Family History

with Charles Wilson-Watson

Family History

Charles Wilson-Watson joins us this month to give advice on family history research. Charles is a researcher and family historian – do get in touch if you need help in finding out more about your ancestry.


Birth Certificates

July 1st marks the 178th anniversary of the introduction of the National Registration of Births, Marriages and Deaths in 1837. This first article will be covering Birth Certificates, where I will be using examples of people from Swansea to give some colour and add some meat to the bones.

So let’s go back to the year of 1837, and paint a picture of what was happening nationally.  Poor King William IV died of a heart attack on June 20th at Windsor, with the crown passing to his niece, Victoria. The Prime Minister was Lord Melbourne of the Whig party.

At home, Swansea’s population had risen from 6,000 in 1801 to 17,000 in 1851. Swansea can boast of the first newspaper, The Cambrian, which was published in Wales, 1804. A good read!

Before 1837 baptisms, marriages and burials were recorded in parish registers. At this time, there were only two churches within the Swansea area, St John-juxta-Swansea, Hafod – with registers starting in 1797 and St Mary – with registers starting a little earlier in 1631. Over time more churches were established within Swansea. All the parish registers can be found in Swansea Archives Services, Civic Centre. 

The General Register Office (GRO) for England and Wales was founded in 1836 by the Births and Deaths Registration Act, 1836 and full civil registration commenced in 1837. The reason for the formation of the GRO was the poor state of the parish registers.

It kicked off on July 1st, with the GRO established in Somerset House, London. During the early years, until 1875, it was not com-pulsory to register a birth. Pictured is an example of this, baptism entry from St. Marys, 1837.

Henrietta Letitia Vivian was born August 9th 1837, yet there doesn’t appear to be a birth certificate, though we can see that she was baptised on September 11th. The entry tells us that her father, John Henry Vivian, is MP for the new constituency of Swansea. We will come back to Henrietta; who has an interesting record at a later date.

Some families would baptise all their children at one session, saving on costs. Pictured is an example of this from St. John-juxta-Swansea, in 1837. Mr Brindley must have had a deal three for the price two.

On the other hand some children weren’t baptised at all. There are two kinds of birth certificate, a short version, with just only the baby’s details, and a full version with parent’s details. An example of this is pictured showing the birth certificate, of Martha Vaughan, which was the 12th certificate to be produced at Swansea. A birth had to have been registered within 42 days either at the district office, Superintendent Registrar, Mr. Charles Collins, 5 Fisher Street or sub-district office, Registrar of Swansea District, Mr John Oakshot, 14 High Street.

Registration could be under-taken by either father or mother, and if this wasn’t carried out there was a fine of 4d.

When I purchased this birth certificate from the register office at the Civic Centre I didn’t know what to expect. The information from it has shed some more interesting information.    

1. Date and place of birth

The later the certificate the fuller the address is. In our example, surprising July 1st 1837

2. Name

Forenames and surname of the child at the time of the birth. If there is a line through this column, then there is no name. In our example, Martha Vaughan

3. Sex

male or female

4. Father’s name

The absence of the father’s name may mean that the baby is illegiti-mate. Before 1875 a woman could name any man as the father. In our example, George Vaughan

5. Name and maiden name of mother

This extra bit of information will help to track down the mother’s own parents, as well as the marriage of the parents themselves. In our example Mary Evans

6. Occupation of the father

This is another useful piece of information for confirming that the certificate is the correct one for the family. In our example game keeper and victualler

7. Signature, description and residence information

Most usually one of the parents, but it could have been a grandparent or another relative.

8. Date registered

Registration usually took place within 42 days. In our example, 31 days

9. Signature of registrar

10. Names entered after registration

Used to record any other names given to the child

My email address is and if anyone would like to contact me, I would be delighted to help with any enquires

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