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Civil registration is the system by which a government records the vital events of its citizens and residents. The resulting repository or database is called civil register, and the office responsible for receiving registrations is often called the registrar, registry, or population registry. The primary purpose of civil registration is to create a legal document that can be used to establish and protect the rights of individuals. A secondary purpose is to create a data source for the compilation of vital statistics. In most countries, there is a legal requirement to notify the relevant authority of certain life events, such as births, marriages and death. The first country to establish a nationwide population register was Sweden in 1631, which was organized by the Church of Sweden but on the demand of The Crown.
The United Nations defines civil registration as "the continuous, permanent, compulsory and universal recording of the occurrence and characteristics of vital events pertaining to the population as provided through decree or regulation in accordance with the legal requirements of a country. Civil registration is carried out primarily for the purpose of establishing the legal documents provided by the law. These records are also a main source of vital statistics. Complete coverage, accuracy and timeliness of civil registration are essential for quality vital statistics."
Vital events that are typically recorded on the register include live birth, death, foetal death, marriage, divorce, annulment of marriage, judicial separation of marriage, adoption, legitimization and recognition. Among the legal documents that are derived from civil registration are birth certificates, death certificates, and marriage certificates. A family register is a type of civil register which is more concerned with events within the family unit and is common in Continental European and Asian countries, such as Germany (Familienbuch), France, Spain, Russia (Propiska), China (Hukou), Japan (Koseki), and North and South Korea (Hoju).
Additionally, in some countries, immigration, emigration, and any change of residence may require notification. A register of residents is a type of civil register primarily concerned with the current residence.
In Australia civil registrations are carried out and maintained by state administrations. Tasmania began registrations in 1838, South Australia and Western Australia both in 1842, Victoria in 1854, Queensland and New South Wales in 1856, Northern Territory in 1870 and Australian Capital Territory in 1911. Because early civil registration often involved the churches, it is sometimes difficult to distinguish whether early records are civil or church records. From 1856 civil registration was carried out by government employees and was independent of the church. The information recorded in records varies from state to state. South Australia call the appropriate central registry Principal Registrar of Births, Deaths and Marriages and in Victoria it is the Government Statist Registry of Births, Deaths and Marriages. The other states call the registry the Office of the Registrar General of Births, Deaths and Marriages.
In Mexico, vital records (birth, death and marriage certificates) are registered in Registro Civil, as called in Spanish. Each state has its own registration form. Until the 1960s, birth certificates were written by hand, in a styled-cursive calligraphy (almost unreadable for the new generations) and typically issued on security paper. After the 1960s, they were issued typed by machine.
Currently all copies (from people born before and after the 1960s) are standardized in brown-security paper and are typed automatically by a computer and the CURP, (control identification number in Mexico) and the specific dates of issuing are already issued.
In the Netherlands, maintaining the civil registry (Gemeentelijke basisadministratie) is the duty of the municipalities (since 15-05-2015 obsolete; the new "Basisregistratie personen" (cf. Staatcourant 35954) takes its place).
Before the French Rule, the Netherlands did not have a central registration of its population, which was introduced in some parts of the country in 1796 by the French. In 1811, this registration was introduced throughout the country. The Dutch differentiate between the Gemeentelijke basisadministratie, an ongoing database of citizens' information, and the Burgerlijke Stand, which is a collection (at the municipal level) of documents evidencing certain events taking place in a given municipality, such as birth, marriage, civil union, and death.
Beginning on 1 January 1850, municipalities were obliged to keep citizen's records in book form. Early in the twentieth century this system was replaced by a card system that registered families. The move toward individual registration took place in 1939 with the introduction of the persoonskaart, a single card registering a single individual, kept in the municipality. Information gathered on this card included family name, first names, gender, position within the family, date and place of birth, marital status, address, and church affiliation, besides information on when a person entered and left a municipality.
In 1940, the Dutch government did not want to mandate citizen's identification, but during World War II the German occupying government mandated it so they could assess who was to be sent to Germany as forced labor and to select Jewish citizens from the general population. When the war was over, mandatory identification was done away with.
In the 1990s all local registries were automated, and starting on 1 October 1994 the individual registration card was replaced with a digital list containing a person's information as collected by the Gemeentelijke basisadministratie van persoonsgegevens, kept and maintained at the municipal level. Municipalities exchange information through a closed network at the end of each day to a nationwide database, which can be consulted by officials online. Though it was generally considered "un-Dutch," on 1 January 2005 mandatory identification was reintroduced for everyone over 14; official identification is to be presented for all important transactions between citizens and government.
