General Register Office: Registers of Births, Marriages and Deaths surrendered to the Non-parochial Registers Commissions of 1837 and 1857.
Registers (authenticated by the Non-Parochial Registers Commissioners) of births, baptisms, deaths, burials and marriages. Unofficial registers form the majority of the series, but there are a few official Anglican registers, kept by institutions outside the normal Church of England parish structure.
Electronic images of these records can be searched online through our partner website.
The unofficial registers are mainly of non-conformist and Roman Catholic congregations in England and Wales, including a number of registers from Scottish churches in England. Registers of English dissenting congregations are very rare before active persecution stopped; most come from the eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries and after 1754 they do not, in general, include marriages. The earliest registers belong to the French and other foreign Protestant churches in England who were granted toleration well before any native dissent was made lawful; they also includes the Dutch, French and German Chapels Royal at St James's Palace.
There are also registers from the English church at St Petersburg, Chelsea and Greenwich Hospitals, and, contains some of the registers and other records of burials at burial grounds and non-denominational cemeteries, particularly the Bunhill Fields Burial Ground, London (1713-1854); the South London Burial Ground, Walworth, London (1819-1837); and the Necropolis Burial Ground, Everton, Liverpool, Lancashire (1825-1837). Also the registers of the Presbyterian, Independent and Baptist registry at Dr Williams' Library and the Wesleyan Methodist Metropolitan Registry, with indexes.
A further register of the Chapel Royal can be found in PRO 30/19
Arranged by county (English followed by Welsh), and then alphabetically by place. All foreign churches (except Scottish ones) have been removed from their county and placed in a separate section. It should be noted that much of the registration in these registries was retrospective and the date of a birth may be much earlier than the date of its registration.
Birth Certificates from the Presbyterian, Independent and Baptist Registry and from the Wesleyan Methodist Metropolitan Registry are in RG 5
Church of England, 1534-
Dr Williams Library, 1742-1865
General Register Office, 1836-1970
Necropolis Burial Ground, Everton, Liverpool, Merseyside, 1825-1837
Presbyterian, Independent and Baptist Registry, 1742-1837
Royal Hospital Chelsea, 1682-
Royal Hospital, Greenwich, 1694-
South London Burial Ground, Walworth, London, 1819-1837
Wesleyan Methodist Metropolitan Registry, 1818-1838
There were several attempts to overcome the difficulties caused by the refusal of the authorities to accept the nonconformist records of birth as legal proof, the most notable being the central registries of births set up by the London Baptists, Independents and Presbyterians in 1742 (known as Dr Williams' Library), and by the Wesleyan Methodists (the Metropolitan Registry) in 1818.
The Protestant Dissenters' Registry at Dr Williams' Library served the congregations of Baptists, Independents and Prebyterians in London and within a twelve-mile radius of the capital. However, parents from most parts of the British Isles and even abroad also used the registry. Almost 50,000 births were registered in it. The register was started in 1742, with retrospective entries going back to 1716, and continued to 1837. The certificates used to compile the registers also survive. Parents wishing to register a birth had to produce two parchment certificates signed by their minister and by the midwife and one or two other people present at the birth, giving the name and sex of the child, the name of the parents, the name of the mother's father and the date and place (street, parish and county) of birth. After 1828, paper certificates were required instead, which had to be signed by the parents as well; this made them more acceptable as legal proof. On receipt of the two certificates, the registrar entered all the details, except the address of birth, in the register, filed one of the certificates and returned the other to the parents with his certificate of registration.
The Wesleyan Methodist Metropolitan Registry provided for the registration of births and baptisms of Wesleyan Methodists throughout England, Wales and elsewhere, independently of any congregational records. Over 10,000 children were registered here. The registers continued till 1838, with some retrospective registration of births going back to 1773. One of the two original certificates submitted by the parents was entered in the register and filed, and the other was marked as entered and returned to the parents. The certificates and the register entry have the name and sex of the child, the name and address of the father, the name of the mother and of both her parents, the date and place of birth, and the name of the Wesleyan circuit, with the signature (or name, in the register) of the parents, the witnesses to the birth, and the baptising minister.
Despite these registers problems continued, as the courts proved unwilling to accept certificates from these institutions. When civil registration of births, marriages and deaths was set up, to start from July 1837, the opportunity was taken to provide for retrospective legislation of the records of births, marriages and deaths which had been registered outside the Church of England. A parliamentary commission was set up in 1837 to collect and examine non-parochial registers, and to authenticate those which conformed to an acceptable standard. Most Protestant nonconformist records were handed in (including the registers and indexes kept by the two central registries), but few Catholic ones and the Jews and the East India Company preferred to keep their own records. The opportunity was also taken by various Anglican institutions, particularly large charities such as the Foundling Hospital and the Royal Hospitals at Chelsea and Greenwich, to hand in their own registers for safe-keeping.
Once collected and authenticated, the registers were deposited in the new General Register Office. Certified extracts from these authenticated registers would henceforth be legally acceptable. Not all registers were found to be worth authenticating: the defective ones were returned to the congregations. In some cases, acceptable registers had been kept in a single book with other chapel records: the register section was removed and kept, and the other records returned. Many congregations were unhappy to lose their original registers, despite the benefit of legal recognition of their contents.
A further commission was issued in 1857 with most of the registers collected then in RG 8, but some were reunited with the registers collected earlier from the same congregation in RG 4.. Some of these registers date from after 1837, but they contain information not included in the civil registers, as failure to use the civil registration system was not penalised until 1875.
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