Catalogue description Records of the General Register Office, Government Social Survey Department, and Office of Population Censuses and Surveys

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Reference: RG
Title: Records of the General Register Office, Government Social Survey Department, and Office of Population Censuses and Surveys

Records of the General Register Office (GRO), Office of National Statistics (ONS), Government Social Survey Department, and Office of Population Censuses and Surveys relating to the registration of births, marriages and deaths and the collection of information about the population by means of census and survey.


Various series of non-parochial registers deposited in the GRO since 1840 are in RG 4, RG 6, RG 7 and RG 8. Birth certificates from the Presbyterian, Independent and Baptist Registry and from the Wesleyan Methodist Metropolitan Registry are in RG 5.


Maps of superintendent registrars' districts RG 18.

Establishment and accounts RG 20, RG 55.

Administration of local registration RG 21.

National Health Service Central Register RG 22.

Royal Commission on Population (1944-1949) RG 24.

Inter-Departmental Committee on Social and Economic Research RG 25.

Population and medical statistics RG 26, RG 47.

National Registration RG 28, RG 101.

Entry books of letters to and from the Treasury and Local Government Board RG 29.

Returns of registered places of worship of protestant dissenters and Roman Catholics, 1852 RG 31.

Non-statutory records of births, marriages and deaths of British subjects abroad RG 32, RG 33, RG 34, RG 35, RG 36; indexes in RG 43.

Registers of persons authorised under Marriage Act 1898 RG 42.

Copies of records relating to removal of graves or tombstones RG 37.

Circulars issued by the office on vital and health statistics (from 1910) and registration (from 1909) RG 41.

Records relating to registration of births, marriages and deaths RG 48.

Records of the Certificate application section RG 49.

Private office papers RG 50.

Photographs RG 54.

Seals of Letters Patent RG 80.

Smallpox vaccination returns RG 56.

Returns of death from cancer RG 58.

Departmental Whitley Council minutes and papers RG 59.

Population estimates 1891-1929 RG 60.

Inspectorate reports on Registration Officers RG 61.

Registration Officers' handbooks RG 64.

Schedules of the Family Census (1946) RG 67.

Original finding aids RG 68.

Certificates issued under the Places of Religious Worship Certifying Act 1852 and Places of Worship Registration Act 1855 RG 70.

Registered files of the Business Statistics Office RG 75.

Specimen documents relating to national registration in both world wars RG 900.


Registered files of the surveys RG 40, with reports and papers in RG 23.


Original returns of the General Household Survey RG 38, and machine-readable records of the survey RG 39.

Coloured School Leavers' Employment Survey RG 51, and the Labour Force Survey RG 53.

Quarterly copies of birth, marriage and death registrations RG 44, RG 45 and RG 46 respectively.

Reports of the Registration Division RG 57 and the Computer Division RG 65.

Cause (of death) coding manuals RG 63.

Establishment Division files RG 20.

Vital Statistics Branch reports RG 62.


  • Correspondence and papers relating to censuses RG 19.
  • Enumerators' returns for 1861 to 1901 RG 9, RG 10, RG 11, RG 12, RG 13, RG 14, RG 15, RG 16, RG 17.
  • Specimen census returns forms, 1841 to 1951 RG 27.
  • A partial set of published census reports and population abstracts RG 30.
  • Census process plans RG 66.
  • Database of 1961 census statistics RG 72, the 1966 census RG 73 and the 1971 census RG 74.
  • Maps of superintendent registrars' districts and sub-districts RG 18.


  • Historic Deaths RG 69.
  • Primary Births RG 71.
  • Retail Prices Index (RPI) and Consumer Prices Index (CPI) RG 77.
  • Scientific Research and Development Survey RG 79.
  • Company Accounts Analysis RG 81.
  • Annual Census of Production (ACOP) RG 91

WEBSITES: For series created for regularly archived websites, please see the separate Websites Division.

Date: 1567-2022
Related material:

No enumerators' returns survive for the first four censuses, but for the clergymen's returns of parish register statistics made in connection with the 1831 census see HO 71

For returns for the ecclesiastical census of 1851 see HO 129

Separated material:

The 1931 census returns have been destroyed by fire. Parish registers usually remain in the custody of the incumbent of the parish, unless deposited in a local repository.

Held by: The National Archives, Kew
Legal status: Public Record(s)
Language: English

Central Office of Information, Social Survey Division, 1946-1967

General Register Office, 1836-1970

Government Social Survey Department, 1967-1970

Office for National Statistics, 1996-

Office of Population Censuses and Surveys, 1970-1996

Physical description: 144 series
Access conditions: Open unless otherwise stated
Publication note:

Records of Births Marriages and Deaths, PRO Records Information leaflet no 39 Tracing Your Ancestors in the Public Record Office (4th edn, 1990).

Administrative / biographical background:

The earliest form of registration was the system of parochial and diocesan registration of baptisms, burials and marriages introduced in England and Wales in 1538. It was confined to the parochial organisation of the established church and did not normally extend to extra-parochial areas, royal and private chapels, foreign churches, and catholic or nonconformists churches. Moreover, until 1754 marriage was a common law contract not necessarily requiring a church ceremony.Hardwicke's Marriage Act 1753 regularised the performance of marriages by instituting a virtual monopoly for the established church; only Quakers, Jews and the foreign churches were exempted. Churches outside the framework of the established church frequently kept their own registers, and there were certain provisions for central registration for some denominations. These arrangements and the disabilities suffered by nonconformists led in 1833 to the appointment of a select committee of the House of Commons.

