Parish Register Abstract

Next Selection Previous Selection

II.- Parish Register Abstract.

THE Second object of the Population Act of 1801, was to ascertain the Increase or Diminution of the Population during the preceding Century, by means of the PARISH REGISTERS; to effect which object certain Questions were appointed to be answered by the officiating Minister of every Church and Chapel in England and Wales: and the Population Acts of 1811 and 1821 repeat the same Questions, each for the preceding Ten Years. The Population Act of 1801 extended this enquiry to Scotland also; but it appeared in the sequel, that few Registers are kept in that Country, only 99 Returns having been received; so that it was useless to repeat the Question as regarding Scotland, in the Acts of 1811 and 1821.

The Questions respecting Parish Registers, and Chapelry Registers, were as follow:


Addressed to the OFFICIATING MINISTERS in England, by whom a Return is to be made to the Bishop, on or before the 21st day of June 1821.

1st -WHAT was the Number of Baptisms and Burials in your Parish, Town ship, or Place, in the several Years 1811, 12, 13, 14, 15, 16, 17, 18, 19, and 20; distinguishing Males from Females?

2d -WHAT has been the Number of Marriages in your Parish, Township, or Place, in the several Years 1811, 12, 13, 14, 15, 16, 17, 18, 19, and 20?

3d -ARE there any Matters which you think it necessary to remark, in Explanation of your Answers to either of the preceding Questions- Especially whether any and what annual Average Number of Baptisms, Burials, and Marriages, may, in your opinion, take place in your Parish, without being entered in the Parish Register?

THE Clergy of England and Wales were enabled to answer the two first of these Questions, by having recourse to the PARISH REGISTERS, which have been established in England ever since the Reformation, and were further regulated by Law in the year 1812.

When it was enacted in the Reign of Henry VIII, that the Church of England should be no longer subject to the Pope, Thomas Cromwell was appointed the King's Viceregent for Ecclesiastical Jurisdiction; and in that capacity issued certain Injunctions to the Clergy in the year 1538.

One of these Injunctions ordains, That every officiating Minister shall, for every Church, keep a Book, wherein he shall register every Marriage, Christening, and Burial; and the Injunction goes on to direct the manner and time of making the Entries in the Register-Book weekly; any neglect therein being made penal:-and in the first year of Edw. VI, (Anno 1547,) all Episcopal authority was suspended for a time, while the ecclesiastical Visitors then appointed, went through the several Dioceses to enforce divers Injunctions, and among others that respecting Parish Registers.

This Injunction was again repeated in the beginning of the Reign of Elizabeth, who also appointed a Protestation to be made by the Clergy, in which among other things, they promised to keep the Register-Book in a proper manner.

The Canons of the Church of England, which are now in force, date their authority from the beginning of the Reign of James I, (Anno 1603,). One of them prescribes very minutely in what manner Entries are to be made in the Parish Registers; herein reciting the Injunction of 1538, and ordering an attested Copy of the Register of each successive Year to be annually transmitted to the Bishop of the Diocese or his Chancellor, and to be preserved in the said Bishop's Registry.

This Canon also contains a retrospective Clause, appointing that the ancient Registers, so far as they could be procured, but especially since the beginning of the Reign of Elizabeth, should be copied into a Parchment Book, to be provided by every Parish. This wise regulation appears to have been carried into full effect at the time; so that the ancient Parish Registers now extant, usually commence with that Queen's Reign, and some of them earlier, quite as far back as the Date of the original Injunction. That part of the Canon which directs the Register-Book to be kept in a Coffer in the Church, has not been enforced, as it was found by experience that the Book was liable to be damaged by the moisture prevalent in. uninhabited Buildings, and also to be purloined with the other contents of the Church Coffer. The Register-Book was heretofore usually kept in custody of the Officiating Minister, at his own House, if resident on the Benefice, otherwise in that of the Parish Clerk; but the Act 52 Geo. III, c. 146, has made some alteration in this and other particulars.

This Law is intituled, "An Act for the better regulating and preserving Parish and "other Registers of Births, Baptisms, Marriages and Burials in England," but does not appear to fulfil its intention as to Births. It received the Royal Assent on the 28th July 1812, and enacts that the Registers of Parishes, and of Chapelries (where the ceremonies of Baptism, Marriage and Burial are performed) shall be kept in Books of Parchment, or of good and durable paper, whereon shall be printed the Heads of Information required to be entered;. also a printed number prefixed to each future entry, such entries to be divided by a printed line.

