Civil Registration of

Births, Marriages & Deaths in England & Wales

1837 to Present

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Ramsdale surname data extracted from the General Register Office Indexes which can be searched online at uk.archives.com and at freebmd.org.uk.

Index

Civil Registration - Background

Before 1837, only churches recorded birth, marriage, and death information in England. In the early 1800s, Parliament recognised the need for accurate records for voting, planning, and defence purposes. Birth, marriage, and death registrations for England and Wales began on 1 July 1837.

The basis of civil registration is the registration district. Each county is divided into districts. Each district has a superintendent registrar. Registrars receive birth and death registrations from individuals; the performing minister or other responsible official registers marriages.

Marriages performed by Church of England ministers are recorded by the clergy, who quarterly send copies of the marriages they perform to the district and to the Registrar-General. The ministers keep the original marriage register in the parish chest.

Quaker and Jewish marriages are registered by their own representatives directly with the Registrar-General in London.

Until 1898, the district superintendent registrar registered other nonconformist marriages and performed civil marriages.

Each quarter, the superintendent registrar forwards copies of his district's registrations to the Registrar-General in London. The original birth and death (and those marriages recorded by the registrar) records remain in the district.

People had to report all births and deaths to the registrar. An estimated 90 to 95% of births and nearly all deaths and marriages were recorded. However, no penalty was imposed for failure to register until 1874. By 1875, 99% of all births, marriages, and deaths were recorded.

If a civil birth, marriage, or death certificate cannot be located a search of church records may verify known details or give additional information.

Indexes to Civil Registration Records

Indexes can help you find an entry for your ancestor. The Registrar General creates nationwide indexes after receiving quarterly returns. These indexes are arranged by calendar quarter and give name, registration district, volume, and page number. Later indexes include the following:

With the index reference, you can send for the certificate (see above). If you cannot locate an index entry, consider the following reasons:

Knowing the district name and at least an approximate year in which the birth, marriage, or death occurred will reduce the search time.

Places in the index are registration districts, which are not usually the same as the actual place of birth. In rural areas, many villages and parishes belong to one district. Large cities have many districts.

The following sources will help identify the district which served the place where the ancestors lived:

A Guide to the Arrangement of the Registration Districts Listed in the Indexes to the Civil Registration of England and Wales 2nd edition contains nineteenth century maps and lists of districts.

If the index reference cannot be found, consider sending a request to the superintendent registrar's district in England. If that request is unsuccessful, search other types of records.

Information Recorded in Civil Registers

Births

Birth records often 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 relationship).

The father, mother, neighbour, or other person present at the birth must register a birth within 42 days.

1 July 1837 saw the introduction of general civil registration of births, marriages and deaths in England and Wales.

Births
Pre-1875 an estimated 6 to 10% of births NOT registered
1875 more rigorous enforcement of compulsory registration
September quarter 1837 to June quarter 1911 only first two full forenames, subsequent initials, registration district and reference number
September quarter 1911 to present only first forename, subsequent initials, registration district and number but also includes mother's maiden surname.

This isn't as complicated as it sounds and most people find using the records, especially the early, handwritten ones, an easy and enjoyable task. The problems arise due to the lax nature of the early documents. When the records began, the parents had three weeks in which to register a birth and, after three months, they couldn't register the child at all.

Soon, the laws were changed to a six week registration period, with a late registration possible up to a year later if a superintendent took the information and signed the register himself. Any time longer than this and proof of the event had to be procured from a witness, such as a doctor or midwife. If the evidence couldn't be attested then the registration was null and void. Penalties for late registrations also muddy the water as certain parents would lie through their teeth about the date of birth so it fell into the six week period and therefore avoid a hefty fine. In some cases it is possible to catch out these less than honest parents if you're lucky enough to have both the baptismal certificate and the birth registration. If the date differs, then look to the baptismal record as they were more likely to tell the truth in church, first out of fear of lying to the Almighty but more likely because the church wouldn't slap a late baptism charge on them.

One final thing to remember is that the fashion for having more than one forename was quite unusual until the beginning of the 20th century, so there is a chance that you may find a number of records featuring the same name, especially if the name you are searching for is quite common. Many family historians have found themselves purchasing a copy of a certificate of the wrong person at some point in their search. It's annoying, but all part of the process of investigation. Sometimes you strike gold, and at other times you don't. One titbit of information that can help you identify the right person is the Superintendent Registrar's District which is identified on each record. The boundaries of these districts were in many cases different to parishes or even towns and were changed in 1852. You may find more information at the GENUKi website.

