Sunday, 22 August 2010

English & Welsh Birth Registration

Birth registrations are of great importance when studying genealogy, and for this reason I looked at the total registrations for the Fergusons as part of my Ferguson one-name study.

Initially, I examined the total births, given in Free BMD, which showed an increase between the years 1841 and 1910, tending to flatten off after about 1880. I then looked at the percentage change in the birth rate in 10 year blocks, using 1841-1850 as the base point. I was shocked! The graph on the right show an increase in the rate of growth from around 25% to 28% up to 1881 and then a massive fall to an average of around 6% thereafter. Why?

My first thought was that because birth registration was not compulsory until 1872, more and more people were registering up to that date, and then the rate levelled off, but I could not believe this. So could it be due to immigration from Ireland and Scotland?

To check this, I looked at my brother-in-law's family, the Grimshaws, a family which I know to have been English born and bred from at least the 16th century. His graph showed a steady decline, even going negative at one point! My next step was to compare these results for the total registered births and the censuses (from the ONS) between 1841 and 1910/11. The results are shown in the graph below:

Interestingly, the path taken by the rate of change for my Fergusons follows that of the total births for England and Wales (T%Change), although the changes for the Fergusons are much more pronounced before 1891. The Grimshaw results seem to be completely anomalous, Alan Grimshaw swears that this is due to an extremely high level of female births in his family!

It is also of interest that the changes in the birth rates and censuses follow the same trend until 1880 when they, arguably, diverge. It is said that both the censuses and birth registrations understated the true figures for this period and by the fall in the rate of change post 1880/81 this does seem to be the case.

To summarise, we may conclude that prior to birth registrations becoming compulsory there was significant under registration, and, similarly, the censuses did not settle down until after 1881 (and we know that even after that they were incomplete). The high figure for the rate of births for the Fergusons can only, therefore, be explained by immigration from Ireland and Scotland, and this factor, I would suggest, should also be applied when considering others with a name associated with these countries.

© Ron Ferguson 2010

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