General Register Office

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Registrar Generals Office, Sydney Australia (1872)

General Register Office (GRO) is the name given to the civil registry in England and Wales, Scotland, many other Commonwealth nations and Ireland. As such, the GRO is the government agency responsible for the recording of vital records such as births, deaths, and marriages. The director of a General Register Office is titled Registrar General.

Specific offices include:

  • General Register Office for England and Wales - The post of registrar general was created by the Births and Deaths Registration Act 1836, and registration began in 1837. The first holder of the post was Thomas Henry Lister. The registrar general was soon given other responsibilities, such as the conduct of every census in England and Wales since 1841, and eventually came to be head of a primarily statistical organisation. In 1972, with the creation of the Office of Population Censuses and Surveys, the General Register Office became just one division of the new office, headed by a Deputy Registrar General. In England and Wales, birth registration with the state began on 1 July 1837. The birth was registered in the birth district and at the end of each quarter, the registrar sent a copy of all entries to the Registrar General. However, registration did not become compulsory until 1875. Until 1875 there was no penalty for not registering a birth; after that a fine of £2 was introduced. Between 1837 and 1875 some births were not registered so a child could be sent out to work, or, after 1853, to avoid the compulsory vaccinations of children over three months old which began that year. With the creation of the Office for National Statistics, the post of Registrar General was merged with that of Head of the Government Statistical Service, who is now also the National Statistician. However, following the 2008 implementation of the Statistics and Registration Service Act 2007, the General Register Office continues to be part of a ministerially-accountable department, becoming a part of the Identity & Passport Service in the Home Office and the post of Registrar-General is now held by its head.
  • General Register Office for Scotland.
  • Registrar General of Canada - a government minister with entirely different and unrelated functions. Each province and territory in Canada has a Registrar General responsible for collecting and storing vital statistics like births, marriages and deaths in their respective regions.
  • Registrar General of Sri Lanka - a civil servant who heads the Registrar General's department responsible for registration of birth, marriages and deaths of the populace Sri Lankan and legal documents pertaining to properties. The post was created in 1864.

The Australian states and territories and New Zealand also have registrars general with broadly similar functions. The Hong Kong Government also established a registrar general after the British acquired Hong Kong in 1841; the post was later renamed the Secretary of Chinese Affairs in 1913.

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