Gender

In the early days of registration some birth certificates actually got the gender of the child wrong, largely due to the fact that the parents may have been illiterate and couldn't check the details were correct.

Illegitimacy

At some point in your research you may stumble upon the delicate subject of illegitimacy, which affects the way birth certificates were registered.

The Act of Parliament of 1836 states "And it be enacted that the father or mother or every child born in England … shall within 42 days next after the day of every such birth give information upon being requested so to do the Register according to the best of his or her knowledge and belief of the several particulars hereby required to be known and registered touching the birth of such child provided always that it shall not be necessary to register the name of any father of a bastard child."

This was open to wide interpretation and some certificates entered the father's name even if they weren't married, while others omitted the father's name. In 1850 the situation changed and the law now said that "No putative father is to be allowed to sign an entry in the character of Father."

This lasted until 1953 when the social situation regarding illegitimacy had shifted and the father could be acknowledged outside wedlock.

The churches in England & Wales have been recording baptisms, marriages and burials at parish level for centuries. However, the civil registration of births, marriages and deaths in other words, record-keeping by the state did not begin until July 1837. At that time, the legal jurisdiction of England & Wales was subdivided, for the purposes of registration, into administrative areas known as registration districts. Within each district a district registrar would be appointed to take responsibility for the recording of births, marriages and deaths within their district.

Four times a year, a copy of the district registers was made for the Registrar General, who ingathered all the registers for England & Wales and collated them into a single countrywide index, arranged alphabetically by surname (and then alphabetically by forename within each surname). The indexes to the registers are quarterly rather than annual in scope the four quarters being known as March, June, September and December. Each of these covers the month itself and the two preceding months, as follows:

Note that the quarters contain the births registered within them, which is not necessarily the same as births which took place within them. The reason why this is so is that legally there are 42 days within which to register a birth with the district registrar. This means that some births which took place during a month in one quarter will be registered in a month in the next quarter. Clearly, this is most common for births which took place within the last month of a quarter. So, for example, a birth in December might be registered in January (or, indeed, in February) the following year, which means that it would be registered not in the December quarter but in the March quarter of the year following that in which it took place.

Normally, then, where you have an exact date of birth, you will find the entry for the birth you are looking for in the same or the next quarter, as follows:

Most family trees will, however, have one or more births which were registered late. In theory at least, there was a fine for late registration and some explaining to do. If you do not find the entry you are seeking in the same or the next quarter, therefore, it is sensible at least to check the two immediately following quarters, to cover the possibility of late registration.

Legitimate births

Those where the two parents of the child were married to one another at the time of birth (not necessarily also at the time of conception) should have been indexed only under the surname of the father.

Illegitimate births

Those where the parents of the child were not married to one another at the time of birth should be registered under the surname of the mother. Where paternity was acknowledged and the name of the father is given in the register, the birth may in addition be registered under the surname of the father.

Males and females

Children do not have to be named before they can be registered. If a child is unnamed at registration, they will appear in the index as either "male" or "female". "Males" and "females" appear at the end of the alphabetical sequence of forenames under the given surname. Very rarely, these births will be indexed as "boy" or "girl". Do not assume that a "male" or a "female" will have died in early infancy, although this is indeed a common reason for the birth being registered in this way. Many "males" and "females" were merely named later, at the time of baptism.

Age adjustments

If, despite having an exact date, you do not find the entry for the birth you are looking for at or immediately after that date, treat the year with some caution. If, for example, the date is from, say, a modern (post-1969) death certificate, it may well be the case that the day and month are correct but the year is not. It is not at all uncommon to find that a person has modified their age for instance, when declaring their age at marriage and then this fiction has stuck with them over time. In respect of other people, their ages simply may have become hazy over time. In any event, in these circumstances, try checking a year or two either side of the given date, beginning with the same quarters. For example, if you have a birth which supposedly took place in January 1898 and it is not listed as it should be in the March or June quarters 1898, nor registered late in the September or December quarters 1898, next check the March and June quarters in both 1897 and 1899, as necessary.

