Wednesday 4 July 2012

Happy birthday civil registration

Audrey Collins from the National Archives at Kew has an interesting blogpost on her Family Recorder blog commemorating something that no-one else has picked up on - the 175th anniversary of civil registration in England and Wales, which commenced in July 1837. It's a great post with lots of "ooh, I didn't know that" moments, well worth a read at

Incidentally, I am currently reading a magic book on civil registration in Scotland, which started in 1855 - published in 1907, it's called Vital Registration: a Manual of the Law and Practice Concerning the Registration of Births, Deaths, and Marriages: Registration Acts for Scotland with Relative Notes on Vaccination and the Census, Forms, and Tables of Fees, &c. by G. T. Bisset-Smith. In terms of usefulness, it's right up there with Herber's Ancestral Trails for England and Wales, Grenham's Tracing Your Irish Ancestors for Ireland and Steel's Sources for Scottish Genealogy and Family History for Scotland. It's a real gem of a book, as it is the manual that the registrars themselves had to digest - haven't been able to put it down, learning all sorts!


Check out my Scotland's Greatest Story research service
New book: It's Perthshire 1866 - there's been a murder... (from June 12th 2012)


  1. Chris, Did you read through the guide to civil registration in Ireland published by the Council of Irish Genealogical Organisations in 2000? FamilySearch described it as “the definitive guide on the subject”.

  2. Chris, you could probably answer something that nobody has been able to tell me, not even the GROS search room staff.

    Quite a few chidlren of my great aunts and uncles on Mum's side were having children in the early decades of the 1900's and i keep seeing a stamp "vaccinated" or a note that parents refused vaccination on the birth certs. What was it that children were supposed to be vaccinated for and what caused the many refusals amongst Scottish parents of the times?

    Thanks, G'Lass

  3. Hey Chris that book sounds great. I saw a good book on Irish civil registration when I was last in the Dublin National Archives. It had a title something like 'Where do I start with Irish registration records' and it was by two people, but can only remember one name which is Eileen Duill. It answered so many questions for me...but not where I could buy a copy!

  4. Roger - many thanks on this, will look out copy.

    G'Lass - from 1864 kids had to be vaccinated within 6 months of birth. A form was given to parenbts upon the birth registration with several schedules appended, which had to be filled in by the doctor at vaccination - Schedule A if vaccinated OK, Schedule B if 'unfit' to be vaccinated and C if the child was 'insusceptible' of the vaccine disease.

    The relevant schedule then had to be returned to the registrar and entered into a 'Vaccination' Birth Register. If a certificate was not returned to the Registrar within 6 months, a form was sent to parents, if still nothing 10 days later they could be fined 20s or imprisoned for 10 days. There was a list of defaulters recorded twice a year, though in cities often on a quarterly or monthly basis.

    Smallpox was what was initially vaccinated against. There's a great deal on vaccination, including the differences in Scotland to the English system, at

    Hope that helps!


  5. Chris,

    Bisset-Smith's book is excellent and I have used it in the past. With your comment I was hoping that maybe a digital version was now available - if one is available I could not find it. So let us know if its online somewhere.

    However, I did find another book by Bisset-smith, new to me, on the 1920 census legislation with a good discussion of the earlier census returns and the meaning behind some of the columns, especially for Scotland. Have a look at it at -

    Paul Milner

  6. Paul, I'm not aware of an online edition. I was actually called by someone earlier who hoped I had an original version so that he could possibly borrow it to digitise it - unfortunately my copy was a print on demand copy which cost about £18! Thanks on the other, will have a look.