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History of the Registry

150 year anniversary

Our slogan: 'Life...Recorded' encapsulates the Registry's role over the past 150 years (1856-2006). It's the beacon of the values that have guided us for 150 years since the Registrar General, Christopher Rolleston, recorded the first civil registration in 1856 using quill and ink.

As it marks its sesquicentennial, the Registry employs 120 people, registers over 190,000 births, deaths, marriages and changes of name each year, holds over 18 million birth, death and marriage records, conducts some 3000 civil marriage ceremonies each year, and processes over 500,000 certificates and other customer service products annually.

Compulsory civil registration began in 1856. In accordance with the governing Act, the NSW Government established a number of district registrars responsible for the compulsory registration of all births, deaths and marriages occurring in their district. Since then, there have been some changes in legislation and technology that have affected day-to-day practices, but the original approach to registration and the methodologies employed remain relatively unchanged.

What about the next 150 years? What will the Registry be able to look back on? And how will it look back? Will birth, death and marriage certificates (or something like it) survive? Will the digital world transform the physical presence of certificates in some way as yet unforeseen? In any event, we'll be here -one way or another -with the same values embodied in the same two words - 'Life...Recorded'.

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Church registrations

From 1788 to 1856 the only birth, death or marriage records kept in NSW were the registers maintained by the established churches. The Registry holds transcriptions of these early church records. Any surviving original registers are located in the NSW Archives.

Unfortunately, the extant records for this period are not comprehensive. Some ministers, missionaries and other authorised administrators kept records but not all were in a position to be this diligent. In addition many of the records contain inaccuracies and bad spelling. Distances to town centres, distrust of authority and lack of participation in formal church services contributed to the church registration system's inability to record adequately the details of all births, deaths and marriages that occurred in NSW.

The first birth and death recorded were on board the ships of the First Fleet.

  • The first recorded birth was William Tilley on board the Lady Penryn on 20 April 1787.
  • The first burial was James Bradley on board the Alexander on 3 February 1787.
  • The first marriage was between William Parr and Mary MacCormick at the corner of Bligh and Hunter Streets in Sydney on 10 February 1788.

Reverend Richard Johnson, Chaplain to the First Fleet, recorded these events. His successors continued to perform and record baptisms, burials and marriages.

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Prior to civil registrations

By 1825 the colony had developed to the extent that the lack of comprehensive birth, death and marriage records was causing concern. In an attempt to regulate and improve the system of church registration, eight acts of parliament were passed between 1825 and 1855.

NSW was in a kind of limbo during this period. The imperial and colonial parliaments were busy preparing for self-government, drafting constitutions for NSW and debating issues like colonial control over land policy, the structure of a new legislature and the qualifications of its electors. Administrators were wary of new initiatives and spending.

The first non-civil Registrar General was William Carter who established the position in 1843. From 1 January 1850, the responsibilities of Registrar General were transferred to the Prothonotary and Registrar of the Supreme Court. Theodore Jacques, a clerk at the now defunct Registrar General's Office was appointed to ensure some continuity and Carter retired. The first Registrar General of NSW was a casualty of the financial and constitutional crisis of the 1840s.

The Legislative Council voted to revive the position of Registrar General in response to the legislation on marriage. By the 1850s the colony had a patchwork of marriage laws that resulted in unregistered marriages. This kind of irregularity could undermine the legitimacy of children and disrupt the inheritance of property that seemed quite inappropriate to the self confident, self-governing community that NSW was hoping to become.

A system that promised uniformity and certainty was adopted. The Marriage Act laid out the conditions for celebrating and registering a valid marriage, and for the first time those conditions applied equally to the Church of England and other denominations while the State became responsible for registering marriages.

The Marriage Act was followed by a Registration Act that created a centralised General Registry for NSW to record all births, deaths and marriages. As this was presented as an extension of the marriage legislation, the legislative council could not object to the expense of setting up a new agency.

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Civil registrations

Compulsory civil registration began in 1856. The Act entitled: An Act for Registering Births, Deaths and Marriages 1856 allowed the Governor to establish an office in Sydney to register all births, deaths and marriages in the colony of NSW. The Governor was empowered to appoint a Registrar General, to divide the colony into registry districts and to appoint district registrars. The Registrar General supplied district registrars and registered ministers with books and forms for the recording of births, deaths and marriages.

It was now the responsibility of a parent, in the case of a birth, a minister, in the case of a marriage, or the owner of a house in which a death occurred, to notify the district registrar of the details so the event could be officially registered.

In the early years of civil registration most events were registered following verbal advice from the informant. The widespread use of notification forms did not begin until after World War One in 1918. District registrars would enter the details into bound registers and allocate the registration a unique number. In some registration districts these numbers would run sequentially for the whole year, while in other districts a new number series was begun each quarter. A copy of the registration was made on a loose registration sheet and forwarded to the Sydney Registry at the end of each quarter.

