Short Guide 4 - Attorney General and Justice: Registers of births, deaths and marriages
Historical background of early records | Registrar General | Pre-1856 Registers and Supplementary Records | Arrangement of registers | Listing of registers by ceremony | Indexes to the registers | Detailed list of registers | About this guide | Restriction on photocopying | Microfilming of records
The practice of recording baptisms, burials and marriages in church registers was established in England during the sixteenth century but the first Acts in New South Wales to regularise and validate the practice, as well as to authorise registration of these events, were passed in
1825 Church of England
1834 Roman Catholic Church (then Church of Rome)
1834 Presbyterian Church (then Church of Scotland)
1839 Wesleyan Methodist Society
1840 Congregational or Independent and Baptist denominations
Nonetheless, records were kept prior to these years and, in fact, the first Church of England records are of baptisms and burials during the assembly and movement of the First Fleet before its arrival in Sydney in 1788. However, some ceremonies that took place prior to the year shown above the original records, were not retained by church authorities, or the events were not recorded.
Between 1826 and 1855 copies of Church of England records were required to be sent firstly to the Registrar of the Archdeacon's Court and later to the Registrar of the Bishops of Australia. These records did not pass into the possession of the Registrar General until 1882 following the Clergy Returns Transfer Act of 1878. They were subsequently numbered as Volumes 1-44 (Volume 44 also includes some records after 1856).
As Deputy Registrar in the office of the Registrar of the Bishop of Australia during the years 1836 to 1856, Henry Kerrison James compiled (from sources available to him) chronological registers of baptisms, burials and marriages from 1787 to 1831. No other record of some of these events came into the possession of the Registrar General. The chronological registers which are numbered 1 (baptisms), 2 (burials), and 3 (marriages), often contain less detail than any other available record of the same event.
As from the date of recognition of each of the other denominations the ministers were required to send copies of their records annually to the Registrar of the Supreme Court. These records were transferred to the Registrar General in 1856.
State registration of births, deaths and remarriages commenced in New South Wales on 1st March 1856. Although some of the other Colonies were quicker to follow the 1837 commencement in England they did not provide for as much detail to be recorded.
The duties and functions of the Registrar General in respect of the registration of births, deaths and marriages were transferred to the Principal Registrar of Births, Deaths and Marriages as from 1st January 1976.
(Acknowledgment: Most of the above information, as well as other information quoted in this guide, is based on the Notes prepared by the Principal Registrar of Births, Deaths and Marriages).
The original, official pre-1856 records, were numbered by the Registrar General in volumes from 1 to 120; the other early records which are supplementary to the original pre-1856 records and to the State registers from 1856 were numbered in volumes from 121 to 162. These volumes include a number of events after 1856 and even some after 1899. However, any event after 1856 has been indexed in the index for the year of the event.
For the sake of convenience all these records are referred to as 'Pre-1856'.
In addition to the duplication of records arising from the compilation of the chronological registers 1787 to 1831 referred to in Historical Background, other duplications occurred because original registers came into the possession of the Registrar General. For example, Registry volume numbers 45 (baptisms), 73 (marriages) and 102 (burials) relate to original registers kept by Dr J.D. Lang although any records therein between 1834 and 1855 should already have been included in the Clergy Returns.
The original records of events prior to 1856 contained over 158,000 baptisms, 78,000 burials and 48,000 marriages. By borrowing or providing safe keeping of church registers the Registry was able to add more than 29,000 baptisms, 11,000 burials and 5,000 marriages to the records. However, there have been indications that the records remain incomplete.
Prior to 1856 some children born in New South Wales may not have been baptised and some persons who died may not have had a church burial. Even after 1856 some events were not registered due to time limits (since removed) and factors such as distances from townships and failure to appreciate future needs. Divorce was not possible under New South Wales law until 1875 and undoubtedly this meant that some persons who wished to marry were unable to do so.
The Registers which have been filmed by The Genealogical Society of Utah and which are listed in this guide comprise the original 120 volumes of pre-1856 records described above as well as the following:
|Volumes 121-3||Supplementary Registers - Baptisms, Burials and Marriages, 1827-1901|
|[5/4219]||Applications for marriage licences, 1836-44|
|[5/4221]||Church of England Baptisms and Burials, 1850-53|
|[5/3841]||Church of England Baptisms and Burials, 1833-37|
Please note that because these microfilms relate to Registry volume numbers 1 to 123 only, not all of the official pre-1856 entries for baptisms, burials and marriages are included. For entries located in Registry volume numbers 124 to 162, the Registry of Births, Deaths and Marriages, which still holds these records, should be contacted.
All of the original volumes filmed and listed in this guide are held at State Records, but they are in very poor physical condition and are therefore still restricted and unavailable for consultation.