Civil registries were introduced in 1806-1812 during the Russian occupation, and they followed the Tsarist model of keeping them with church records. By the "Communal Law" (Legea comunală) of 31 March 1864 subsequent record keeping became the responsibility of the mayor in each dwelling, who was allowed to delegate it to one of his helpers. An effort by the state to gather the ancient historical records happened around 1926-1932 but in some cases as late as 1948-1952; a good number of these early records were lost in this process, sometimes literally by the truckload.
In South Africa, vital records are contained in the National Population Register, which is maintained by the national Department of Home Affairs. Any Home Affairs office can record a vital event or issue a certified copy of a vital record.
In Sweden, the civil registry is maintained by the Swedish Tax Agency (Skatteverket); up into the 1990s the Church of Sweden was responsible. Recording of births and deaths was stipulated in the early 17th century, formal national censuses have been made since the mid-18th century, and Sweden has one of the longest and most comprehensive suites of civil records of any country.
The mandatory civil registration of births, marriages, and deaths in England and Wales was introduced on 1 July 1837. Initially the onus lay on registrars to discover and record events, so parents only had to supply information if and when asked. In 1875 the Births & Deaths Act 1874 came into force, whereby those present at a birth or death were required to report the event. Subsequent legislation introduced similar systems in Ireland (all of which was then part of the United Kingdom) on 1 April 1845 for Protestant marriages and on 1 January 1864 for all birth, marriage and death events. Civil registration was introduced in Scotland on 1 January 1855.
The administration of individual registration districts is the responsibility of registrars in the relevant local authority. There is also a national body for each jurisdiction. The local offices are generally responsible both for maintaining the original registers and for providing copies to the national body for central retention. A superintendent registrar facilitates the legal preliminaries to marriage, conducts civil marriage ceremonies and retains in his/her custody all completed birth, death and marriage registers for the district. The office of the superintendent registrar is the district Register office, often referred to (informally) in the media as the "Registry office".
Today, both officers may also conduct statutory civil partnership preliminaries and ceremonies, citizenship ceremonies and other non statutory ceremonies such as naming or renewal of vows. Certified copies of the entries made by the registrars over the years are issued on a daily basis either for genealogical research or for modern legal purposes such as supporting passport applications or ensuring eligibility for the appropriate junior sports leagues.
On 1 December 2007 Registrars and Superintendent Registrars became employees of their local authority for the first time following the enactment of the Statistics and Registration Service Act 2007.
England and Wales
Births in England and Wales must be registered within 42 days, whilst deaths must be registered within 5 days unless an inquest is called or a post mortem is held.
Marriages are registered at the time of the ceremony by either (1) the officiating minister of the Church of England or the Church in Wales, (2) an Authorised Person at a Registered Building, religious, or (3) a registrar at a Register Office, Registered Building or Approved Premise.
The official registers are not directly accessible by the general public. Instead, indexes are made available which can be used to find the relevant register entry and then request a certified copy of the details.
Civil registration came into force in Scotland on 1 January 1855. A significant difference from the English system is the greater detail required for a registration. This means that if a certified copy of an entry is requested, it will contain much more information.
The General Register Office for Scotland has overall responsibility for registration administration and drafting legislative changes in this area (as well as census data). They are governed by the Registration of Births, Deaths and Marriages (Scotland) Act 1965 and subsequent legislation (responsibility for which has now been devolved to the Scottish Parliament).
In the United States, vital records such as birth certificates, death certificates, and frequently marriage certificates are maintained by the Office of Vital Statistics or Office of Vital Records in each individual state. Other documents such as deeds, mortgage documents, name change documents, and divorce records, as well as marriage certificates for those states not centralizing these records, are maintained by the Clerk of Court of each individual county. However, the term 'civil registry' is not used.
- Births and Deaths Registration Act
- Family register
- National identification number
- Resident registration
- United Nations Statistics Division: Civil registration systems
- United Nations Handbook on Training in Civil Registration and Vital Statistics Systems (PDF, 33.5MB)
- Public Record
- Registry of Births, Deaths and Marriages - Queensland
- Seegers, G.H.J.; M.C.C. Wens (1993). Persoonlijk gegeven - Grepen uit de geschiedenis van bevolkingsregistratie in Nederland. Amersfoort: Bekking.
- , p. 240
- Colecţia de stare civilă – între realizări şi deziderate by Romanian National Archives (pp. 55-56)
- Herber, Mark D. (March 1998). Ancestral trails: the complete guide to British genealogy and family history. Genealogical Pub. Co., Inc. p. 36. ISBN 978-0-8063-1541-6. Retrieved 30 June 2011.
- registry office Cambridge Advanced Learner's Dictionary. Accessed August 2011
Republic of Ireland:
- General Register Office (England and Wales)
- General Register Office for Scotland
- General Register Office Northern Ireland