Selected events in the history of civil registration and boundary changes: 1801-1996

(Subsequent to the publication of this table, a much fuller and more authoritative timeline has been produced as an appendix to a report on the GeoX Walk Project Gazetteer. [web page no longer found - MS])

1801 Census of Population
Carried out by Overseers of the Poor and local clergy in England and Wales, and schoolmasters in Scotland
1834 The Poor Law Amendment Act grouped 15,000 parishes into 700 Poor Law Unions controlled by Boards of Guardians. Establishment of the Poor Law Commission
1836 Births and Deaths Registration Act and Marriage Act
Office of Registrar General established, and system of civil registration based on the Board of Guardians
1837 The General Register Office established as a subsidiary department of the Home Office
England and Wales divided into 619 Registration Districts

Registration commences 1st July
Births and Deaths at sea recorded
1840 Civil registration of births and deaths commenced in Guernsey
1842 Civil registration commenced in Jersey
1844 Poor Law Amendment Act
The Poor Law Commission could alter the composition of Unions,without consent, but not dissolve them
1847 Poor Law Board replaces the Poor Law Commission
1851 Census snapshot: 623 Registration Districts
National indexes: Arabic numbering system reflects the assignment of Registration Counties to the new Registration Divisions; lasts till August 1946
1855 General Register Office (Scotland) established
1861 Census –first to be carried out in Scotland –as well as England and Wales based on the civil registration system
"The 634 superintendent registration districts in England and Wales are generally co-extensive with the Poor Law Unions, and are subdivided into 2,194 sub-districts, each having a local registrar of births and deaths" (1861 Census Abstracts)
1864 General Register Office (Ireland) established
1866 Age at death given in National Indexes
1867 Poor Law Amendment Act:
Section 3 gave the Poor Law Board power, after a local enquiry, to make a provisional order to adjust parochial boundaries, provided that the parish was divided, and 1 in 10 of the ratepayers made application for this to be done. Resulted in 6 cases e.g. E and W Lavant applied
1869 Metropolitan Poor Act:
Poor Law Board given power in the case of the Metropolis alone to adjust parochial boundaries without a provisional order or application by the inhabitants
1871 Local Government Board established; GRO becomes a subsidiary part
Snapshot: 626 superintendent registration districts
and 32,543 census enumerators (E & W)
1872 Public Health Act: creation of Sanitary Districts based on the Poor Law Unions
1873 Select Committee on Parish, Union and County Boundaries established.
Evidence to them revealed that:
- 1296 parishes had detached parts (this figure did not include the numerous detached townships of the North)
- 181 out of 650 Unions overlapped county boundaries
- also 52 counties, 647 Unions, 626 Registration Districts, 2195 Sub-Districts, 15 416 Civil Parishes
1874 Births And Deaths Act: a duty of those present at a birth or death to register it (applied from 1875)
Death certificate required for the burial of a stillborn child
1875 Father’s name can be recorded if he acknowledges paternity
Death had to be registered within 5 days
1876 Divided Parishes and Poor Law Amendment Act:
Local Government Board given power in cases of divided parishes after local inquiry
- to constitute separate parishes from the separate portions of the divided parish
- to amalgamate some of the parts with the parish in which situated
- if requisite, the county of the parish could be changed.
Order only provisional if 1 in 10 of ratepayers objected
268 detached parishes were dealt with by the Local Government Board
1878 Isle of Man: compulsory civil registration of births and deaths commenced
1879 Poor Law Amendment Act
consolidated the 1876 Act; provided for special cases e.g. when municipal borough boundary crossed a parish
1881 Snapshot: 630 Registration districts in England and Wales
1882 Divided Parishes Act and Poor Law Amendment Act
automatic procedure established
- if a detached part were entirely surrounded by another parish, it should be amalgamated
- amalgamation to apply from March 25, 1883
1,904 Detached Parishes were eliminated in this period
1884 Isle of Man: compulsory civil registration of marriages commenced
1887 Local Government Boundaries Act
- Commissioners appointed to inquire into how county and union boundaries could be made coterminous (181 Unions crossed county lines)
1888 Local Government Act
Creation of Administrative Counties, County Councils and County Boroughs