Follow these links for full listings of GRO entries for births under the surname Ramsdale for the years 1837 to 1983





Marriages

Marriage records give the marriage date, place, and denomination (if a church marriage); the names of the bride and groom, whether they were single or widowed, and 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.

The law required all marriages to be recorded in a civil register immediately after the ceremony. Marriages were often performed at the bride's parish.

Key dates for records in England and Wales

1 July 1837: Introduction of General Civil Registration of Births, Marriages and Deaths in England and Wales

Marriages

September quarter 1837 to December quarter 1911 only first two full forenames, subsequent initials, registration district and ref number
March quarter 1912 to September quarter 1962 if female was previously married, index shows maiden name and married name
March quarter 1912 to present day surname of spouse added

Searching for a marriage

The churches in England & Wales have been recording baptisms, marriages and burials at parish level for centuries. However, the civil registration of births, marriages and deaths in other words, record-keeping by the state did not begin until July 1837. At that time, the legal jurisdiction of England & Wales was subdivided, for the purposes of registration, into administrative areas known as registration districts. Within each district a district registrar would be appointed to take responsibility for the recording of births, marriages and deaths within their district.

Four times a year, a copy of the district registers was made for the Registrar General, who ingathered all the registers for England & Wales and collated them into a single countrywide index, arranged alphabetically by surname (and then alphabetically by forename within each surname). The indexes to the registers are quarterly rather than annual in scope the four quarters being known as March, June, September and December. Each of these covers the month itself and the two preceding months, as follows:

Note that, for the researcher, marriages, unlike births, have the advantage of being registered immediately at the time of the event.

Normally, then, where you have an exact date of marriage, you will find the entry for the marriage you are looking for in the same quarter.

Please note that our marriage records do not extend as far as the present day. Marriages suffer an unfortunate delay in reaching the central register, as (unlike births and deaths) the information relating to marriages has to be collated from churches and other religious establishments as well as district register offices.

Troubleshooting

Of the three events of birth, marriage and death, marriages might be the event where most inaccuracies are recorded sometimes by accident and sometimes by design. The field on the certificate which must be regarded with most caution is that for age note that what is recorded is declared age rather than proven age. It is therefore not uncommon for bride and/or groom to allow themselves some latitude and how shall we say? modify their respective ages. This might be done especially to reduce a disparity in age, where one party is significantly younger than the other. Some early certificates unhelpfully state merely that the bride and/or groom were "of full age", which only suggests that they were over the age of majority, being 21 years of age at that time, and able to marry without their parents' consent.

Bigamy

Sometimes, a bride or groom might be coy about their marital condition. Previous marriages might be concealed from partners, even when the marriage has been terminated by death or legally dissolved. Bigamy is not so very uncommon that you can rule out the possibility of finding it on your own family tree. In any event, be prepared to treat with caution all declarations of marital status found on marriage certificates.

Where in the country?

Marriages traditionally took place in the parish of the bride, which may or may not be located in the same registration district as the parish of the groom. Eloping was probably more common in fiction than in life but do not be surprised if you find the marriage of an ancestor out of area. You might even want to consider Scottish records for those whose idea of romantic included Gretna Green!

It is a common misapprehension that what we would now call common law relationships were rare in the Victorian era. They may have been rarer but they were not so uncommon that you should feel shocked or startled to discover apparent evidence of them on your own tree.

In whose name?

The indexes record each marriage under the names of both bride and groom, so for every one marriage their will be two entries in the indexes. From March 1912 the spouse's name was recorded on the indexes so, if you know both names, the correct entry should be immediately identifiable Before that date, where you know both names you will need to cross-reference any candidate entries against the other surname to see if there is a match. You are looking for a name match first and foremost but need to verify this against the registration district, volume and page number, which will always be identical. It is sensible to search under the more distinctive of the two names, unless you believe that this surname is at serious risk of being mis-spelt or being subject to spelling variation.

Divorces

Divorce records contain information on family members, their marital history (including marriage date and place), property, residences, and sometimes dates of events such as the children's births.

Divorce required an act of Parliament until 1857 and was uncommon before the mid-twentieth century. Records of parliamentary divorce acts are at 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 1937 are also available.

