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Civil Registration

England & Wales

Civil Registration in England and Wales commenced on the 1st July, 1837, making it a legal requirement to register all births, marriages, and deaths. The system was overseen by the Registrar General and organised, primarily based on the Poor Law Unions, into Registration districts administered by a Superintendent Registrar.

We have a listing of the Registration districts in England & Wales.

Initially, however, the legislation was flawed, in that it put the responsibility on the registrars to discover and record these events. Marriages and Deaths (burials) could be identified from the records of the Church, but births could not be unless a child was baptised, which not all were. Consequently, many early births were not discovered and recorded.

In 1875, the Births and Deaths Act of 1874, now put the legal responsibility on those present at the birth or death to register the event.

Prior to Civil Registration there was no central registry of these life events. Parish Registers should be consulted for baptisms, marriages, and burials instead.

The records of Civil Registration for England and Wales are held centrally by the General Register Office (GRO) for England & Wales, a part of the Identity & Passport Service, and also by the local Register Office. The GRO records are not open for the public to view, but indices have been created which allow one to request a certified copy of the entry from the GRO.

The indices have been digitised by both Ancestry and findmypast and are available online. In addition, a project called FreeBMD has made transcripts of these indexes available.


Civil Registration in Ireland, for births, marriages, and deaths was implemented on the 1st January, 1864, following a similar system to that of England & Wales (Ireland at that time being a part of the United Kingdom). Non-Roman Catholic marriages were also registered from 1845.

When Ireland became a free state, separated from Northern Ireland, in 1922, the records of Civil Registration prior to this date were kept by the General Register Office for Ireland. These records are now all online at the Irish Genealogy website. A new General Register Office for Northern Ireland was created, which holds all post-1921 records for Northern Ireland.

The indexes have been transcribed by both Ancestry (births, marriages, deaths) and findmypast (births, marriages, deaths) and made available online.


Civil Registration in Scotland commenced on the 1st January, 1855, overseen by the Registrar General at the General Register Office for Scotland. Records contain more information than those for England & Wales. These records and indexes are only available though the Scotlands People website, or at their research centre in Edinburgh.