A formal system of civil registration of birth, marriages and deaths came into force across England and Wales in 1837. Before then, only churches recorded such details, but Parliament saw a need for broader accurate records to guide voting, defence and taxation.
And since registrars were paid for every registration, there was a strong incentive to make sure the new system worked. The change also meant marriages could take place in a register office rather than having to be in church, so it was a good day for the non-religious – or those wanting a cheaper wedding.
The new registration districts were broadly based on what were previously called “poor-law unions”. These were groups of parishes and towns that offered support to local needy folk, even if only to place them in workhouses with a fearsome reputation for harsh conditions.
England was also far from being first to go for formal national registers, meanwhile.The first nationwide register was instituted in Sweden back in 1631. Once again, those canny Scandinavians leading the way on social matters.
(info courtesy of Royal London website)