English birth records before 1831 uk

The whole of England and Wales was divided into Registration Districts. A Superintendent Registrar, responsible for the registration of births, deaths and marriages, was appointed to each Registration District. The Registration Districts were further subdivided into sub-districts. To each sub-district was appointed a registrar of births and deaths.

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Each Registration District comprised typically 3 or 4 sub-districts and each sub-district comprised several parishes. The important point to note is that because the Registration Districts were usually identical to the Poor-Law Unions and these Unions often crossed historic county boundaries, then many of the new Registration Districts, and some sub-districts, also crossed county boundaries.

The new civil registration system was henceforward made use of by the GRO for the enumeration of the Censuses of England and Wales. This was done by dividing each registration sub-district into several enumeration areas. An enumerator was appointed to each enumeration area. He was responsible for distributing the household forms to each household in his area and for collecting the completed forms. He then had to copy the information on these forms into his "enumerators' books".

The registrar of each registration sub-district then received copies of the enumerators' books from all the enumeration areas in his sub-district. He checked these and forwarded them to the Superintendent Registrar of his Registration District. He then checked all the books from his Registration District and forwarded these to the Registrar-General.

The Census was the first to make use of the new civil registration areas in this way. However, once all the enumeration books were assembled at the GRO, the records were then re-ordered into historic county order i.

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This means that the published reports from the Census and the filmed copies of the enumerators' books are based on the historic counties, despite having been enumerated on the basis of the Registration Districts. However, the returns for the Census and all those up to and including were treated in a different way. For this Census the Registrar General defined a set of "registration counties". Each registration county was formed by grouping together all those Registration Districts which lay predominantly in a particular historic county.

Hence whilst the registration counties shared the names of the historic counties there were often significant differences in area between them. The Registrar-General also defined 11 registration "Divisions" e. These divisions were made by grouping together the registration counties. A "London" division comprised the parts of the registration counties of Middlesex, Surrey and Kent within the limits of the Registrar-General's bills of mortality. The published Census Reports presented extensive statistical analysis for each division and of each registration county.

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However, these reports also presented similar statistics for the "counties proper" i. Students of these Census Reports should be clear which type of county is being discussed.

From the Census onwards, the actual enumerators' books were not re-ordered into historic county order as the returns had been. They were stored in division order and, within each division, in registration county order. Subsequently these records have been filmed and indexed in this order. Genealogists need to be aware that the references to "county" in the Place Name Indexes to the Census returns from onwards are to registration county and NOT to historic county. This matter is discussed in more detail in Section 4. Appendix C provides a list of those parishes, townships etc.

Appendix D presents a similar list for the time of the Census. Like all administrative areas, the names and areas of the Registration Districts have frequently been altered in the interests of efficient administration. Such changes, of course, led to changes in the areas of the registration counties between each Census. However, the areas of the registration service were not generally altered following the creation of the administrative counties and county boroughs by the Local Government Act LGA The only change was that the Registrar-General created a new registration county of "London" almost coterminous with the newly created administrative county of London.

This new registration county formed the whole of the London division. Since the metropolitan parts of Kent, Surrey and Middlesex had been enumerated and indexed separately from the rest of the registration counties since , this made little difference to the way in which the Census was conducted or ordered. The Local Government Act abolished the Poor-Law Unions and assigned their functions to the administrative county and county borough authorities. The Act also facilitated the re-arrangement of the Registration Districts so as to lie within administrative county and county borough boundaries.

From this time, the GRO gave up on the idea of registration counties. Censuses were henceforward enumerated and reported on the basis of the administrative counties and county boroughs within which the Registration Districts now lay.

The Local Government Act continued this practice and today Registration Districts in England and Wales are sub-divisions of either administrative counties or unitary authority areas see Appendix A. By Scotland had been divided into Registration Districts. These Registration Districts generally were either whole parishes or sub-divisions of parishes.

