What are Civil Registrations?
Now that the introductions are over, we can begin the process of constructing our family. In the last lesson we discussed variations in building materials which were record groups seperated by locality and time period. This time we are going to become quite specific and discuss those materials that form the foundation of our research. A record group which has many names but they all mean essentially the same thing. These are the civil registrations of births, marriages, and deaths in a country. These solid pieces of evidence help hold the whole family structure together.
In America, family members may simply refer to these records as birth, marriage, or death records. The government, on the other hand, may call these records, Vital Records or Vital Statistics. The state may classify them as Health Department records. Some government entities call them Civil Records and identify them as any records kept by a civil authority (rather than a religious entity). Lesson Two in Your Great Ancestral Hunt series covered American Vital Records and Lesson Three covered Vital Record Substitutes. This lesson is going to go worldwide, as we introduce the equivalent of our American Vital Records in other countries.
In 1837 Great Britain, the government established Civil Registration, or the system of recording all births, marriages, and deaths in registers kept by the Registrar General of England and Wales. They did this to be sure that the vital records pertaining to their citizens were recorded. When it was established, numerous families were already members of nonconformist religions or did not belong to any church. Besides, there were some religions who did not record births, marriages or deaths. Therefore, records of these events which are so important to genealogists and to other individuals were not being kept on thousands of individuals.
Great Britain was one of the most powerful nations in the world. As they conquered or had influence on other nations, the system of Civil Registration was established elsewhere. Ontario, a province in Canada, and one of Britian's former colonies kept its birth, marriages and deaths by civil authorities starting in 1869. But Great Britain was not the first to keep Civil Registrations. France began a system of requiring civil registrars to keep a record of births starting in 1792.
The language of the record can also be affected by political events. When Sweden ruled Finland, the records were in Swedish. Records in Alsace Lorraine while under German rule were written in Gothic script prior to 1945. See pages 204 to 217 of George Schwitzer's, German Genealogical Research, (ISBN 0913857157).
Dates may not be what you think as well. Some countries used different calendars. For example, in France the French Republican calendar was used for twelve years, from 24 October 1793 to 31 December 1805. As this record group is studied more in depth during this course, watch for some unique calendaring activities in the various countries.
If it weren't enough to deal with these problems, we must also face the fact that in several cultures, some siblings may have the same given name--even if both or all children lived. Therefore, it is very important to learn all you can about the family you are studying, and don't try to apply the customs of one country to that of another.
Access to Vital Records
Assuming we can make it through the hurdles thus far presented, we may have another challenge as well: getting access to the records. For example, in America we often have a 75 year right-of-privacy on our records. In Ontario birth records are closed for 96 years, marriage records for 81 years, and death records for 71 years. Then it may take time to get them microfilmed, indexed, and made available to the public. Sometimes you must prove who you are and how you are related before you can obtain a document that would prove how you are related. (Confusing, yes?)
Methodologies for Searching These Records
To verify that you have the correct family, it is always a good idea to find all the siblings in the same records. Then match up the residency, occupation, and maiden name of the mother to those given on your direct line ancestor. Sometimes, with a very common name, it may be necessary to follow a study of the birth records with a study of the death records to determine if the person you feel was your ancestor lived to adulthood or died around the same time as your ancestor.
Marriage records can also help you determine if the person you think might be your ancestor did or did not marry the person he or she was supposed to have married. This is another way to eliminate the wrong person. It is often necessary to completely trace two families of the same surname until one of them is eliminated. When this is done, do someone a favor and submit the discarded family to some database such as the Ancestral File, the World Family Tree, or post it on a bulletin board so other people won't have to go through so much work to find their ancestor. This is one way to give back.
In spite of all the challenges, Civil Registration records are worth the trouble to locate because they provide the evidence necessary to correctly identify the direct-line ancestor and his or her parents. In the upcoming lessons, we will be covering in greater detail this record group which has been kept by the civil authorities in many countries. In the meantime, prepare yourself by looking at your own family records for individuals who may be found on a birth, marriage or death record. Remember, identifying your subject is the first step. Then in the weeks ahead, continue to learn about the types of records which could contain the information you are seeking.
Remember you are encouraged to gather as many documents from this record group as feasible in order to build the strongest foundation possible. Rather than building your foundation on the oral traditions of others, you should use this most valuable of record groups known as civil registrations.
- Identify an ancestor who may be found on a birth, marriage or death record. Remember, it is often best to work backwards from the latest event first because these later events can provide clues to the earlier events.
- Any record created around your ancestor's death could help to identify a locality where your ancestor lived. Every locality provides an opportunity for additional records which could provide a place of marriage or birth. What locality clues did you discover upon locating a death certificate, an obituary, a burial record, or a family record of death?
About Genealogy Research Associates
Karen Clifford is the Founder and President of Genealogy Research Associates. She is an Accredited Genealogist, an instructor in an Associates Degree program in Library Science-Genealogy and Computers at Hartnell College (Salinas, California) and Monterey Peninsula College (Monterey, California). She has authored several family histories and textbooks including Genealogy & Computers for the Complete Beginner; Genealogy & Computers for the Determined Researcher; Genealogy & Computers for the Advanced Researcher, and Becoming an Accredited Genealogist.
Karen currently serves as Vice-president of the Federation of Genealogical Societies (FGS) and Vice-president of the Utah Genealogical Association (UGA). She is a member of the California State Genealogy Alliance, the Association of Professional Genealogists, the National Genealogical Society, and the New England Historic Genealogical Society. In 1998 and 1999, Karen served as Director of UGA's Salt Lake Institute of Genealogy.
She has received several awards for her volunteer work in the genealogy community including the FGS Award of Merit and the FGS Outstanding Delegate Award.