Index of pages
We would like to thank members of the House of Lords who agreed the Deregulation
Amendments 33A and 33B on the 05 February 2015 a momentous decision, but
this is only the start of the procedure to make the records accessible
to the public.
Much work is yet to be done and unless the momentum is kept up the gains made possible by the Lords amendments will be lost.
The above Deregulation Bill comes into effect at midnight on the 25th March 2015, This in effect means that from the opening of business on Thursday the 26th March 2015 the public have the right to apply for and receive non certified copies of entries of Births, Marriages and Deaths held by the GRO (note this does not apply to Local Registrar's or to Superintendent Registrar's offices only to the GRO).
Registrars General since at least the start of the 20th century have claimed to have been working towards such access and supply of non certified copies of entries.
I fear that such claims were only made to pacify those who questioned why they were not supplying such copies earlier.
They now (from midnight 25th March 2015) have no excuse not to supply non certified copies of entries in registers.
We will see just how prepared they are and just what their "working
towards" has actually put in place.
Almost 100 years ago a Royal Commission on Public Records appointed to inquire into and report on the state of the public records and local records of a public nature of England and Wales stated in their report-
“We see no good reason in principle for forbidding searchers to take copies at their own risk. The existing restriction rests merely of financial grounds and we think that it should be removed.”
That being the case why are they still restricted now?
It is high time these records were openly accessible there is absolutely no good reason for them to remain regulated and only accessible by purchasing certified copies.
In fact by allowing the historic BMDs to be unregulated the registrars and their deputies would then have more time to spend on the job in hand recording and officiating current events.
A win, win situation.
The records used to be open to public inspection. From the start of civil registration the public could carry out searches in the registers of birth, marriage and death. In 1898 the then Registrar General took it upon himself to close the records held at the GRO even though there was no change in the law to allow for such unilateral action.
Similarly in 1974 many local registrars closed the registers they held to public searches even though a public search of the registers was written in to the various applicable Acts of Parliament.
How is it that in a time when sensitive information (such as records about the miner’s strike 1984, records classified as “Most Confidential” covering such things as the trade union political levy, economic strategy and Northern Ireland) are released after 30 years and may be viewed at the National Archives free of charge, yet records of birth marriage and death even those 177 years old must be purchased as certified copies.
It is therefore suggested that the coalition government release all historic registers of Birth, Marriage and Death to allow private enterprise to digitise and make those records available online.
Such a move would create employment in the private sector, reduce costs and pressure on the General Register Office. This would allow staff to concentrate on their core activities and increase productivity.
In addition the sale of digitised copies of historic Birth, Marriage and Death certificates (under licence) would create useful revenue for the government in these times of need.
The idea is important as it could provide much needed employment.
Provide very useful revenue
Show commitment to open government.
There is in fact nothing to prevent this suggestion being carried out other than the will of parliament.
If this government is truly committed to openness, freedom of information, raising revenue without taxing the population, cutting the deficit and providing employment they will take up this suggestion.
Acts of Parliament since 1836 concerning the registering of births, marriages and deaths require that any member of the public have a certified copy of any entry or entries in the said register books under the hand of the registrar (or superintendent registrar, or general registrar, as the case may be) on payment of the relevant fees.
This until relatively recently, meant before leaving the building.
However due to the pressure of work the above superintendent registrars etc, fail to meet their legal responsibilities because they cannot supply certified copies of the certificates on payment of the relevant fees. As a result they post the certificate to the purchaser at a later date.
Some superintendent registrar manipulate the system by requesting an additional fee for a “Priority Service” without thought that the legislation allowing payment for a priority service only applies to certificates obtained from the GRO.
This problem could be alleviated if historic registers were made available
as other historic records through the National Archives.
There is no doubt that a number of private companies would readily jump at the chance to digitise these historic registers and make the contents available to the public at no cost to the tax payer.
Such a move would not only make the registers available 24 hours a day but would provide much needed funds (through licencing arrangements) to the government.
In addition the superintendent registrars and the general register office could meet the legal requirement placed on them in 1836 to provide an accurate index of the registers they hold.
This legal requirement has never been met in the last 177 years.
In the past in recognition of the errors and omissions in the indexes
the public were allowed to view and take notes from the registers. The
Registrar General disallowed this public use of the registers in the GRO
It was not until 1974 that the General Registrar stopped the public viewing and taking notes from registers held by superintendent registrars.
To comply with the legal responsibilities of superintendent registrar
and the Registrar general new accurate indexes should be compiled.
