and in the local Domestic Relations Court of First Instance. If you know your ancestor’s religion, also check the church archives of that region. Divorce records may be found in other countries where a person may have gone to get a divorce, such as the United States.
Death records usually include the following information about the deceased:
- Place of death
- Full name of the hospital or institution (if death occurred there)
- Date of death
- Cause of death
- Usual residence
- Birth date
- Parents’ names (including mother’s maidenname)
- Surviving spouse’s name and address (if any)
For further information on civil registration practices and procedures, see:
Manual of Civil Registration. Manila, Philippines: National Economic and Development Authority, National Census and Statistics Office, Office of the Civil Registrar General, 1975. (FHL book 959.9 N2P; fiche 6072405.)
See the “Archives and Libraries” section of this outline for the address of the Vital Registry Division of the National Census and Statistics Office. You can order information directly from:
The Civil Registrar General
National Statistics Office
P.O. Box 779
Manila, Metropolitan Manila
Records at the Family History Library
The Family History Library has filmed most civil registration records for the Philippines to 1988. Look for them in the Family History Library Catalog, Place Search section, under the province or city in which your ancestor lived: