Cornwall:- Civil Registration


Overview. Advice on how Civil Registration information in Cornwall can help those researching their family history is available.

The Unions of parishes, established by the Poor Law Commissioners under the 1835 Act of Parliament, became registration districts with the introduction of civil registration of births, marriages and deaths in 1837 for England and Wales, so superseding the medieval division of the county of Cornwall (Hundreds) and even breaking with the ancient county boundaries.
In respect of births, the Act stated: ..And be it enacted, That the Father or Mother of every child born in England after the said First Day of March, [later changed to "last Day of June"] or in case of the Death, Illness, Absence, or Inability of the Father or Mother, the Occupier of the House or Tenement in which such Child shall have been born, shall, within Forty-two Days next after the Day of every such Birth, give Information, upon being requested so to do, to the said Registrar, according to the best of his or her Knowledge and Belief, of the several Particulars hereby required to be known and registered touching the Birth of such Child.

Whilst registration was compulsary from 1 July 1837, there was no penalty for non-observance until 1874. Some parents failed (and some still do) to register their children's births, and some children were actually registered twice under different forenames. For marriages and deaths, registration is complete apart from the occasional human error. These facts need to be borne in mind, in particular by users of civil registration and Poor Law records.

To quote more fully from the 1836 Act concerning births and deaths:

XIX. And be it enacted, That the Father or Mother of any Child born, or the Occupier of every House or Tenement in England in which any Birth or Death shall happen, after the said First day of March, may, within Forty-two Days next after the Day of such Birth or within Five Days after the Day of such Death respectively, give Notice of such Birth or Death to the Registrar of the District; and in case any new-born Child or any dead Body shall be found exposed, the Overseers of the Poor in the Case of the new-born Child, and the Coroner in the case of the dead Body, shall forthwith give Notice and Information thereof, and of the Place where such Child or dead Body was found, to the Registrar; and for the Purpose of this Act the Master or Keeper of every Gaol, Prison, or House of Correction, or Workhouse, Hospital, or Lunatic Asylum, or public or charitable Institution, shall be deemed the Occupier thereof.

Details of civil registration districts in Cornwall 1837 - 1930 can be found on-line.

Map of Registration Districts

Further information on civil registration in the UK explains the current organisation, and provides links to how birth, marriage and death certificates can be obtained. Brett Langston has also provided details of Registration Districts in Cornwall between 1 July 1837 to 31 Match 1974. Information on what is contained on an English/Welsh certificate is available on-line. Please note:
Ordering Certificates. Certificates of birth, death and marriage which occured in Cornwall from 1837 onwards, can be obtained on-line, or by post from the General Register Office or alternatively from the Cornwall Registration Service.
Registration - General:
  • Registry Offices. It was possible from 1837 to have a civil marriage in a Register Office. On 30 June 1837, two Acts of Parliament became law: the Marriage Act 1836, and the Registration Act 1836 (6&7 Will. 4 c86). By these two Acts, covering Births, Deaths and Marriages, the Guardians were directed to provide a register office and to appoint Registrars of Births and Deaths. The Marriage Act provided the opportunity, for the very first time, of marrying with a civil ceremony. The Clerk to the Guardians was given a right of appointment to the office of Superintendent Registrar, and the power of appointment of Registrars of Marriages. Arrangements for carrying out periodic censuses also devolved upon the Superintendent Registrar and the Registrars. That register of marriages was kept by the Superintendent Registrar also. The registers held by at the Register Office cannot be seen, but Index books can be viewed at an hourly cost.
  • Details of Registration Districts in Cornwall 1837-1930 are separately available.
Adoption Records. There are no known adoption records on-line for Cornwall. There were no legal adoptions before 1927; any arrangements before that time were informal and no records would exist.
Cremation Records. PENMOUNT CREMATORIUM is a publicly-owned, self-financed facility administered by Cornwall County Council. It is ideally situated two miles from the city centre of Truro on a secluded country estate of twenty-eight acres, eleven of which having been developed as Gardens of Remembrance. Their cremation records are on-line. The records appear to have started in 1956. To access these records, you need to click on Book of remembrance and proceed as instructed. You would have to go through the pages serially if you don't have specific dates because there is no index.
Divorce. Originally, separation of husband and wife a mensa et toro could only be granted by ecclesiastical courts. However, from 1668 to 1857, divorce usually could only be granted as a result of a Private Act of Parliament, which meant that this course was only available to the very rich or influential. From 1858 the situation became easier. Prior to the 1857 Matrimonial Causes Act, divorce was by Act of Parliament or by petition to the House of Lords and thus only available to the most powerful, or cleverest parliamentary clerks! Even after 1857, divorce was only available to the wealthiest individuals as it was only possible to be divorced in the Court for Divorce and Matrimonial Causes in London and thus apart from the travel, only a few, very expensive legal practices specialised in this area of Family Law.
The later Matrimonial Causes Act of 1878 empowered any magistrate to grant a separation order, but not divorce. This did though allow more, but still mostly highly-educated people the 'privilege' of separating from often abusive relationships. It was only after the First World War (1914 - 1918) that divorce became possible for 'the masses', but even then the cost remained high and thus preclusive to all except the middle classes and the most determined.
In short, it was virtually impossible for any humble person to get divorced in the late 19th century, and in practice this remained the case until the Legal Aid and Advice Act of 1949 came into force, allowing anyone irrespective of wealth, access to the law.
  • Divorce Records. Divorce records are not generally available on-line but are only at The National Archives (TNA); indexes to 20th century English and Welsh divorces are in TNA Class J 78. The names of both parties are given, but the cases are calendared rather than true alphabetic indexes. However, there is no longer a 75-year restriction on access but the availability of modern records after 1938 is somewhat patchy to say the least.
  • However, there is an on-line index to Divorce and Matrimonial Causes 1858 - 1903. The search is free, but the detail is available as a pay-per-view service.
Coroner's Records. Coroner's reports were the property of the coroner and he could destroy them after 15 years unless they were of particular note. There is a 75 year closure on those that were kept.
The local newspapers of the time often had near verbatim reports of such events.

This county is maintained with help and information provided by a number of people.