Everyone researching 19th century English or Welsh ancestors is familiar with birth, marriage and death certificates, but how much thought do we give to the origins of the General Register Office which was created to look after these records? Not everyone was in favour, and the legislation passed in 1836 (Births and Deaths Registration Act 1836) was not the first attempt at setting up a system of civil registration. Its first few years were surprisingly turbulent, and files in The National Archives tell of the difficulties faced by the early registrars. Most people happily complied with the new law, but in some places these men encountered non-compliance, ignorance and, in one instance, riots!
Audrey Collins is a family history specialist at The National Archives. She is a regular speaker at family history conferences and events in the UK and overseas, and is the author of numerous books and articles. Her most recent publication is Birth, Marriage and Death Records: a guide for family historians (Pen & Sword 2012), which she co-wrote with Dave Annal.