The Sydney Registry would consolidate these returns. They were bound with Sydney registrations first, followed by the metropolitan districts and then the country districts in alphabetical order. The consolidated registers were then renumbered starting at one (1) and running through the whole year.

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Acquiring registrations

The Registry has been acquiring copies of early church records since 1856. Concerted efforts to acquire or copy these registers were undertaken in 1856, 1879 and 1912. In recent years further church registers have been found and copies of their contents forwarded to the Registry for inclusion in the State's records.

The Registry's first acquisition was in 1856 when it took possession of the records held by the Supreme Court. These records were copies of the 1834 to 1855 baptism, marriage and burial registers from Ministers of denominations other than the Church of England.

In 1879 the Clergy Returns Transfer Act 1879 was passed. It required that the copies of the 1825 to 1855 baptism, marriage and burial registers lodged with the Church of England Bishop in Sydney be handed over to the Registry. These records had been in the possession of a Mr Kerrison James who had issued certificates from them. Mr James was paid 4000 pounds compensation for the loss of the records. When the crates of bound returns were opened they were found to contain not only the 1825 to 1855 records but also the earlier registers going back to 1787.

In 1912 the Registrar General wrote to all Church authorities requesting that they allow him access to their pre-1856 registers so that a complete reconciliation could be made between Registry and Church records. The Registry's early church records were consolidated into volumes and each entry was allocated a unique number. When the reconciliation was complete there were 158 volumes of early church records with approximately 500,000 entries.

The task of reconciling the early church records and amending the marriage registrations was never finalised. Therefore, the Registry's records from these years are not complete. It is recommended that people wanting as much information as possible about an official event check the original church record. In this way, details missing from a transcribed marriage certificate or a baptism record having no corresponding civil registration record could be located.

Timeline

1855

Civil registration of births, deaths and marriages is introduced in NSW. The Act, entitled An Act for Registering Births, Deaths and Marriages 1855 was passed on 3 December 1855 and became operative from 1 March 1856.

1856

rolleston Registrar Christopher Rolleston (1856-1864)

The General Registry for NSW is established at 24 Castlereagh Street, Sydney.

The Land Titles Office has responsibility for the Registry until 1976.

1858

Death of Frances Wood, occupation listed as Brothel Keeper. Frances was buried in the Roman Catholic section of the cemetery.

1860

The Registry moves to new two storey offices on Elizabeth Street, Sydney. The brick building with stone facings in the Tudor Gothic style signified the government's new commitment to its registration department. The new premises were complete with fireproof storage for the records and a registration room.

1864

jaques Registrar Theodore James Jacques (1864-1870)

The railway line from Melbourne to Echuca is completed and coincides with a customs dispute between Victoria and NSW to stop the Kelly gang crossing the river.

1867

Henry Lawson is born on 17 June at Grenfell in NSW.

Twins Alice and John Quinn are born 10 days apart. Alice was born 26 November and John was born 5 December. Both survived.

1870

ward Registrar Edward Grant Ward (1870-1890)

Frederick Ward - Captain Thunderbolt - dies after carrying out armed robberies near Bourke, Moree and Gunnedah from 1865 to 1870. Ward's career as a professional bushranger is attributed to his horsemanship, choice of horse, never taking on armed guards or police and popular sympathy due to his gentlemanly behaviour.

1875

The first amendment to the 1856 Act is passed declaring the marriage of a man with the sister of his deceased wife as valid.

1878

William Montague Clarence Campbell dies. William's father is listed as George IV, King of England and his mother was Lady Mary Campbell.

1879

The Clergy Returns Transfer Act 1879 is passed. The Act required that the copies of the 1825 to 1855 baptism, marriage and burial registers lodged with the Church of England Bishop in Sydney be handed over to the Registry. These records had been in the possession of a Mr Kerrison James who had issued certificates from them. Mr James was paid 4000 pounds compensation for the loss of the records. When the crates of bound returns were opened they were found to contain not only the 1825 to 1855 records but also the earlier registers going back to 1787.

1890

pinhey Registrar Charles Hart Townley Pinhey (1890-1896)

1895

Marriage registrations are now required to include the age and birthplace of the parties, their parents' names and occupation of their fathers. These details were required from the 1855 Act, however, while they appeared in a church register they did not appear in the official records.

1896

Alfred Parry Long Registrar Alfred Parry Long (1896-1898)

Registrar Long commits suicide in his office by shooting himself in 1898. His successor, William Gordon Hayes-Williams, became the longest serving registrar - 29 years. 

hayes-williams1898

Registrar William Gordon Hayes-Williams (1898-1927)

1899

The different Acts relating to the regulations of births, deaths and marriages are consolidated to the Marriage Act 1899 and Registration of Births, Deaths and Marriages Act 1899.