The King's Printer was charged to provide and transmit such Register Books as soon as conveniently might be after the passing of the Act, which was to take effect on the 1st January 1813: and with no small exertion on his part, the entire number of Register Books, upwards of 33,000, (three to each Parish and Chapelry) were printed, bound and transmitted, before that time, although no preparation could be hazarded before the Act received the Royal Assent, as it was very likely to stand over to a future Session.

The provisions of this Act are not such (generally speaking) as were likely to affect the Returns of Registers under the Population Act of 1821, excepting only that a very distinct mention of the Registry of Baptisms " whether Private or Public," has evidently added to the number of Registered Baptisms, (to an uncertain amount indeed) and in so far has been useful; but it precludes any inference which otherwise might be drawn from a comparison of the respective numbers of Registered Baptisms which took place before and since the end of the year 1812.

The Act proceeds to direct, that the Register Books shall be kept in a dry well-painted iron chest, to be kept at the residence of the officiating Minister, or in the Parish Church or Chapel; also that Copies on Parchment of all Registers shall be sent annually to the Registrar of each Diocese; enforcing in this respect the before mentioned Canon, with particular directions as to the form and manner of transmissal, and subsequent arrangement of these. Copies by the Registrar; but this last intention cannot be accomplished until proper Buildings or Receptacles in each Diocese, and a fund for payment of the persons employed in such arrangement, shall have been provided.

The Act extends to Cathedrals, and to Churches and Chapels of all sorts, though not Parochial; and this has somewhat augmented the number of Returns received under the Population Act, although it has added very little to the number of Baptisms or of Burials returned.

At the close of the Act of 1812, it is specially provided, That nothing therein contained shall extend to repeal any provision of the Marriage Act; of which it will be necessary to say something in the proper place; the strictness of its provisions as to the Registry of all Marriages, having furnished excellent and most useful Returns under the successive Population Acts.

THE Number of Returns of Parish Registers and Chapelry Registers received from England and Wales in the year 1801, (including a Supplementary Return) was supposed to be 11,065, which was not far from the number really due; but from the circumstances of a new inquiry, some of these were redundant, some were duplicate, and in many instances (on the contrary) no Return was made.

The discovery of a large degree of inaccuracy in the Supplement of 1801, arising from Duplicates, and a certain, knowledge that the Parish Register Abstract of that year had necessarily been formed with a degree of expedition not permitting sufficient investigation, was a cogent reason for proceeding more cautiously on the next occasion; and this was the more necessary, as the Return of 1811 was to be compared with that of 1801, which standing alone, and being intended merely to show the Increase or Diminution of the Population during the last Century, was not much less effectual for its own particular purpose, although a considerable proportion of the Parish Register Returns Were not brought to account; the result of a comparison of the several years with each other, not being much affected by it. This consideration, though a sufficient excuse for attending to expedition rather than to the completion of the Returns of 1801, was no longer valid in 1811; and particular care was then taken accordingly, both by marking the name of every supposed Benefice and Curacy on a set of County Maps, and checking the Returns by that criterion, as well as by all other authorities which could be obtained; this was a laborious task, and gave rise to above Two Thousand Applications to officiating Clergymen and others, and to a large correspondence, which however produced 857 additional Returns, and left no room to doubt but that sufficient knowledge was thus procured to insure a complete Return on any future occasion.

It is obviously needless in the year 1822, to detail the process by which the Returns of 1801 and 1811 were connected for the purpose of comparison; on a balance of the redundant and the deficient, the Baptisms were deemed to be deficient as One to Thirty-two; the Burials as One to Twenty-nine; the Marriages as One to Fifty; and additions were made accordingly, to which it is sufficient to refer without repeating a page of figures and calculations, which was very necessary in the Preliminary Observations of 1811. The number of Baptisms, Burials, and Marriages, in the last Twenty years (1801-1820) is here subjoined, as not liable to imputation of uncertainty, such as has been above explained.