Although the Registers are referred to as the 'Pre-1856' or 'Old Records', some entries relating to baptisms, burials or marriages up to 1901 are also include:
The pre-1856 Registers are arranged by Registry Volume Number, for example, Nos 1-123. Within this arrangement, the following is a general breakdown:
|Vols. 1- 44||Church of England|
|Vols. 45- 72||Baptisms - All other denominations|
|Vols. 73-101||Marriages - All other denominations|
|Vols. 102-120||Burials - All other denominations|
|Vols. 121-123||Supplementary Registers - Baptisms, Burials and Marriages, 1827-1901|
In addition, the microfilms also contain some other records that do not fall into this numbering sequence. These are:
|5/4219||Applications for marriage licences, 1836-44|
|5/4221||Church of England Baptisms and Burials, 1850-53|
|5/3841||Church of England Baptisms and Burials, 1833-37|
These volumes have been included in the set of microfilms for the sake of completeness; all entries located in them also appear in other Registry volumes.
|Church of England||1787-1864||Vols. 1-44||Reels 5001-5016|
|Presbyterian||1826-1895||Vols. 45-53||Reels 5001-5019|
|Methodist (Wesleyan)||1839-1855||Vols. 54-56||Reels 5019-5020|
|Independent / Congregational|
|Unitarian||1840-1875||Vols. 57-58||Reel 5020-5021|
|Baptist||1835-1856||Vol. 59||Reel 5021|
|Roman Catholic||1840-1855||Vols. 61-72||Reels 5021-5027|
|Other Nominations||1837-1856||Vol. 60||Reel 5021|
|* Supplementary Register||1830-1901||Vol. 121||Reel 5046|
* Contains transcriptions of baptismal entries copied by the Registrar General from church registers acquired or made available on loan from the various churches for check with official records.
|Church of England||1787-1877||Vols. 1- 44||Reels 5001-5016|
|Presbyterian||1826-1878||Vols. 46, 102-107||Reels 5017, 5040-42|
|Methodist (Wesleyan)||1840-1856||Vols. 108-110||Reels 5042-43|
|Independent / Congregational|
|Unitarian||1841-1855||Vols. 111-112||Reel 5043|
|Baptist||1840-1855||Vol. 113||Reel 5043|
|Roman Catholic||1840-1856||Vols. 114-120||Reels 5043-46|
|* Supplementary Register||1834-1895||Vol. 122||Reel 5046-47|
* Contains: transcriptions of burial entries copied by the Registrar General from church registers acquired or made available on loan from the various churches for check with official records; and, records of burials recorded at Church of England, Camperdown between 1856 and 1864 received by the Registrar General with other records pursuant to the Clergy Returns Transfer Act of 1878.
|Church of England||1788-1856||Vols. 1- 44||Reels 5001-5016|
|Presbyterian||1826-1856||Vols. 46, 73-82||Reels 5017, 5027-32|
|Methodist (Wesleyan)||1840-1856||Vols. 83-86||Reels 5032-33|
|Independent / Congregational|
|Unitarian||1841-1855||Vols. 87-88||Reel 5034|
|Baptist||1848-1855||Vol. 89||Reel 5034|
|Roman Catholic||1834-1856||Vols. 90-101||Reels 5034-40|
|Other Denominations||1837-1856||Vol. 60||Reel 5021|
|* Supplementary Register||1827-1895||Vol. 123||Reel 5047|
* Contains transcriptions of marriage entries copied by the Registrar General from church registers acquired or made available on loan for check with official records.
Microfiche copies of the Pioneer series of Indexes to Births, Deaths and Marriages, 1788-1888, Federation series of Indexes to Births, Deaths and Marriages, 1889-1918 and NSW Between the wars series of Indexes to Death and Marriage, 1919-1945 are available from the:
Registry of Births, Deaths and Marriages
GPO Box 30, SYDNEY NSW 2001
In looking for a particular entry relating to a pre-1856 baptism, burial or marriage which may be found in the registers on these microfilms, the portion of the microfiche Index which relates to the pre-1856 period should first be consulted. This will give a reference to volume and entry number.
The Detailed Listing in this guide should then be consulted to locate the appropriate microfilm reel for the register.
If, in consulting the microfiche indexes for the pre-1856 records, the relevant reference is to a volume number other than Registry Volume Numbers 1 to 123, the researcher should approach the Registry of Births, Deaths and Marriages, which holds these records.
In locating the relevant entry, users should note that these Registers usually contain old discrete 'Church' numbers and a subsequent Registry number that is generally intermittent. Hence for each entry while the Church number will appear in full (for example as 858, 859, 860, 861 etc), the Registry number may only appear in full for the first or last entry on a particular page, if at all. In some instances even this is not the case; the official number appears in full only spasmodically. Consequently, care must be exercised in determining the appropriate entry number.
State Records' Short Guides are designed to provide easy reference to record series relating to a particular subject or area of research. This guide provides a list of the Registers of Births, Deaths and Marriages, 1787-1856. It was previously published as Information Leaflet 35.
The Registers of Births, Deaths and Marriages, 1787-1856 are open to public access.
The Registry of Births, Deaths and Marriages gave approval in accordance with the provisions of Section 14(6) of the Archives Act, 1960, that these records would be made available for public use from 1st February 1984. This approval was subject to the following conditions:
- that persons may access only the microfilm copy of the records contained in Registry Volume Numbers 1 to 162, and State Record volumes numbered 5/4219, 5/4221 and 5/3841, and may take note of any recorded details; and
- that any person requiring a copy of the actual record should apply to the Registry in the usual way as State Records may not issue any print or any other kind of photocopy from the microfilms.
Applications for certified copies should be made to:
All applications should quote the appropriate Registry volume and entry numbers, as well as name(s) of individual(s) and nature of the ceremony.
The Registry has also authorised that State Records sell sets of these microfilms for public use in libraries or societies. Requests for these films, or replacements, should be made to State Records quoting the SR Reel Numbers. Copies of these films will only be supplied to institutions undertaking to adhere to the conditions outlined above.
The microfilming of these records was carried out by The Genealogical Society of Utah in co-operation with the Registry of Births, Deaths and Marriages and State Records.
State Records wishes to thank the Society for its vital contribution to this project, and for making its negatives freely available for supply to other institutions.