However this would take an inordinate amount of time and tie down manpower that is needed elsewhere.
An alternative would be to release the historic registers and allow them
to be digitised; as part of this process new accurate indexes could and
would be compiled.
This work could and would be done under contract by private companies thereby relieving the registrars of the task and providing much needed revenue to the government coffers.
A Royal Commission on Public Records agreed that it was the evident intention of the originating legislation in 1836 that the registers should be open.
In 1992 a White Paper titled Civil Registration: Vital Change, Birth,
Marriage Death Registration in the 21st Century was published.
The forward (written by Ruth Kelly, Minister for the Office for National Statistics) to that White Paper stated-
“This Government has been re-elected on a promise to deliver significant
improvements to public services. Whilst the registration of births, marriages
and deaths rarely hits the headlines, it is a vital service that touches
everyone during their lives. The system in England and Wales has its roots
in the nineteenth century. The needs of society, families and individuals
have altered in many ways since then.
Modernisation is required to reflect and support these changes. The Government’s proposals provide for more choice, improved service delivery and innovation.”
The White Paper in Chapter 6 sections 6.5 & 6.6 page 30 states-
“6.5. There is wide support for open access to all historic records of
births, marriages and deaths and the full record being made available
by electronic means. Respondents to the consultation felt that giving
access to the historic records and removing the necessity to purchase
a certified copy of an entry should reduce the ongoing costs
and hence fees.
6.6. The Government has concluded that historic records should be defined as those relating to people born over 100 years ago and that these should be made fully available to the public. In line with the census, this could include information collected for statistical purposes. As records move to the over 100 year old category they would be classed as historic and as such become open records.”
It then goes on to state in section 6.8
6.8. Once records are available electronically, the only requirement for certificates will be for legal use, which will be small. The original registers currently held at Register Offices are important historic documents and will be transferred to the local Record Office for preservation. The local Record Office will be able to offer access to the public, to assist social inclusion.
That was twelve years ago family historians have patiently waited for
those statements to be turned into action.
An independent team was assembled to review (‘30 year rule’: consultation) when Government records are to be made available to the public in a review of the 30 year rule.
Anthony Camp MBE finished his written evidence to the ‘30 year rule’:
consultation (27 February 2008) with the following -
“The Registrar General himself long ago suggested that the local registers might be microfilmed. If this were done in the manner suggested and all the material over a hundred years old released to county record offices and The National Archives an enormous and immediately valuable service would be done to many thousands of interested persons.”
(Anthony Camp took part in the campaign by Family Tree Magazine for Easier and Cheaper Access to Older Civil Registers (starting Family Tree Magazine April 1998, Vol. 14, No. 6, pages 8 and 9))
Registrars General throughout the decades have claimed to be working towards the opening of civil registers but as yet nothing has been done: It is time for change.
What can you do to help?
Why are historic registers not open now?
The legislation is in place to allow it.
The Registrars General since at least the start of the 20th century have been working towards it.
A Royal Commission was in favour of it.
A consultation review was in favour of it.
Members of Parliament were in favour of it.
Both Labour and Conservative governments have been in favour of it.
The benefits include taking the pressure off Superintendent Registrars
and the GRO enabling them to concentrate on their core task of recording
and administering current registrations.
A new accurate index of Births, Marriages and Death could be compiled thereby complying with the 1836 legislation for the first time in 177 years.
Revenue could be created for the County Record Offices and/or the National Archives swelling the government coffers.
Employment would be created in various forms.
All at no cost to the taxpayer or government.
What can you as an individual do?
Write to your local MP and gain his/her support for the initiative.
Ask your MP to raise or support an early day motion on the subject
Write to other MPs
C/O The House of Commons,
The more letters and emails MPs get on the subject the more chance they will not only take notice but act.
Raise the subject with your local Family History Society and ask them to support the initiative.
Raise the subject with your Society of Genealogists if you are a member and ask them to support the initiative.
The more people who are talking an writing about this the harder it becomes for MPs to ignore the situation.
Many family historians from outside the UK ask what can we do to help the campaign to open historic registers.
If you are a resident of a G8 country, or an expatriate of the UK living in any of the G8 countries (Canada, France, Germany, Italy, Japan, Russia, United Kingdom & United States) you could write to your government representative and ask:
“How can governments making up the G8 take the proposals to open data, put forward by the United Kingdom, seriously when the United Kingdom continually refuses to open records aged between 100 and 177 years old.”
These registers are your heritage.
They are archived for your information
Please help to make it Easier and Cheaper to access them