1801 120,521 116,508 237,029 1801 101,352 103,082 204,434 67,228
1802 139,889 133,948 273,837 1802 99,504 100,385 199,889 90,396
1803 150,220 143,888 294,108 1803 102,459 101,269 203,728 94,379
1804 150,583 144,009 294,592 1804 91,538 89,639 181,177 85,738
1805 149,333 142,868 292,201 1805 91,086 90,154 181,240 79,586
1806 147,376 144,553 291,929 1806 92,289 91,163 183,452 80,754
1807 153,787 146,507 300,294 1807 97,996 97,855 195,851 83,923
1808 151,565 144,509 296,074 1808 102,614 98,149 200,763 82,248
1809 152,812 147,177 299,989 1809 97,894 93,577 191,471 83,369
1810 152,591 146,262 298,853 1810 104,907 103,277 208,184 84,470
1811 155,671 149,186 304,857 1811 94,971 93,572 188,543 86,389
1812 153,949 148,005 301,954 1812 95,957 94,445 190,402 82,066
1813 160,685 153,747 314,432 1813 93,726 92,751 186,477 83,860
1814 163,282 155,524 318,806 1814 103,525 102,878 206,403 92,804
1815 176,233 168,698 344,931 1815 99,442 97,966 197,408 99,944
1816 168,801 161,398 330,199 1816 103,954 102,005 205,959 91,946
1817 169,337 162,246 331,583 1817 101,040 98,229 199,269 88,234
1818 169,181 162,203 331,384 1818 107,724 105,900 213,624 92,779
1819 171,107 162,154 333,261 1819 106,749 106,815 213,564 95,571
1820 176,311 167,349 343,660 1820 104,329 104,020 208,349 96,833

The Number of Returns of Parish Registers and Chapelry Registers collected under the Population Act of 1811 was 11,159; under the Act of 1821, the Number is increased to 11,342, from a cause which has been already stated, but which does not materially affect the comparison of the two Abstracts.

Further it may be proper to remark, that the Number of Benefices in England and Wales is by no means equal to the Number of Parishes; because in many instances Two or more Parishes are permanently united as one Benefice; and in the Diocese of Norwich, which includes Norfolk and Suffolk, the Diocesan has the privilege of granting a personal Union of Parishes, on account of the small extent and value of many Benefices in those Counties.

The PARISH-REGISTER ABSTRACT has been framed with special Reference to the SUMMARY of each County in the ENUMERATION ABSTRACT; so that every Total of Persons which there appears, may be compared with a corresponding Annual Total of Baptisms, Burials, and Marriages; and an Annual Average of these for each entire County, may be obtained by the easy process of dividing the Total (which appears under each County Summary) by Ten;-and further to facilitate general Calculations, the Annual proportion of the Baptisms, Burials, and Marriages, to the Population of each County, is also given at the end of these Observations.

Every place which has made Return of a Register, is distinguished in the Parish-Register Abstract, as Rectory (R.) Vicarage (V.) Parochial Chapelry (P. C.) Chapelry or Curacy (C.)

As the Marriage Register may be deemed correct; next to it, the Register of Burials; and lastly, the Register of Baptisms, it will be found most convenient to treat of each distinctly, and in that order.


MANY Inconveniencies having arisen from the undue Solemnization and Registry of Marriages, an Act was passed in the 26o Geo. II, "for the better preventing of Clandestine Marriages," which directs a certain Formula for the Registry of Marriages, to be attested and signed by the Minister officiating, the Persons married, and two or more Witnesses; and declares any Erasure or Mutilation of the Marriage Register, or any False Entry therein, to be Felony without Benefit of Clergy ; nor can a Marriage be legally solemnized in any Chapel consecrated, since this Law was made. A retrospective Relaxation of the Act in this particular case took place in 1781, under an Act by which Marriages already solemnized in such Chapels, were declared to be valid13 ; but the Registers of such Marriages were ordered to be forthwith removed to the Parish Church.

Some few Persons are known to evade the provisions of the Marriage Act, by a Mar riage in Scotland; but the Registry of Marriages in England is not much affected thereby, because the Parents or friends of the Female who has been thus irregularly married, usually cause such Marriages to be afterwards solemnized according to the Law of England.

The Marriages of Dissenters of every denomination take place in the Established Church; but not those among Quakers, who are permitted to intermarry in their own, Congregation. To these may be added the Jews, who marry according to their own peculiar Ceremonial; but neither of these religious Sects are numerous; so that the Re turns made, pursuant to the Population Act, ought to comprehend almost the total Number of actual Marriages; and the above causes of a small deficiency are not (all of them) likely to be removed.

A great variation in the annual Number of Marriages is caused by the circumstances of the times, and especially by the price of provisions; the difference arising from this cause is such, that no safe inference concerning the Increase or Diminution of Population can be drawn from the comparison of any single Years with each other: But the average Amount of the Marriages for five years together, or for a longer period, is the best evidence on the subject, because the Register of Marriages may be deemed perfectly correct.

