Government Records

This page gives information about primary records available in the UK to the family historian. The list is by no means exhaustive but provides access to examples of each type of record using sample Rowden/Rowdon records.

General Register Records | Census Records | Wills & Letters of Administration

General Register Records

The Births and Deaths Registration Act and the Marriage Act, both of 1836, has required the legal registration of births, marriages and deaths in England and Wales, since the 1st of July 1837. Scotland and Ireland have their own separate records. The registration of the event is made in certificate form in a local register and copies of the certificate may be issued at a cost. Early birth certificates show, for example, such information as place of birth, date of birth, father's name, mother's name, mother's maiden name. In the years since 1837, slowly, more information has been required on the certificate. Thus more recent certificates will show more details than those of say, 150 years ago.

Indexes of the entries from general registers do not show all the information on the certificates. They are simply indexes. However, unlike the certificates, they provide a basic source of material and are available for open public viewing at many libraries, Family History Centres and also The National Archives, at Kew, London.

The Office for National Statistics (ONS) is a UK Government Agency created in April 1996 by the merger of Central Statistical Office and the Office of Population Censuses and Surveys. It is responsible for the registration of births, marriages and deaths and the National Health Service Central Register. For further information visit the government site covering all aspects of registration go to this page.

Example information provided by the indexes under the surname Rowden is as follows:

Births: - taken from December 1869 quarter index.

(mother's maiden name shown after 1911)
Surname First names Maiden District Vol No Page No
ROWDEN Ellen   Blean 2a 714
ROWDEN William Beresford   Uxbridge 3a 36
ROWDON Alfred George   St Geo H Sq 1a 340
ROWDON Ellen Emma   Crediton 5b 416
ROWDON James   Crediton 5b 413

Marriages: - taken from June 1924 quarter index.

(spouse's surname shown after 1911)
Surname First names Spouse District Vol No Page No
ROWDEN George E HART Salford 8a 13
ROWDEN Herbert B SMITH Medway 2a 1744
ROWDON Nellie G WALLIS Brentford 3a 399
ROWDON Stanley HOYLE Thanet 2a 2414
ROWDON Stanley J RANGER Exeter 5b 214
ROWDON Walter CROXFORD Elham 2a 2671

Deaths: - taken from September 1942 quarter index.

(birth date shown instead in age after 1969)
Surname First names Age District Vol No Page No
ROWDEN Augusta 80 Brentford 3a 302
ROWDEN James 72 Exeter 5b 68
ROWDEN Matilda J 52 Southampton 2c 7
ROWDEN Royston 14 Thornbury 6a 312

General Register Records | Census Records | Wills & Letters of Administration

Census Records

In the UK a census of the country is taken every 10 years. They were commenced in 1801 and only in 1941, when the country was at war, was the census not taken.

Initially the census was to provide purely statistical information, however from 1841 onwards the records show names of each person at the address the enumerator visited. Since records are available for inspection after 100 years, records available now included the censuses from 1841 until 1901.

The records provide the forenames, surnames, sex, age, occupation, and place of birth for all individuals at the address on the night of the day that the enumerator visited. From these details it can been seen that the census records provide a very useful source of information for the genealogist.

The information provided in the census is given in the tabular form as shown here:

Those living at the following address on the night of
30th March 1851.

Woodland, Colebrooke, Devon.
(Ref: HO107 1887-f24-p24)
Name and Surname Relation to Head of Family Condition Age Rank, Profession, or Occupation Where Born
Males Females
James Rowdon Head M 45   Ag Lab. Devon, Down St Mary.
Elizabeth do. Wife M   45 Weaver Devon, Bow.
William do. Son U 19   Ag Lab. Devon, Bow.
Robert do. do.   12   do. Devon, Bow.
Samuel do. do.   10   Scholar Devon, Bow.
Richard do. do.   8   do. Devon, Bow.
Thomas do. do.   5   do. Devon, Colebrooke.
Mary A do. Dau     2   Devon, Colebrooke.

View typical census entry...

In villages more than a century ago many marriages were made within the local area. Future husbands or wives can often be found living next door or down the road in these small rural communities. Parents, brother's or sister's families may also be found near by.

General Register Records | Census Records | Wills & Letters of Administration

Wills and Letters of Administration

A will is a document that describes the wishes of a deceased person and how their property should be disposed. Its correct, full term is Last Will and Testament.

In the Middle ages when land was obtained by rights and obligations it could not be divided to his remaining family but went by Common Law to his eldest male heir, if he had one. All other types of property was bequeathable with one third going to his widow, one third to his children and one third left by testament. If his widow predeceased him everything went to the children.

A Testament was the document that described a persons wishes. It usually began by bequeathing his soul to God and details of burial instructions. It may then have described legacies to the church and poor. Next it would itemise property to be passed to family and friends. Additionally the document would show executors or overseerers of the testament.

Later, the passing of land to heirs was achieved by a document known as the owner's will, and subsequently these two documents were combined under the title of Last Will and Testament, or simply Will.

The will of a deceased person has to be proved by a probate court. If a person dies without leaving a will, that is intestate, the next-of-kin or close friend may apply to a probate court for Letters of Administration of the estate.

In the UK, until 1837 any male over the age of 14 and any female over the age of 12 could make a will. After this year the lower age limit became 21.

Wills may give details of family names, addresses, occupations useful to the genealogist. From January 1858 probate of all wills has been granted by the Probate Division of the High Court. Copies of these wills and letters of administration are available at First House, 42-49 High Holborn, London. A copy of the will may be obtained, or the document viewed, for a fee and an index is available which gives basic details of the will.

The index itself may give useful information. For example the index for 1927 shows:

1927 - ROWDEN Susan Elizabeth
Of Bampton Street Tiverton Devon widow died 15/12/1926 Probate London to Frank Rowden saddler and Arthur Rowden watchmaker and George Horatio Mitchell assistant overseer

green arrow Rowdens listed in the index - examples from 1880 to 1940.