1902        

The Legitimation Act 1902 is passed. The Act allowed the registration of a child who was born before its parents were married. Registration of the child was entered in the register of births making it possible to issue a certified copy of the registration. Many parents now had their child's birth registered. (Between 1902 and 1935 it was possible for legitimations to be registered late but not other births!)

1904        

The General Registry moves from Elizabeth Street to the new building at Chancery Square (Queen's Square) opposite St Mary's Cathedral where is remains until 1978. The new building was still under construction and the Registry was housed in the basement. It was not until 1908 that the building was completed and all branches of the Registry were housed under one roof.

Frederick Dickinson is born. Frederick had nine given names - Frederick Robert Percy Albert Ernest Arthur Sydney William John Dickinson

1912      

The Registrar General writes to Church authorities requesting that they allow him access to their pre-1856 registers so that a complete reconciliation can be made between Registry and Church records.

1915

Cricketer Victor Trumper dies after a first class batting career of: 255 matches, 16 939 runs, highest score 300 not out, average 44.58. He made 42 centuries and 87 half centuries. He took 172 catches and 64 wickets at 31.73.

1918

The widespread use of notification forms for registering events comes into effect. Before this most events were registered following verbal advice from the informant.

1923

Vegemite is first produced. Formal adoptions of children under 16 years is introduced. Before this, families, doctors and communities organised fostering and adoption arrangements. These were often not registered or falsely registered with adopting parents being registered as parents. It wasn't until 1939 that the Act was amended to the child being adopted under 21 years. 1927      

layton Registrar Ernest Edward Stacey Layton (1927-1931)

1930        

An Act to enable ministers of Religion who are resident and registered to celebrate marriages within the territory of the Seat of Government or within any State adjoining New South Wales 1930, is passed. This Act allowed ministers residing outside NSW to celebrate marriages in NSW. The requirements were that ministers must reside in a State adjoining NSW or the ACT, they must be registered to celebrate marriages in the State of their residence and their parish or field of work extended into NSW.

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1932

willis Registrar Roy Wood Wills (1932-1945)

The Sydney Harbour Bridge opens

1934

An Act to validate certain marriages before Registrars 1934 is passed declaring that marriages celebrated by a district registrar before or after the passing of the Act are not to be deemed invalid merely by the fact that at the time of the marriage the bride did not reside within the district of the registrar.

The practice of entering "illegitimate" after the name of an illegitimate child and "spinster" after the name of a mother ceases.

Searches of the Registry's records now require a written application outlining the entry required, the reason it is required and a search fee paid. The Registrar General or the District Registrar was empowered to refuse the application if, in their opinion, the reason for requesting the search was not sufficient.

1935

Luna Park opens in Sydney.

In lieu of a parent registering the birth of a child, the occupier of the house or someone who was present at the birth of a child is able to register the birth of the child within six months.

The Registrar General is empowered to authorise the registration of a child at any time. A large number of births that had occurred prior to 1918 were now registered. A cross reference was entered into the index in the year of birth to assist Registry staff to locate the entry.

A number of Acts are consolidated to become the Registration of Births, Deaths and Marriages Act 1899-1934.

1944

Provision is made for the issue of extracts or short certificates from the registrations. The Department had been issuing extracts for many years but it wasn't until 1944 that the practice was authorised.

Legal change of name is noted in the margin of a birth entry and an extract issued in the name appearing in the marginal note.

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1945

wells Registrar Theodore le More Wells (1945-1958)

1946

An increase in post World War II marriages means a special marriage room is fitted out despite an accommodation crisis at the Queen's Square offices. The subsequent baby boom led to a big increase in demand for birth certificates.

1951

A new registration system is introduced where the original registers from district registrars offices in the Sydney district were sent to Sydney and no copies kept locally.

Photocopying entries for the purpose of issuing certified copies begins.   

1952

The new B4 sized single sheet registration is introduced.

1956

An Act is passed allowing marriages to be celebrated by district registrars irrespective of the residence of the bride.

A new wing is added to the Queen's Square building that is opened by Premier JJ Cahill on 5 November 1956 along with an exhibition marking the centenary of the Registrar General's Department.

1958

watson Registrar Jack Hayward Watson (1958-1977)

1963

The Commonwealth Marriage Act 1961 is introduced enabling natural parents, who are unable to legitimate their child because of a legal impediment to their marriage at the time of the child's birth, to use the provisions of this Act to make the child 'legally' theirs.

1966

The first computer indexes were compiled.

1967

Amended legislation restricts the release of adoption information. Prior to 1967, an adopted person received a certified copy of a Memorandum of Adoption that showed both pre and post-adoptive information.

