This is a worked case study related to What "hidden" clues are there in the GRO Indexes of births and deaths?

Nicholas Tabb's WWI Draft Registration card lists his birth date as 31 Oct 1887 and his birth place at Slapton, Devon, England.

Searching for Nicholas on findmypast turns up the following records:

  • a birth registration in 1887 Q4 in Kingsbridge Registration District, Vol 5b page 194 (FreeBMDs transcription agrees with this)
  • 1891 Census: Ven Cottage, Stoke Fleming, Kingsbridge, Devon, England; Nicholas (aged 3) is the son of the head of household, born in Stokenham
  • 1901 Census return, Week Cottages, Dartmouth, Totnes, Devon, England; Nicholas (aged 13) is the son of the head of household, born in Stokenham

A search for Nicholas Tabb in the Devon Baptisms doesn't give any results (both Slapton and Stokenham baptisms are in this record set).

The 1891 census says Nicholas's parents John and Annie are born in Slapton, and I have located them with two children in Slapton in the 1881 Census in Slapton Village.

Could Nicholas have given the Draft Registrar his parents' birthplace instead of his own? What other clues do we have?

The rest of the family in the 1891 Census:

  • Walter J Tabb Son Single Male 10 1881 Scholar Slapton, Devon, England
  • Lillian Tabb Daughter Single Female 8 1883 Scholar Stokenham, Devon, England
  • Frederick Tabb Son Single Male 6 1885 Scholar Stokenham, Devon, England
  • Ann Maria Tabb Daughter Single Female 4 1887 Scholar Stokenham, Devon, England
  • Nicholas Tabb Son Single Male 3 1888 - Stokenham, Devon, England

The children in 1901 Census:

  • Lilian Tabb Daughter Single Female 18 1883 House Keeper Stokenham, Devon, England
  • Annie Tabb Daughter Single Female 14 1887 - Stokenham, Devon, England
  • Nicholas Tabb Son Single Male 13 1888 Gardener's Boy Stokenham, Devon, England
  • Herbert Tabb Son Single Male 9 1892 Scholar Stoke Fleming, Devon, England

Given the migration pattern that is revealed from the birthplaces of the older siblings, it seems likely that the family was in Stokenham in 1887 and the family moved to Stoke Fleming before census day in 1891.

So what hidden clues can we get from the GRO birth registration?

Using the method in the linked question, Nicholas' birth reg on page 194 appears to be in the Stokenham sub-district. The first two sub-districts from Kingsbridge registration district in the 1881 Census registration districts report from Histpop.org are:

  1. Blackawton: parish Blackawaton, Stokefleming, Slapton
  2. Stokenham: parishes of Stokenham, Sherford, Charleton, South Pool, Chivelstone, East Portlemouth

My question is: is it necessary to register a birth from Stokenham in Stokenham sub-district?

If a family lived close by the border of the sub-district, could they register in the neighboring sub-district, or would the GRO list the birth in the sub-district where it belonged, regardless of what office was visited?

(Note that in the US, if a person registered for the draft in WWI away from their usual residence,their draft card was forwarded to their local office.)

  • I have located baptism records in Slapton for Walter John and Lillian but have not found baptisms for the younger children.
    – Jan Murphy
    May 20, 2017 at 20:00

1 Answer 1


A birth must be registered in the sub-district in which it occurred – the parents did not get to choose which register office to go to. However, the 1874 ammendment to the Registration of Births and Deaths Act (37 & 38 Vict. c.88, para. 6) explicitly makes provision for the case where the informant leaves the sub-district before they register the birth. It states:

Any person required by this Act to give information concerning a birth, who removes before such birth is registered out of the sub-district in which such birth has taken place, may, within three months after such birth, give the information by making and signing in the presence of the registrar of the sub-district in which he resides a declaration in writing of the particulars required to be registered concerning such birth; and such registrar on payment of the appointed fee shall receive and attest the declaration and send the same to the registrar of the sub-district in which the birth took place; and the last-mentioned registrar shall, in the prescribed manner, enter the birth in the register; and the entry so made shall be deemed, for the purposes of the Births and Deaths Registration Acts, 1836 to 1874, to have been signed by the person who signed the declaration. A person making a declaration in pursuance of this section in the case of any birth shall be deemed to have complied with the provisions of this Act as to giving information concerning that birth, and with any requisition of the registrar made under this Act within the said three months to attend and give information concerning that birth.

In other words, in cases where someone leaves the sub-district before registering a birth, that birth may be registered in another sub-district, and would be forwarded to the relevant office.

Be aware that the system of civil registration in England and Wales is entirely informant-driven. If the informant said that the birth occurred in a certain parish, then that is the parish that will appear on the birth certificate. There are no doubt cases where the informant – intentionally or not – stated the incorrect parish of birth, and as a result there are likely rare cases where births appear in the wrong district or sub-district.

  • Incorrect information can happen on any historical record, but it's useful to know what was supposed to be on the record. (See Dr. Tom W. Jones' Perils of Source Snobbery: bcgcertification.org/skillbuilders/skbld135b.html for examples of primary sources with errors and false information.)
    – Jan Murphy
    May 21, 2017 at 18:07

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