General Register Office (GRO)

The GRO was established under the Births and Deaths Registration Act 1836 which, with the Marriage Act 1836, introduced a system of state registration of births, deaths and marriages in England and Wales under the direction of a Registrar General responsible to the Home Secretary. Registration of births and deaths was not made compulsory until 1874, when the Births and Deaths Registration Act transferred the obligation to register births and deaths from the registrar to the person responsible. The country was divided into registration districts, based upon the newly formed poor law districts.

The Marriage Act 1836 provided for civil marriage by superintendent registrars as an alternative to marriage by banns or licence in the established church or by the ceremonies of the Quaker, Jewish or foreign protestant congregations. Provision was also made for the solemnisation of marriages at registered places of worship of other religious denominations in the presence of a registrar and two witnesses. The Marriage Act 1898 enabled ministers of other denominations to become 'Authorised Persons' to register marriages in the same way as clergy of the established church without the attendance of a registrar.

During the First World War the Registrar General was the central registration authority for the system of national registration introduced in 1915, acting under the direction of the Local Government Board. The Registrar General was also charged with the maintenance of a register of adoptions under the Adoption of Children Act 1926 and a register of stillbirths from 1927, and with the re-registration of births of legitimated persons under the Legitimacy Act 1926. During the Second World War the office was again charged with duties in connection with national registration, and the National Register used as a basis for the National Health Service Central Register after 1952.

From 1837 to 1871 the GRO was responsible to the Home Office, though it also worked in close association with the Poor Law Commission and Board. It was transferred to the charge of the Local Government Board in 1871, the Ministry of Health in 1919 and the Department of Health and Social Security in 1968. In May 1970 the office became part of the Office of Population Censuses and Surveys (OPCS). In 1996 the OPCS, and therefore the GRO, became part of the newly created Office for National Statistics. On 1 April 2008, the GRO became a subsidiary of the Identity and Passport Service (IPS).

Government Social Survey Department and predecessors

In April 1940 a Wartime Social Survey was established by the Ministry of Information, initially working under the auspices of the National Institute of Economic and Social Research but from 1941 directly under the Ministry. The unit was used to conduct surveys into social and economic questions, particularly public attitudes to war measures and public morale, in association with the Home Intelligence Division of that department and on behalf of other government departments. Special series of surveys, such as, studies for the Economic Information Unit of the Treasury, consumer including household budget and family expenditure surveys for the Central Statistical Office and the Ministry of Labour and National Service and its successors, and national food surveys for the Ministry of Agriculture and Fisheries. In 1967 it became a separate department known as the Government Social Survey Department, responsible to Treasury ministers. On 11 May 1970 the department was merged with the GRO to become the Social Survey Division of the new Office of Population Censuses and Surveys.

Office of Population Censuses and Surveys

The office was formed in 1970 and was succeeded by the Office for National Statistics in 1996, responsible for the census, registration of births, deaths and marriages and the regulation of civil marriages, and the publication and analysis of medical and demographic statistics. It also conducted research into attitudes and circumstances of the general public and of particular groups on behalf of government departments, royal commissions etc. It provided the secretariat of the Parliamentary Boundary Commissions for England and Wales, and was responsible for the General Household Survey from 1970. The law relating to the registration of births, deaths and marriages has been much supplemented and amended since 1836. It is now governed by the Marriage Act 1949, the Births and Deaths Registration Act 1953 and the Registration Service Act 1953.

Censuses of Population

Decennial censuses of population were first instituted in England and Wales in 1801. The first four censuses were carried out by parish overseers and the returns digested by a clerk of the House of Commons. The establishment of the General Register Office and the registration service led to the transfer of responsibility for the census to the Registrar General under the Population Act of 1840.

In 1841 and 1851 the census of Great Britain was supervised by a Census Commission headed by the Registrar General. When the Registrar General became responsible for taking the census of 1841, England and Wales were already divided into sub-districts within registration districts, and for the purpose of the census, each was further sub-divided into appropriate enumeration districts.

In Scotland the Sheriff Substitute of each county appointed the official schoolmaster of the parish or other fit person to superintend the enumeration, each parish being generally divided into enumeration districts. After the introduction in 1855 of civil registration the organisation of the 1861 censuses were conducted in Scotland by the Registrar General for Scotland, who continued to be responsible for the Scottish section of the Great Britain census from 1901.

The census has been a decennial occurrence with the exception of 1941. Arrangements were already in hand for a census when war was declared and were adapted for an enumeration of the population which took place on 29 September 1939 primarily to provide identity cards. In 1966 the first quinquennial census was taken; it covered ten per cent of the population and was thus the first census taken purely on a sample basis.

In 1971 there was an increase on the questionnaire and a full census was taken with respect to all the questions, but tables for a number of topics were compiled from a ten per cent sample of the data selected by computer. The 1981 census was organised along the same lines as the 1971 operation but with a shorter, better designed household questionnaire.

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