The History of changes to UK law on Registration of Births, Marriages and Deaths


Prior to 1837, there was no Central Government registration of Births, Marriages and Deaths in the United Kingdom.  It was proposed by Parliament during the 1750's, but the bill was turned down by the House of Lords, other than Hardwicke's Marriage Act.

1753:  Hardwicke's Marriage Act.  Placed on the statute books in an endeavour to stop Fleet and other Marriage abuses.

1st July 1837:  Civil registration of births, deaths and marriages begins.  The Registrar, rather than the parents, was responsible for registering births and deaths.  As they were paid for the numbers of registrations, they sought data regarding these events by paying midwives and undertakings for the relevant information.  Some falsified returns, as they were paid for the number of returns they made.

1837:  The registration of Maritime births and deaths commenced.
1837:  For the first time since the Commonwealth in the 1650's, it was possible to have a civil marriage ceremony, being conducted by the Superintendent Registrar.
1849:  British Consuls overseas started returns of births, deaths and marriages.
1852:  The boundaries of many Civil Registration districts were changed and have subsequently changed several times.
1855:  Civil Registration began in Scotland.
1864:  Civil Registration began in Ireland.
1866:  For the first time the age at death was recorded.
1874:  The Registrar of Births & Deaths is no longer legally responsible for recording information re births and deaths.  Parents/next of kin are now responsible.
1875:  The name of the father of an illegitimate child can only be included on the child's birth certificate if the father accompanies the mother to the Registrar's.
1881:  Army registers begin.  However, many Army records were kept by the various Regimental Chaplains.
1898:  Marriage Act – Dissenting congregations can appoint an authorised person to register marriages.  The Registrar no longer is obliged to be present.
1907:  Marriage Act permits marriage with deceased wife's sister.
1911:  For the first time the maiden name of the mother is recorded in the Birth Indices.
1911:  Census took place on 2nd April.
1912:  The surnames of both bride and groom are recorded together in the Marriage Indices.
1920:  RAF registers start.
1921:  Separate registration systems are set up to record births, marriages and deaths in Northern Ireland and Eire.
1921:  The 19th June census had been postponed from April due to industrial unrest, and not taken in Ireland due to the Irish War of Independence.  Release 2022?.
1922:  Enactment of the Constitution of the Irish Free State on 6th December, following its adoption by Dáil Éireann in constituent assembly on 25th October.
1926:  A census in Northern Ireland was taken on 18th April.
1929:  The minimum age of legal marriage is raised, formerly 12 for girls and 14 for boys.  Minimum age is now 16.
1931:  The census on 26th April excluded Northern Ireland.  The Scottish records survive in Edinburgh, but the remainder were lost in an unexplained fire in 1942.
1939:  Not a census, but registration on 29th September on the outbreak of war for every civilian member of household, of full birth date, full name and occupation.
                It is already available on line at, but there are restrictions or conditions on viewing persons still alive in 1991.
1941:  The ten-yearly census due that year did not take place.
1949:  Air registers are begun.
1959:  Royal Navy registers are commenced.
1960:  Marriage Act now permits the marriage to a divorced wife's sister.
1969:  Family Law Reform act.  The age of majority is lowered to 18 from 21.
1969:  Date of birth of a deceased person is recorded in the Death Indices.
1969:  Mother's usual place of residence is recorded on registration of a birth.
1974:  General Registrar's Office moves from Somerset House to St Catherine's House.
1986:  Details of the occupations of both parents are recorded on birth certificates.


☞ Further useful information is available at,
and also at (which actually includes data on ALL censuses, not just 1911).

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