As it is intended, throughout the present Observations, to give the most important Results of the Acts of 1801 and 1811, as well as of 1821, the following TABLE not only shows the Number of Marriages in each Year since 1754, but also the average Amount of Marriages for every Five, and for every Ten Years since the Marriage Act has been fully in force. It will appear in the sequel of these Remarks, that Results drawn from this Table would be very similar to the Results drawn from the Registered Baptisms.

1756 50,972 1771 60,612 1786 68,992 1755 TO 1760 INCLUSIVE 52,666 56,275
1757 48,300 1772 60337 1787 76,448 1760 TO 1765 59,883
1758 50,672 1773 59,769 1788 70,032 1765 TO 1770 59,043 59,892
1759 55,537 1774 60,512 1789 70,696 1770 TO 1775 60,741
1760 57,848 1775 62,473 1790 70,648 1775 TO 1780 64,238 65,479
1761 58,101 1776 65,462 1791 72,590 1780 TO 1785 66,722
1762 56,543 1777 65,020 1792 74,919 1785 TO 1790 71,363 71,784
1763 62,233 1778 62,727 1793 72,880 1790 TO 1795 72,205
1764 63,310 1779 63,671 1794 71,797 1795 TO 1800 74,998 79,231
1765 59,227 1780 64,309 1795 68,839 1800 TO 1805 83,465
1766 57,043 1781 63,768 1796 73,107 1805 TO 1810 82,953 85,985
1767 55,324 1782 63,071 1797 74,997 1810 TO 1815 89,012
1768 58,331 1783 66,287 1798 79,477 1815 TO 1820 93,073 -
1769 61,825 1784 68,935 1799 77,557 -
1770 62,693 1785 71,509 1800 69,851

*This fact was ascertained very carefully in 1812, as is detailed in the Preliminary Observations to the Abstract of 1811 (p. xix.)

The Annual proportion of Marriages to the Population is as one to 134 in England and Wales, the several Counties ranging from one in 106 to one in 179; [See p. xxxiii.] the extremes take place in Middlesex and in Hertfordshire, the custom of surreptitiously, marrying in the Metropolis increasing the number of Marriages therein, at the expence of the adjacent Counties.


THE Registry of Burials may be supposed to be deficient, on the following considerations:

1. Many Congregations of Dissenters, inhabiting Towns, have their own peculiar Burying-grounds; as have the Jews, and the Roman Catholics, who reside in London.

2. Some Persons from motives of poverty or convenience, inter their Dead without any religious ceremony. But in estimating the deficiency from, this cause, it should be considered that a place must be very populous before the establishment of cheap Burial-grounds can become a profitable speculation. Such there are in the Metropolis, in Bristol, and in Newcastle-upon-Tyne. But the Number of Interments within the London Bills of Mortality is not wholly unknown f; and of the Interments at the Ballast-Hills near Newcastle-upon-Tyne, a Register or Account is kept, of which a Return was received, and entered.

3. Children who die before Baptism are interred without any religious ceremony, and consequently are not registered.

4. Negligence may be supposed to cause some omissions in the Registers, especially in those of small Benefices, where the Officiating Minister is not resident.

5. Many Persons employed in the Army, and in Navigation, die Abroad; and consequently their Burials remain unregistered.

The Annual Number of Burials, as collected in pursuance of the Three Population Acts, authorizes a satisfactory inference of diminishing Mortality in England; the average Number of Burials not differing materially from, the Year 1780 to the Year 1800; the first Five Years of that period, the last Five Years, and the whole period, giving the same average result; not but that the effect of the Dearths by which England was afflicted in 1795 and 1800, is very perceptible in the increased mortality of those years. Many other, and no doubt very various considerations would occur to every Investigator of such a subject; especially the doubt as to how many years of the Burial Register ought to be applied as a Divisor to existing Population. If, for instance, the average Number of Registered Burials in the preceding Ten Years, is applied to the Number of persons resident in England and Wales in the Year 1821, the Annual Mortality very little exceeds one in Sixty; but if the Registered Burials of the Year 1820 are applied in like manner, the result is a mortality of one in Fifty-seven or Fifty-eight, which last proportion (Burials not brought into the account considered) is perhaps nearest to the truth.