The Census

In common with the practice in England and Wales, the Registrar General created artificial "registration counties" to assist in the enumeration and evaluation of the Census. Each registration county was comprised of all those Registration Districts which lay predominantly in one particular county. However, the Scottish Registration Districts were closely based on the parishes. Therefore, it was generally only in places where a parish lay partly in two counties that the registration counties differed from the counties themselves. In such cases the whole of the parish would be deemed to lie in that registration county with the same name as the county within which the greater part of the parish lay.

Therefore, there was a much closer correspondence between the counties and the registration counties in Scotland than in England and Wales. A list of those parishes concerned is provided in Appendix E. The LGA created a whole new set of statutorily defined administrative areas covering the whole of England and Wales, terming them "administrative counties" two-tier local government areas and "county boroughs" single-tier local government areas.

The new areas were given elected councils to administer those functions assigned to them. The areas of the "administrative counties" were initially based upon the historic counties i. NOT on the registration counties. However, the administrative counties and the historic counties never had exactly the same areas for several reasons:. Many of the urban sanitary districts crossed historic county borders and hence, in these areas, the administrative county boundaries differed from those of the historic counties.

It should be understood that the LGA did not abolish or alter the historic counties. This fact was reflected in the Census Report of This distinguished between what it dubbed the "ancient or geographical counties" and the new "administrative counties".

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It made it clear that the two were distinct entities and that the former still existed, providing detailed statistics for both and for the registration counties. No subsequent Act has ever tried to alter or abolish the historic counties and their continued existence has been reaffirmed consistently by the Government. Almost immediately after they were created, the areas of the new administrative counties began to be altered both by Orders from the Local Government Board and by Local Acts of Parliament.

The main aims of these changes were to iron out inconvenient boundaries and to extend administrative county or county borough boundaries to keep pace with expanding urban areas e. Birmingham county borough was radically expanded into the administrative county of Worcestershire in These generally small changes continued up to the s during which decade much more radical changes took place.


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It also abolished the administrative counties of Middlesex and London and greatly curtailed the areas of the administrative counties of Surrey, Kent and Essex. Other major changes saw the creation of the administrative county of "Peterborough and Huntingdon" and the county borough of "Teesside". Consequently, the pattern of administrative counties and county boroughs which existed immediately prior to was already radically different in many places to that of the historic counties.

Despite what is often thought, all this Act actually did was to abolish all of the "administrative counties" and "county boroughs" created by the LGA and create a whole new set of local government areas. To quote from the LGA "1 1 For the administration of local government on and after 1st April England exclusive of Greater London and the Isles of Scilly shall be divided into local government areas to be known as counties and in those counties there shall be local government areas to be known as districts.

The unqualified use of the word "counties" by the LGA rather than the term "administrative counties" has been the source of much confusion. However, it is clear from this extract that these "counties" are nothing more nor less than "local government areas" which are "to be known as counties" and which only exist "for the administration of local government".

The word "county" is a label within the terminology of the Act to refer to those top-tier local government areas defined by it.

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Such a definition of a word within an Act for a particular purpose should not be taken to have any bearing upon the ordinary, popular meaning of that word. Rather, it is an admission that, within that Act, the word is not being used in its ordinary, popular sense. Note that the LGA did not do anything to the historic counties of Britain. It only abolished the administrative counties and county boroughs. The Government was and still is happy to confirm that the counties themselves were unaffected: "The new county boundaries are solely for the purpose of defining areas of They are administrative areas, and will not alter the traditional boundaries of counties, nor is it intended that the loyalties of people living in them will change.

Whilst the "administrative counties" of the LGA had initially been closely based upon the historic counties, the LGA 's "counties" were, in many areas, radically different, not least in that the majority of the population of England found itself either in "Greater London" or one of six new "metropolitan counties" which bore no relation to any historic county. The LGA "counties" of Wales were also totally different from either the historic counties or the pre administrative counties.