Relatives of divorced persons may obtain information on divorces that occurred in the last 75 years by contacting The Principal Registry of the Family Division, First Avenue House, 42 - 49 High Holborn, London WC1V 6NP (Tel: 020 7947 7000).

Follow these links for full listings of GRO entries for marriages under the surname Ramsdale for the years 1837 to 1983:



Deaths

Death certificates show only the name, age, date, place, and cause of death, and the occupation, signature, relationship, and residence of the informant. A spouse's name is sometimes given. If a child died, the parents' names are often written in the space for "occupation."

Civil registration death records are of limited usefulness because the information:

However, a death certificate is often the only civil registration record for persons born or married before July 1837.

Key dates for records in England and Wales

1 July 1837: Introduction of General Civil Registration of Births, Marriages and Deaths in England and Wales

Deaths

1875 enforcement of compulsory registration
September quarter 1837 to June quarter 1911 only first two full forenames, subsequent initials, registration district and reference number
September quarter 1911 onwards only first forename, subsequent initials, registration district and number
September quarter 1837 to December quarter 1865 no age given
March quarter 1866 to March quarter 1969 age at death given
June quarter 1969 to present exact date of birth given

Searching for a death

The churches in England & Wales have been recording baptisms, marriages and burials at parish level for centuries. However, the civil registration of births, marriages and deaths in other words, record-keeping by the state did not begin until July 1837. At that time, the legal jurisdiction of England & Wales was subdivided, for the purposes of registration, into administrative areas known as registration districts. Within each district a district registrar would be appointed to take responsibility for the recording of births, marriages and deaths within their district.

Four times a year, a copy of the district registers was made for the Registrar General, who ingathered all the registers for England & Wales and collated them into a single countrywide index, arranged alphabetically by surname (and then alphabetically by forename within each surname). The indexes to the registers are quarterly rather than annual in scope the four quarters being known as March, June, September and December. Each of these covers the month itself and the two preceding months, as follows:

Note that the quarters contain the deaths registered within them, which is not necessarily the same as deaths which took place within them. The reason why this is so is that legally deaths are required to be registered within five days of the event but, again, sometimes are registered late. A coroner's inquest, for example, might significantly delay the issuing of a death certificate.

This means that some deaths which took place during a month in one quarter will be registered in a month in the next quarter. Clearly, this is most common for deaths which took place within the last month of a quarter. So, for example, a death in December might be registered in January (or, indeed, in February) the following year, which means that it would be registered not in the December quarter but in the March quarter of the year following that in which it took place. 

Normally, then, where you have an exact date of death, you will find the entry for the death you are looking for in the same or the next quarter, as follows:

Troubleshooting

As previously mentioned, deaths should be registered within five days. However, if the person died in uncertain circumstances, an inquest may be held and this could delay registration further. If you do not find the entry you are seeking in the same or the next quarter, therefore, it is sensible at least to check the two immediately following quarters, to cover the possibility of late registration.

Where in the country?

Deaths are registered within the district in which they occurred, which is not necessarily the same as where they habitually resided for example, if a person dies at work, or while travelling or on business.  It is also the case that a hospital to which a dying person is taken might be in a neighbouring registration district to the one in which they resided this is particularly likely in densely-populated urban areas, where there can be several districts within a geographically small area.

Age adjustments

One does not register one's own death! Therefore, one should view with caution details recorded upon it, as the reliability of these will depend of the level of knowledge of the person acting as informant at the death. Recorded ages at deaths are often found to be unreliable. From September quarter 1837 to December quarter 1865 no age was given at all in the death index; from March quarter 1866 to March quarter 1969 the age at death is shown in the index; and from June quarter 1969 to present, the exact date of birth is given. If a recorded date of birth appears to be incorrect in other words, you cannot find a corresponding entry in the birth index it is more likely to be the year, rather than day or month, that is problematic (although all three may be incorrect). Finally, of course, the individual may have been economical with the truth about their age during their lifetime and the misrepresentation may be inadvertently carried over to the registration of their death.

Follow these links for full listings of GRO entries for deaths under the surname Ramsdale for the years 1837 to 1983:



Stillbirths and adoptions

No provision was made for registering stillbirths until 1874, when a new law required a death certificate before burying stillborn children. Since 1927, all stillbirths (any birth where the child never took a breath) are recorded in the Register of Stillbirths, which is not available to the public.

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