1971

Parents, regardless of marital status, can now register a birth in person or by mail and add a father's details any time after registration. Prior to 1971, non-married parents had to attend a registry office to complete the registration forms in person whereas married parents could lodge the registration by mail. Also, if a birth was registered without a father's details there was no provision to add these details at a later date.

1973

Registration of Births Deaths and Marriages Act 1973.

Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II opens the Sydney Opera House.

The age of marriage without consent is lowered from 21 years to 18 years.

1974

Computer generated paper registrations are introduced and for the purpose of registration, districts are abolished. Local registrars throughout the state were required to send registration forms to either the Sydney Registry or the Newcastle or Wollongong Regional Offices for data input of the registration. Hardcopy yearly indexes and registrations continued to be printed until a fully computerised registration system was commenced in August 1992.

1975

holiday Registrar John Brettell Holiday (1976-1982)

Birth acknowledgement cards commence. The cards are sent to the mother to confirm that the birth of her child has been registered.

1976

Responsibility of the Registry is transferred from the Registrar General's Department to the Department of Services.

1978

The Registry relocates to the AMP Centre, Bridge Street, Sydney.

1979

Parents can now choose to use the mother's maiden surname or a hyphenated mother and father surname for their child instead of the assumed father's surname.

1982

haines Registrar Trevor William Haines (1982-1991)

Responsibility for the Registry moves to the Department of the
Attorney General & Justice from the Department of Services.

1984

Registrar Vernon Mark Bennett (1984-1991)

1990

The Registry relocates from the AMP building to Thomas Street, Haymarket.

1991

The Department of Attorney General & Justice is divided and the Registry remains with the Attorney General's Department.

1992

Registrar Barbara Flett (1992-1996)

The Registry becomes non-budget dependant (a trading enterprise).

A fully computerised registration and certificate production system is implemented. Over the following four years hard copy birth registrations from 1952 to 1991 were converted to electronic records. When the reconciliation was complete there were 158 volumes of early church records with approximately 500,000 entries.

The task of reconciling the early church records and amending the marriage registrations was never finalised. Therefore, the Registry's records from these years are not complete. It is recommended that people wanting as much information as possible about an official event check the original church record. In this way, details missing from a transcribed marriage certificate or a baptism record having no corresponding civil registration record could be located.

1995

Births Deaths and Marriages Registration Act 1995

Local registrars, formerly district registrars, cease registering births and deaths in their areas for the first time since 1856. The Sydney Registry now registered all births and deaths.

Change of name registrations for residents of NSW regardless of birth place is introduced.

1996

Change of sex registrations is introduced. A person who has undergone sexual reassignment surgery could apply to the Registry for alteration of their sex on their birth registration, providing they were born in NSW.

The Registry assumes responsibility for registering all changes of name in NSW.

1997

stacey Registrar Trevor John Stacey (1997-2004)

1999

Online death registrations commence.

The Online Certificate Validation Service is developed to reduce the fraudulent use of birth certificates. This service allows Government and financial institutions to obtain immediate confirmation of the validity of birth certificates.

2000

Newcastle registry relocates to 95 Tudor Street, Hamilton.

Commemorative birth certificates are introduced.

The online family history index commences.

2001

A birth card is launched, a credit card sized birth extract that includes a digital photograph and signature. However, it is only produced until 2008 when the RTA commences a NSW Photo card.

Commemorative marriage and death certificates are introduced.

2002        

Online marriage registrations commence.

2003      

A new website is launched. The Wollongong Registry moves from the Wollongong courthouse to its own premises at 2/74 Kembla Street.

2004

Greg Curry Registrar Greg Curry (2004 - 2014)

The conversion of 1952-1992 death and marriage records to electronic files is completed.

Electronic notification of birth commences. This enabled the Registry to contact parents who do not register births within the required 60 days.

2006

The Registry celebrates 150 years of service to the NSW community. Towards the future - Lifelink, the Registry's new registration system commences construction.

The Registry performed a record 25 marriages on Valentine's Day. The Registry's new commemorative certificate range is launched.

The NSW Relationships Register commences operation 1 July 2010. It provides legal recognition for a couple, regardless of their sex, by registration of the relationship.

2010

Record numbers of 106 Registry Marriages are performed on the sequence date of Sunday, 10/10/10.

2011

On Friday 11/11/11 there were 101 Registry Marriages across all locations.

2012

The last "sequence date" Wednesday 12/12/12 there were 123 marriages Registry Marriages.

2014

Amanda IannaRegistrar Amanda Ianna (14 July 2014, to now)

The Registry launches a new computer system (Lifelink) on 23 June 2014.

Recognition of early pregnancy loss is introduced from 28 November 2014, and is available retrospectively.

2015

On 25 February 2015 the Registry launches a new website aligning with the Department of Justice, and to meet the Australian Government's implementation of Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG 2.0).