Saturday 29 July 2017

The penalties for non-registration of Scottish births

Whenever we carry out our family history research, do we actually stop and think about the mechanisms employed behind the creation of the very records we need? Do we understand the law behind their collation, and the penalties for non-compliance?

The following is taken from my book Discover Scottish Civil Registration Records, and explains the penalties surrounding the non-compliance of birth registration in Scotland from January 1855, following the advent of civil registration in the country:

If the birth was not registered within twenty one days, the local registrar would contact the person with primary care for the child, either by letter or in person, to try to compel them to turn up to carry out the procedure. Registrars were permitted to do this twice, before a three month period had expired. If the parents or primary carers had left the registration district, it was possible for a nurse or a doctor to be allowed to act as the informant instead.

If after three months following the birth there was still no registration, the county Sheriff would then be informed, as would the local Procurator Fiscal (the Scottish public prosecutor). The Sheriff would issue a warrant compelling attendance, whilst the Fiscal would commence with prosecution proceedings. The following is an example of such a case as reported in the Dundee Courier on July 4th 1855.


On Monday, Robert Mann, agricultural labourer, West Newbigging, New Vigeans, appeared before Mr Sheriff Henderson, to answer to a complaint preferred against him at the instance of the Procurator Fiscal, for a contravention of the new Registration Act, he having failed within the statutory period of twenty-one days to give the requisite information to the registrar of his district, relative to the birth of a female child of which his wife was delivered on 14th May last, whereby he had incurred a penalty not exceeding twenty shillings. The Sheriff convicted him on his confession, and adjudged him to pay a fine of ten shillings in name of modified penalty, besides two pounds ten shillings of expenses.

If it got as far as being forced to appear before the Sheriff, as in the example above, the parent or carer would have to make a subsequent declaration about the child's birth, which the Sheriff would then allow to be recorded in the birth register – although in such cases a District Examiner was required to formally sign the register entry, rather than a registrar. If after three months a parent or guardian tried to register a birth without the authority of the Sheriff, he or she could be fined up to £5.

This is just a small part of the law surrounding birth registration. Are you aware, for example, that from January 1864, immediately upon the registration of a child's birth, parents in Scotland were compelled to vaccinate their children (and that this requirement lasted until 1948)? And that many didn't and were prosecuted? Do you know how the law treated the subject of illegitimacy, or how the results of paternity claims in the courts were registered? Do you understand how the law dealt with the registration of stillbirths, or how the process of adoption was catered for? Or why some births are registered twice in separate districts within twenty one days of a child's birth?

These are just questions for birth registration - but what about marriages, divorces, deaths, overseas registration, and more?

Discover Scottish Civil Registration Records can be purchased from My History in Yorkshire, Gould Genealogy in Australia, Maia's Books in the USA and Global Genealogy in Canada - details are available at A cheaper ebook edition is also available for download online at I hope it helps with your understanding of what you are truly looking at when you use the records of Scottish civil regsitration, and other British registration systems, covered in the second part of the book!


My next 5 week Scottish Research Online course commences Sept 11th 2017 - details at For my genealogy guide books, visit, whilst details of my research service are at Further content is also published daily on The GENES Blog Facebook page at

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