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Over on the History of Science & Mathematics site I asked a question about what vaccinations infants recieved in late nineteenth century England. I learned that smallpox vaccination became compulsory in 1853 under the Vaccination Act. Apparently this was regulated at the level of the local registrar, who was sent a certificate by the medical practitioner upon vaccination of an infant.

This raises the question: what records (if any) survive that document vaccination, and where and how might I locate these records? For example, did the local registrar produce a systematic record of the information contained in the vaccination certificates he was sent?

I feel that for the Vaccination Act to be enforcable, some detailed record of who was vaccinated had to have been made. If such a record does exist, it could be a useful adjunct to civil registration records. My primary location of interest is Nottinghamshire, England although I welcome any answers pertaining to other parts of the country.

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Some records do exist, although what I found is much later than the introduction of the Act in 1853.

The National Archives catalog has General Register Office: Smallpox Vaccination Returns as part of RG 56. However, the catalog description says:

This series contains smallpox vacination returns for the years 1898-1921 and 1938-1941. These smallpox returns contain statistical information not likely to be found in any such detail elsewhere.

These registers do not contain personal information.

Looking at the individual sub-series, many of the descriptions are marked

This record has not been digitised and cannot be downloaded.

The records are listed as open access, but you have to get a reader's ticket to view them, or ask for a quote to get copies made and sent to you.

I searched within this group for Nottingham and Nottinghamshire and got no results. However, one group of 1941 records (RG 56/24) is labeled "Norfolk to Yorkshire" so it isn't safe to assume the name of the locality you seek will be in the catalog description.

It might be worthwhile to inquire at TNA to ask what they mean when they say "The registers do not contain personal information." I've seen similar cautions about electoral registers (e.g. in the British Library's research guides), but if the researcher understands the original records, they can still be quite useful for family history study despite the lack of "personal" information.


One possible source of information about vaccinations might be in the Poor Law Union records. Find My Past has transcriptions by the Devon Family History Society which are said to be extracts from the "Brixham Vaccinator Register 1905-1907" held by the Devon Heritage Center under a PLU reference number. This extract had a name, age (2 months), date of vaccination, and residence (the street name and town). Going to the website of the Devon FHS, I found several publications of vaccination register extracts in their store under the category Joint Projects with Devon Record Office.

Check local archives for your research area to see if they might have similar registers in their collections, and if the local family history society has published extracts or transcriptions.

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Registers were indeed compiled at the individual child level. Survivals (of registers!) are patchy - what there is, seems to be in county record offices. See http://www.genguide.co.uk/source/vaccination-registers-amp-certificates/51/ for one article. In the articles that I've read, I don't remember seeing much advantage to these registers, even if you find them, other than perhaps a cheaper source than vital certificates.

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  • Upvoted for the link to the GenGuide article. In my opinion, any record which places an individual in a specific place at a specific time has value -- a single record may not have a lot of 'wow' factor by itself, but can be extremely useful when viewed in combination with other records. A strong group of records with indirect evidence can be more accurate than a single primary source with direct evidence. – Jan Murphy Dec 16 '15 at 18:36
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The Dyfed Family History Society has an extensive collection of transcribed vaccination records of several parishes in the Carmarthen area and the Welsh counties of Cardiganshire (Ceredigion), Carmarthenshire (Sir Gaerfyrddin) and Pembrokeshire (Sir Benfro). The archive covers the period 1853 to 1919, thoug the actual coverage varies from parish to parish.

The information gives:

  • the name of the child;
  • the address;
  • the date of birth;
  • the name of the father and his occupation.

No information is given about which vaccination was received.

The records are available on fiche and can be purchased via the Society website: www.dyfedfhs.org.uk and are listed under the Publications tab on the Home page.

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Just to supplement the useful answers already given:

Vaccination records for Notts are (as @AdrianB38 said) housed at the county records office, Nottinghamshire Archives, and (as @JanMurphy said) found within their Poor Law Records.

Nottinghamshire Archives published a guide on Poor Law Union Records (PDF) for the county. Page 5 of that document states:

Vaccination Registers: these registers provide details on children vaccinated. They record:

  • Name of child
  • Place of birth
  • Date of birth
  • Father’s name or, if illegitimate, mother’s name
  • Profession or occupation of father

We hold registers for:

  • Basford, 1896 – 1916
  • Bingham, 1866 – 1921
  • East Retford, 1871 – 1919
  • Mansfield, 1923 – 1930
  • Newark, 1881 – 1932
  • Southwell, 1871 – 1879 and 1901 – 1921
  • Worksop, 1902 – 1925

Other vaccination records include returns of births and returns of deaths of infants, report books and summary totals.

I have not examined these registers yet, but will next time I am in Nottingham, and will report back.

By chance I came across a collection on Ancestry.co.uk: Newport Pagnell, Buckinghamshire, England, Vaccination Register, 1909-1927. I believe this is the type of register held by the Nottinghamshire Archives. I have included an excerpt from one page below to give an idea of what these registers look like:

enter image description here

As @AdrianB38 mentioned, these registers look to be a useful and cheaper alternative to birth certificates if (1) the registers survive for the place and time of interest and (2) you have access to the local archives. Note one example on that image also gives the date of death for the child who died before vaccination.

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