“The history behind your birth certificate” published by AngliaResearch
When, on 5 September 1538, Thomas Cromwell ordered the clergy to keep records of every baptism, marriage and burial that they performed, his proposal was greeted with suspicion. Was this going to lead to a stealth tax on Christian sacraments?
In 1598, a further lock was added to the coffer, parchment replaced paper and a helpful back-up in the form of bishops’ transcripts was introduced. But despite this belt and braces approach, it was a fragile system that was easily undermined by the negligence of individual record keepers.
Rose’s Act for the better regulating, and preserving of Parish and Other Registers came into effect in January 1813. Its stated aim was to “greatly facilitate the proof of pedigrees claiming to be entitled to real or personal property”. The resulting Act with its focus on the safe keeping of the registers “in a dry well-painted iron chest” from which they were only to be removed for legitimate purposes, acknowledges both the importance of the records themselves, and how open they were to abuse. The penalty for counterfeiting, defacing or altering an entry to the register book was transportation for the term of 14 years.
The 1836 Act for the Registering of Births, Deaths, and Marriages in England resulted in a tiered organisation of local registrars working under superintendent registrars, who in turn were answerable to the Registrar General in London. This was a much more robust system, with provision for “strong iron boxes”, for indexes and for back-up copies held at local and national level. However its weakness was that it wasn’t compulsory.
The onus was on the registrar “to inform himself carefully of every birth and every death which shall happen within his district”. Certainly, he had an incentive (2s 6d for the first 20 births and deaths collected each year, 1s for each entry thereafter).
It was on the all-important date of 1 January 1875 that the Registration of Births and Deaths Act 1874 came into effect and registration became the responsibility of the parents, or the householder where the birth took place, on penalty of a £2 fine.