A registration district in the United Kingdom is a type of administrative region which exists for the purpose of civil registration of births, marriages, and deaths and civil partnerships. It has also been used as the basis for the collation of census information.
Origin and development (England and Wales)
Registration districts in England and Wales were created with the introduction of civil registration on 1 July 1837 and were originally co-terminous with poor law unions. Their existence as autonomous entities came to an end in 1930, when the relevant administrative county or county borough was made responsible. A subsequent series of reforms of local government has resulted in the responsibility today being held by the relevant county council, unitary authority, metropolitan district, or London borough.
Each district is divided into sub-districts, each of which has a registrar responsible for the registration of births, marriages, civil partnerships, and deaths in his or her area. Overall responsibility for a district is held by a superintendent registrar.
Registration districts are not always co-terminous with county boundaries, and so in the past were grouped into "registration counties" for statistical purposes. They remained in use for the census from 1851 to 1911.
A registration sub-district was made up of several civil parishes (ancient parishes before 1866). Due to changes in population density, some civil parishes were formed during the period 1866-1930 from earlier parishes with different names and covering a somewhat different geographical area.
Brett Langston's list of Registration Districts in Dorset will lead to specific parishes with dates.
Births, Marriages and Deaths
FreeBMD is a voluntary project aiming to transcribe and provide online the indices of births, marriages and deaths from the Civil Registrations of England and Wales. These are the indexes to the Civil Registers (vital statistics), not the individual registrations. The registrations themselves can only be obtained by applying to the Registrar General and paying the appropriate fee for each registration. (This process can be carried out online from anywhere in the world.)
FreeBMD orders its database firstly by surname and first name and then adds in other variables such as date, parents' names and registration district. The index is produced by the Registrar General four times a year and the closest date estimate obtainable is the quarter of the year (i.e., Jan-Mar, Apr-Jun, Jul-Sep, Oct-Dec). These are often expressed as "quarter ending Mar [year]", etc. Directions as to how to use the index are given under How best to Search.
The accuracy of the results from the index depends on the popularity of the name and one's knowledge of the family and the area in which they lived. The Advanced Facilities pages within Free BMD advise, amongst other things, the approximate number of births, marriages and deaths found per quarter in a registration district.
Currently FreeBMD states that it has in its database entries from 1837 until 1983, but there are sections of that period not covered for different parts of the country. Earlier periods have been transcribed more thoroughly than later periods.
Most other databases (paid or unpaid) providing indexes to the Civil Registers work on the same principles as FreeBMD. Church registers which stretch into the period of Civil Registration may provide more details, but these may not be obtainable for all denominations in all localities.
UK censuses are taken every ten years in the years ending in "1". There was no census in 1941. Details are not made available for 100 years after a census. The latest census available is 1911.
A number of online databases (both paid and free) provide transcriptions of censuses up to 1911. Most of these provide information for an individual or a family. Many also provide images of the originals and thus allow browsing of a page or perhaps a whole enumeration district.
The Dorset Online Parish Clerks provides a good number of 19th century census transcriptions as well as lists of baptisms, marriages and burials as recorded in the parish. The formal Home Office Numbers (those starting with HO) and the Enumeration District Numbers are included. There is an illustrated article to introduce each parish.
The 1841 census differed from the later ones in two different ways.
From 1851 onwards people were asked for the county and civil parish in which they were born whether in or out of the county, and ages were expressed exactly (in months for infants).