Birth certificates were first introduced in England and Wales on the 1st July 1837 but were not made compulsory until 1864. They are a very valuable source of information because of the data they contain:
This gives the county and sub-district the child was registered in. These have not been static over the years so you will need to be careful.
Date of Birth
Just remember this is as supplied by the person registering the birth. They may give an inaccurate date in order to make the registration appear to be within the legal time frame. Or as in the case of my 2x great grandmother to date the birth after the marriage of the parents!
Place of Birth
This often is the family’s home address but it may also be a hospital or workhouse.
This is the name as given at registration and may have been changed at a later date or the person may have become known by their second name. In some cases a child may even have been registered with no forename.
You would think this would be straight forward with boy or girl up until 1969 and male or female since. However there have been well documented cases of children being given the wrong gender at birth.
This field may not be filled in if the parents were not married. The rules over this have varied over the years but in general if an unmarried father didn’t go with the mother to register the birth then his name will not appear. Where the name is recorded it is the name at the time of the child’s birth and may not be the birth name of the father. If the parents were not married then both of them will have signed the register.
Again this is the name the mother was known by at the time of the birth. After September 1911 the mother’s maiden name (where applicable) was also included. Until the 1980s only unmarried mothers had their occupation included in this column. More recently (1984) an extra column was added for mother’s occupation.
The paid employment of the father at the time of the birth. This may or may not be specific and can include “Independent Means”. If the father died before the birth his occupation will include deceased after it.
Signature, Description and Residence of the Informant
If this person was illiterate it will say The mark of. The following people are allowed to register a birth (listed in the order currently allowed by Registrars):
- The mother
- Father but only if he is married to mother
- Father and mother jointly where they are not married to one another
- A person present at the birth
- The owner or occupier of the house or institution
- The person in charge of the child
The residence of this person may be quite useful if not the same as the place of birth.
Date of Registration
The date the birth was actually registered. There have always been time limits on how long after the birth it can be registered. Before Registrars had access to the medical records of the actual date of birth parents were known to change the date of birth to be legal.
Change of name
If within a year of registration the child is subsequently baptised with alternative forenames then this can be recorded on the certificate too.