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Important Dates and Events for Family History

Local and family history A-Z > Family history

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Births, Marriage and Death Indexes

"Civil Registration", the process of registering births, marriages and deaths officially with the state, was made compulsory as follows:

  • in England and Wales on 1st July 1837
  • in Scotland on 1st January 1855
  • in Ireland on 1st January 1864

Penalties for non-registration were not introduced until 1875 - which may explain why some events are missing before that date!

Bedford Central Library holds the Indexes of Birth, Marriage & Deaths from 1837-2004 on microfiche. These indexes are also available up to 2005 on Ancestry.

From September Quarter 1911 onwards the Birth Indexes show the mother's maiden surname.

From March Quarter 1912 onwards the Marriage Indexes show the surname of the second party to the marriage alongside the name and surname of the other party.

From September Quarter 1837 to December Quarter 1865 the Death Indexes do not give the deceased person's age.

From March Quarter 1866 to March Quarter 1969 age at death is shown

From June Quarter 1969 onwards the deceased's date of birth is shown.

From 1984 onwards the Births, Marriages and Deaths indexes now arranged in one annual A-Z surname sequence rather than being split into Quarters.

For further details, visit the Civil Registration pages.

Adoption Records

Since 1927 all adoptions granted by the courts in England and Wales, and some overseas adoptions, are recorded in the Adopted Children Register. The register is not open to public search or inspection, but adopted persons and parents can apply to receive adoption certificates.  See GOV.UK > Births, deaths , marriages and care).

Parish Registers

From 1538 up to 1837 parish clergy in England and Wales recorded baptisms, marriages and burials in Parish Registers (since 1555 in Scotland) although few of the very early registers survive.  Sadly, many of the Church of Ireland Parish Registers were destroyed in a terrible fire in the Public Record Office of Ireland in 1922.

Bedford Central Library holds Parish Registers for Bedfordshire from the mid-1500's to 1812. Post-1812 registers are held at Bedfordshire Archives and Record Service (BARS) at Borough Hall.

For further details, visit the Parish Registers pages.

International Genealogical Index (IGI)

Compiled by the Church of Jesus Christ the Latter-Day Saints.  Contains records of births/christenings, marriages and some deaths/burials for England, Ireland, Scotland and Wales.

For further details, visit the IGI pages.


The first UK census was taken in 1801 and has continued every 10 years since then, except in 1941 when the country was at war.   The early census returns from 1801 to 1831 were only population counts, so the first census useful for family history research is 1841.

The 1920 Census Act requires the closure of census information to the public for 100 years.  The 1911 census is not covered by this act and was released 2 years early with certain sensitive personal information (infirmity, children born in prison) cut out ("redacted"). 

The full 1911 census is available at Ancestry where you can view previously hidden information in the 'infirmity' column. If your ancestors filled in this column, you'll be able to see information about your family's health in 1911. You'll also be able to see any recorded details of children born to women in prison who were ages three or under at the time of the census.

Census dates (on the night of):

  • 6th June 1841
  • 30th March 1851
  • 7th April 1861
  • 2nd April 1871
  • 3rd April 1881
  • 5th April 1891
  • 31st March 1901
  • 2nd April 1911

The 1841 census does not give place of birth, family relationships or exact ages for people over 15 years ages were usually rounded down to the nearest 5 years (beware of this when calculating a person's year of birth!).

The 1851-1901 censuses give details of relationship to head of household (e.g. son, servant), condition (e.g. married, widow), age, occupation, birthplace, and from 1891, whether employer or employee.

In the 1911 census two additional questions of use to family historians were answered by married women only about their present marriage:  number of years married and number of children (both living and deceased). 

Bedford Central Library holds the 1841-1891 censuses for Bedfordshire on microfilm and the 1901 census for Bedfordshire on microfiche.  The 1881 census is slightly different in that it covers the whole of England and Wales and is easily searchable by county.

For further details, see the Census Record pages.

Page last updated: 17th June 2020