In many countries, vital events (eg. births, deaths, and marriages) are required by law to be formally recorded in registers maintained by government officials.
In the United Kingdom, mandatory civil registration of births, marriages, and deaths was first introduced in 1837 for England and Wales. Subsequent legislation introduced similar systems in Ireland (which was then part of the United Kingdom), and Scotland.
The administration of individual registration districts is the responsibility of registrars in the relevant local authority. There is also a national body for each jurisdiction. The local offices are generally responsible both for maintaining the original registers and for providing copies to the national body for central retention.
England and Wales
Births in England and Wales must be registered within 42 days, whilst deaths must be registered within 5 days unless an inquest is called.
Marriages are registered at the time of the ceremony by either the officiating minister or an authorised person.
The official registers are not directly accessible by the general public. Instead, indexes are made available which can be used to find the relevant registry entry and then request a certified copy of the details.
The General Register Office—now merged into the Office of National Statistics— has overall responsibility for registration administration.
Civil registration came into force in Scotland on January 1, 1855. A significant difference from the English system is the greater detail required for a registration. This means that if a certified copy of an entry is requested, it will contain much more information.
The General Register Office for Scotland has overall responsibility for registration administration and drafting legislative changes in this area (as well as census data). They are governed by the Registration of Births, Deaths and Marriages (Scotland) Act 1965 and subsequent legislation (responsibility for which has now been devolved to the Scottish Parliament).