The same calculations, founded on the numerical results of the Population Act of 1811, shew a Mortality of one in Fifty-two, and one in Fifty respectively. The rate of Mortality in die Year 1801 has heretofore been taken at one in Forty-seven; in 1790, at one in Forty-five; in 1780 at one in Forty14 : so that on the whole the annual Mortality seems to have decreased from one in Forty, to one in Fifty-eight (nearly one-third) in Forty Years.

The causes of increase in the duration of human life (hereby indicated) will no doubt be investigated by those who are able to elucidate the subject;-houses less crowded, better food, better clothing, and more cleanliness among the numerous classes of Society, cannot have been without some effect; and to these may be added the increased extent of Drainage, which may have acted beneficially on the health of the Agricultural Population.

The improved treatment of Diseases is stated in many of the Returns, as a cause of increasing Population, and especially the substitution of Vaccination for the Small Pox;- infectious Fevers have almost disappeared, even in the Metropolis; and Intermittents, which till lately under the name of Ague, infested the country very extensively (especially the Fen Districts) are no longer spoken of. So in former times, the Plague (as it was called) Disappeared as soon, as the City of London had been rebuilt after the great Fire of 1666; so the Land-Scurvy, and before that the Leprosy, became gradually extinct when the Reformation of Religion, and improvements in Agriculture, had removed the necessity of eating Salt-fish and Salted Meat during the greater portion of the year.

The Mortality in the several Counties of England ranges between one in 47, and one in 72; Middlesex and Sussex being the extremes. In Anglesey, the Mortality is stated at one in 83.


THE Registry of Baptisms is deficient from the same causes as that of Burials, and from most of those causes in a greater degree.

1. Many Dissenters of every denomination (those especially who reside at a distance from any other Burial-place) from motives of decency or convenience bury their dead in the Cemeteries of the Established Church, though they baptize after their own manner, or not at all. The Question respecting Unentered Baptisms and Burials showed a differ ence of nearly Four to One in the degree of Deficiency in the year 1811, the Annual Average Number of Unentered Baptisms (as stated at the end of the several Counties) having been 14,860; of Burials (setting .aside London) 3,899; at present the proportion is Five to One in the degree of deficiency, the Annual Average Number of Unentered Baptisms (as stated at the end of the several Counties), being 23,066; of Burials, setting aside London, 4,657. Nor does this represent the full amount or proportion of Un entered Baptisms, die Clergy of the most populous places, especially where many of the Inhabitants are Dissenters, usually declining to hazard an Estimate. A Burial Ground on the contrary is a visible object, and among the persons connected with it, the Clergyman, can usually procure an Account (more or less accurate) of the Number of Interments.

2. Some irreligious Persons, especially in large Towns, neglect the Rite of Baptism altogether.

3. Some Children die immediately after Birth, unbaptized; these however not being registered among the Burials, the Comparison is not affected from this cause. The great defect in Baptismal Registers heretofore arose from Private Baptism, which is carried to an extent not at all in the contemplation of the Founders of the Church of England; for the Canon ordaining Registers applies to Christenings, without further explanation; and this word is usually understood to mean Publick Baptism only. The practice of the Clergy is not uniform on this point; and it appears from the Remarks subjoined to some of the Parish-Register Returns of 1811, that the Registry of Private Baptisms was refused in many places, from a conscientious desire thereby to induce persons to cause their Children to be publickly received into the Congregation: but the Parish Register Act of 1812 no longer leaves this optional, and the effect of it has been such, that Registered Baptisms, which heretofore were 147 to 100 as compared to the Burials, are increased since the year 1811, so as to exceed the Burials in the proportion of 162 to 100.

4. Negligence may be supposed to cause the same proportion of Omissions in the Registry of Baptisms as in that, of Burials.

The whole Number of Baptisms collected for the purposes of the Population Acts of 1801, 1811, and 1821, appears to be 12,570,083: of these, 6,418,422 Males; 6,151,661 Females: So that the Baptisms of Males are 10,433 to 10,000 Females.-The whole Number of Burials appears to be 9,126,031: of these, 4,568,828 Males, 4,557,213 Females; a remarkable equality in so large a number; whence it may be inferred, that the larger proportion of Males born (4 per cent,) is also the proportion dying Abroad in the employments of War and Commerce.

The proportion of Baptisms to the Population is as one to 35 in England and Wales; the several Counties of England range between one in 31, and one in 47; Kent and Monmouth being the extremes. In Brecon the proportion is stated at one in 53.


13 . 1 Geo.III. c.53.

14 . See Prelim. Observ. 1811. p.xxii.

Next Selection Previous Selection