I do love watching episodes from the BBC television series ‘Who Do You Think You Are’, it is fascinating to watch as people discover aspects of their history and heritage that they really were not aware of.
Of course, the television format makes the research side of the investigation seem very straightforward – the correct entry birth certificate is produced ‘on demand’, descendants are filmed in the church where their great grandparent was baptised or married, a search of an on-line database immediately homes in on the correct family in the 1871 census.
As many of us who have researched our own family histories are painfully aware though, genealogy research is rarely problem free. There are omissions and errors in many of the sets of records available to family historians.
Civil registration of births came into force from 1st July 1837 but as most families had their children baptised in the established church it remained a belief for many that a baptism was the equivalent of registering a birth and it is estimated that up to 10% of births from that period were not registered. During the following three decades an increasing number of births were registered but even by the end of the 1870s it is thought that up to 5% of births were still going unregistered.
At the start of 1875, the Registration of Births and Deaths Act of 1874 came into force, placing the onus on parents to register the birth of their children with a fine of up to £2 for non-compliance. From that date forward, the number of non-registrations dropped dramatically, and the number of un-registered births estimated from then on at less than 1%.