- Empowerment of the Local Government Board on the application of a county council (or borough council) to alter the boundaries of the county (or borough) , subject to parliamentary confirmation
- County Councils now responsible for making orders altering the boundaries of parishes, subject to confirmation of the LGB
1889 Local Government (Scotland) Act
appoints Boundary Commission to consider and alter where necessary boundaries of counties through Scotland
1891 Snapshot (E & W):633 Registration Districts, 2110 Sub-districts, 14684 Civil Parishes
Snapshot (Scotland):1050 Registrars, 8926 census enumerators employed
Registrars were encouraged to alter the boundaries of their census enumeration districts to take into account the changes brought about by the various Divided Parishes Acts. Prior to 1891, the emphasis was on retaining the boundaries of the previous census. Many anomalies, however, still existed post-1891
1894 Local Government Act
‘..the whole of each parish and unless the County Council otherwise direct, the whole of each Rural District, shall be within the same Administrative County.’
Urban and Rural District Councils established. These were based on those Poor Law Unions which together with the boroughs had been made sanitary authorities. Parish councils and parish meetings set up for those areas that fell under Rural District Councils
In the period 1901-1911, only 3 administrative counties were unaffected by boundary changes – Nottinghamshire, Rutland, Suffolk
1899 London Government Act divided the Administrative County of London into 28 Metropolitan Boroughs
1901 Census snapshot:
In the registration district of Chester, 262 out of 814 districts contained two or more parts of various administrative divisions
Snapshot: 70 parishes created in E & W; 348 absorbed into other parishes; 332 underwent changes of area
1907 City of London (Union of Parishes) Act: 112 City Parishes amalgamated into 1 Civil Parish
1910 Sept: typed GRO National Index volumes replace printed ones
2nd forename is replaced by initial only
1911 Mother's maiden name appears in National Indexes
Birthplace recorded by Administrative rather than Ancient County on Census
1911 Snapshot:
4 categories of Registration Areas
England and Wales had 635 Registration Districts and 2,009 registration sub-districts
9 Registration Districts included a pair of PLU
14,614 Civil Parishes
Still 921 divided parishes existed
1912 Bride and Groom Indexed in National Indexes
1915 National Registration Act –Local authorities –under the guidance of the Registrar General – to register the wartime adult population
1919 Local Government Board is disbanded
GRO becomes a subsidiary part of the Ministry of Health
Civil registration of marriages commenced on Guernsey, Alderney and Sark
1926 Civil registration of births and deaths commenced on Sark and Alderney
1926 First Adoption of Children Act: Adopted Children Register to be kept by RG
Compulsory Registration of Stillbirths applied from 1927
1926 Local Government (County Boroughs and Adjustments) Act:
A municipal borough could only be created a county borough by a Local Act
Extension to county borough boundaries only if no objections, and then only by Local Bill
1929 Local Government Act
A system of Regions and Districts replaced the earlier system of Regions, Counties and Districts i.e. Registration Counties ceased as a unit of aggregation.
Poor Law Unions were abolished and their functions transferred to Local Government Authorities –Counties and County Boroughs
The number of Districts was much reduced. 275 Districts were abolished and their areas absorbed into larger units
Registrars now paid by Local Authorities (no legal employer, but overseen by inspectorate) on a salaried basis
County councils were required to commence a Review of the areas of their county districts; as a consequence from 1931 to 1937, the total number of urban and rural districts was reduced from 1606 to 1048, and there were 1,300 boundary changes from 1929-1938
1930s Snapshot: 58 boundary changes affecting 22 counties between 1929-1937
1933 Local Government Act (consolidating the 1926 Act):
- A county council could propose to the Minister the union of a county with a county borough
- A county borough could propose its own incorporation into a county
- Both could make a joint representation for a mutual adjustment of their boundaries
- A county council could propose the alteration of the boundaries of a county district, and it could propose the creation or abolition of urban and rural districts and civil parishes
The 1933 Act put county councils firmly in the position of 'engines of reform' in local boundary changes. They were empowered to review all areas within a county except propose the abolition of a municipal borough.
1939 National Registration Act –wartime identity cards issued
1946 September: Re-assignment of counties within the numbering system in the National indexes
Lasts till March 1974
1947 The short birth certificate introduced in December
1949 Births in the air recorded
1951 Last census to directly involve registrars
9 Regional Regions, 488 Registration Districts, 1075 Regional Sub-Districts
The 1075 regional sub-districts are so distributed as to facilitate the tasks of registration, while they are small enough for one enumerator to handle at times of census taking; further, they fit into the jigsaw of local administrative boundaries
1952 National Health Service Central Register commenced –from National Registration records
1953 Registration Service Act. The local authority of each county and metroplitan district to have a scheme in force to determine registration district boundaries
1958 Local Government Act established the Local Government Commission for England and Wales with responsibility for recommending alterations to county boundaries
1960 Cause of Death of Stillbirths
1965 London Government Act : resulted in registration district boundary changes in the Metropolis
1966 Births: any second forename now in full
1968 GRO becomes a subsidiary part of the DHSS
1969 1st April: format of the birth certificate changes
Mother's maiden name appears in Local Indexes
Surname of the child entered (previously inferred from parents' name)
Date of birth (and full name) given in National Death Indexes
1970 GRO and Government Social Survey combined to form Office of Population Censuses and Surveys (OPCS)
1972 Births on hovercraft recorded
1973 Northern Ireland: Oct 1973: the two-tier structure was replaced by a structure of single-tier district council areas
1974 April: Implementation of local government re-organisation (under the Local Government Act, 1972)
- County boroughs etc abolished
- New administrative counties created
- Registration Districts re-organisation, at least 179 abolished
1984 BMD indexes now arranged annually instead of by quarter
1986 Occupation of mother recorded
1987 Registration (E & W) Snapshot:
117 local authorities responsible for 416 Registration Districts, staffed by almost 2000 Registration Officers
1996 Office for National Statistics(ONS) formed from OPCS and Central Statistical Office (CSO)
England: April 1995 to April 1998, Creation of 46 single-tier unitary authorities to supplement the two-tier structure created in 1974. Abolition of the counties of Avon and Humberside
Wales: the complete two-tier local government structure was replaced by 22 unitary authorites in April 1996
Scotland: April 1996, 32 single-tier unitary authorities replaced the existing structure
2000? In both North Yorkshire and Bedfordshire, the County Councils recently amalgamated all the registration districts within their county to form one registration district for the county, named North Yorkshire and Bedfordshire, respectively.

Compiled from:

Edward Higgs Making Sense of the Census Revisited (London, Institute of Historical Research, 2005) ISBN 1905165005.

Mark Herber Ancestral Trails: The Complete Guide to British Genealogy and Family History (Genealogical Publishing Company, 1998) ISBN-10: 0806315415

Vivian D Lipman Local government areas 1834-1945 (New York, MacMillan, 1949) ISBN: 0837186951

Susan Lumas Making use of the census (London, PRO Publications, 3rd edition, 1999) ISBN-10: 187316243X

Muriel Nissel People count: A history of the General Register Office (London: HMSO, 1987) ISBN: 0116911832

Registrar General Census Reports

Office for National Statistics Gazetteer of the old and new geographies of the United Kingdom (London, 1999) ISBN 1 85774 298 2