Births post-1837, and ‘constraints on marriage’

1837 starts with 1836

All family historians know that prior to 1837, the only way to find records of births is in parish registers, or bishop’s transcripts thereof. IE, church records.

The state only became involved in the registration of births/deaths/marriages with the introduction of the Births and Deaths Registration Act 1836.

So, any child born after registration started (September quarter 1837) HAS to be recorded, right?


Because although civil registration was introduced in 1837, it didn’t become compulsory until 1874.

A lot of people don’t like ‘change’. Or officialdom. And there was no doubt a lot of ‘why should I?’ about it.

A nice little earner

In 1841, registrars were telling parents they had to fork out 7 shillings and 6 pence if they hadn’t registered the birth in the first six weeks.

W H Milner, Curate of Morland, wrote to the Registrar General in September 1841, to ask if this was legal. And was told it was not.

Rev. Sir,—l am directed by the Registrar General to… inform you, in reply, that the Registration Act has only made it obligatory on parents to register the birth of their children on being requested to do ; and they are not punishable for not going to the Registrar to give him the requisite information for the registry thereof. It is only when informants have refused give the particulars of information required the above-mentioned act that they are punishable.

So, if the registrar came to you, you had to give him the details. If he didn’t, there was no legal requirement to volunteer the infomation.

Rev Milner advised:

“Many poor labourers in the county have been put to trouble and inconvenience by the registrars of births and marriages assuming to themselves powers winch the law does not give them.

“We trust the publication of the above correspondence will put stop to such practices.

“A registrar has clearly no right after the child is six weeks old to go to the father and insist upon the child being entered and a fee of seven shillings and sixpence paid forthwith under pain of prosecution at the sessions.

“But the registrar who uses such a threat is himself liable to be punished for extortion.”

No thought for their descendants!

All very reassuring for parents. All very frustrating for anyone today trying to find the birth record of an ancestor or their siblings.

If ever you have wondered about the massive population increase that followed the Industrial Revolution, there may be one aspect you’d not considered.

It was all about work being plentiful, and people having lots of children, right?

Well, wrong.

Constraints on marriage

According to a writer in 1841, it  was at least in part down to previous constraints on marriage:

‘Tenants were taken, bound in their leases to build no cottages. landlords were constantly on the watch to prevent the erection of fresh cottages, and to throw down as many of the old as they could.’

What did landlords have against marriage, children, the elderly?

They were reponsible for paying the poor rate to feed/clothe those in need. And they didn’t want there to be too many of them.

There was: 

‘a constant warfare between the desires of the young and the anxiety of the owners of property to prevent an increase in poor-rates, through the undue multiplication of human beings.

‘In this way it happened that from 1700 to 1750 the population in England remained stationary.’

Research tip

For those not already aware, you can search UK births, marriages and deaths post-1837 for free at the volunteer-run site FreeBMD.