Finding Registration Districts and Parishes

In my last post I wrote about the different records produced by parishes and Registration Districts (RDs) in relation to births/baptisms, marriages and death/burials.

We’ve talked about parishes in recent posts, and the importance of their secular role alongside the spiritual.  We’ve also noted the existence of RDs in several past posts.  But what exactly is a Registration District?

In England and Wales, RDs came into being on 1st July 1837.  Until 1930 they were responsible for the registration of births, marriages and deaths.  The RDs didn’t always coincide with county boundaries, so they were grouped into ‘Registration Counties’.  This 1888 map of England and Wales shows counties, Registration Counties and Registration Districts.

If your ancestor lived in a big town or city, the RD might be quite obvious, e.g. Norwich.  However, some very large towns and cities were too big for just one RD.  What we think of as Leeds, for example, comprised several RDs over the period 1837-1930.

Since the introduction of civil registration closely followed the creation of Poor Law Unions, established by the Poor Law Amendment Act 1834, it was the boundaries of the Unions that became the boundaries for the Registration Districts.  For a while the RDs even included the word ‘Union’, so you may come across an ancestor’s BMD registration at e.g. ‘Sevenoaks Union’ or ‘Dudley Union’.  This does not mean your ancestor was born or died in the workhouse. The ‘Union’ part was dropped in relation to civil registration around 1860.  In fact this apparent link to the ‘Poor Law’ had deterred many people from taking advantage of the new possibilities for civil marriage in the Register Office.  RDs and Poor Law Unions were all abolished in 1930, by the Local Government Act 1929, and their responsibilities transferred to the county councils and county boroughs.

You can find Registration District boundaries very easily, on the UKBMD website.
Click on the county of interest, e.g. Yorkshire West Riding.
Then on the RD, e.g. Hunslet.
At the top of the page you’ll see information about when this RD was created, the area it covers and where the registers are now held.

I’ve chosen Hunslet for a reason…  It has to be said that some of the boundaries appear to have been drawn up by crazy people!  For a brief period, from 1845-1861, Hunslet seems to have been created as a sort of ‘miscellaneous Registration District’, including many unlikely villages that were later thankfully reorganised to more suitable RDs.  You can see all the changes in a table at the bottom of the page.  I was completely thrown on one occasion by a birth that seemed to have taken place simultaneously in Hunslet and Horsforth.  Shortly after the time of that birth, Horsforth was, very sensibly, passed to the Wharfedale RD.  It was this UKBMD web page that helped me untangle it all.

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So now you know where to look for RD boundaries, you might also appreciate a similar resource for parish boundaries.  There’s an excellent map resource available through FamilySearch.
Enter a location in the search box, e.g. Bilston
If there’s more than one place of that name, all will appear.  Click on the one you need, e.g. Bilston Staffordshire.
The parish will be pinpointed on the map, showing its boundaries, and an Info box lists other places within that parish, the dates from which Parish Registers and Bishop’s Transcripts are available, etc.
Jurisdictions provides information relating to the County, Diocese, ecclesiastical Province, etc that Bilston falls/ has come within.  You’ll also see that the RD and Poor Law Union are shown, which in this case are Wolverhampton.  So we now know that BMDs will be registered there in Woverhampton, not at Bilston.
Options suggests other things you can do on this page, e.g. obtain a list of neighbouring parishes.

A very useful source, I think you’ll agree, particularly as our research takes us further back in time.  Note though, that the jurisdictions given are as at 1851.  We already know that some RDs changed their boundaries after this time (e.g. Hunslet).  Other changes included the creation of new parishes as populations increased.  E.g. Killingworth, mentioned in my last post as the burial place of Jonah Shepherd, was still part of the parish of Longbenton in 1851, only becoming a parish in its own right in 1865, following the development of the local coal mining industry.  So always remember – Google is also your friend!

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