I have found a curious inconsistency in registration districts for a couple of 1850s English birth records. I was looking for children of David Hill and his wife Jane (nee Harris) of Little Rissington, a small village in Gloucestershire. Little Rissington, like its better-known close neighbour Bourton on the Water, was part of the Stow on the Wold registration district. A search of that district in the GRO indices did not yield all of the entries that I expected. Widening the search, I found a candidate in the adjacent district of Northleach.

The two certificates (GRO PDFs) do look like they come from births to the same couple:

Birth cert for Mary Jane Hill, 1856 Stow on the Wold

Birth cert for Thomas Hill, 1857 Northleach


16 Jan 1856  Mary Jane, dau of David Hill and Jane (formerly Harris), Little Rissington    
01 Nov 1857  Thomas, son of David Hill and Jane (formerly Harris), Little Rissington  

And this is what I find curious: both births are recorded in the "District of Bourton on the Water", and the Registrar's District is "No. 2 Bourton on the Water". But the earlier one has a Superintendent Registrar's District of "Stow on the Wold", while the later one is "Northleach".

UKBMD has pages for both Stow on the Wold and Northleach registration districts. The former has Bourton on the Water and Little Rissington parishes in the Stow district from 1837 to 1937, and "Bourton on the Water" is also named as a Sub-district. The Northleach page mentions neither village. So it doesn't look like they were ever part of the Northleach district.

The answer to another question about birth registrations states that:

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.

People couldn't choose their register office on a whim, and I assume that registrars couldn't choose their district on a whim either!

So as I understand it, this situation should not have happened. Both births should have been registered under Stow on the Wold. The boundary between the two districts is not too far from Rissington, and I could imagine David going to a different register office despite the rule given above, but that office still couldn't have listed Bourton as part of Northleach, because it wasn't.

The registrar's name in each case is William Wells, but the writing does not look like the same hand. Similar in places, but with substantial differences particularly in the capitals. I know that a William Wells was a surgeon and registrar who lived in Bourton on the Water, and died there in 1859 , just a few years after this, aged around 60. I have several other earlier records written by him, and the writing all matches the first (Mary Jane) example well. I don't have any other Northleach records to compare, and I don't know if the same Wells was a registrar for that district as well as Stow (if that was even possible).

The writing at the top (Superintendent Registrar's District) is similar on both records but looks a little different from the main text. If so, that points to at least two people involved in the generation of each record.

So I'm wondering how two births apparently registered in the same sub-district ended up assigned to two different registration districts. Is this due to how these records were created? it looks like an error at the registrar's level, rather than the informant or superintendent registrar. (E.g. if the districts shared a registrar, then perhaps he, or an assistant, used the wrong book one time…) Is this likely to be a common error?

1 Answer 1


First of all - these are pdf images of the entries in the records at GRO. They are not images of the original registers so the handwriting on them is not really relevant to any enquiry.

You are correct that a birth must be registered in the district in which it took place (although there is provision to give the information elsewhere, known as "by declaration" but that isn't the case here).

Both these entries show births that occur in Little Rissington, in the sub-district of Bourton on the Water, so they are correct - the only mis-match appears to be in the administrative hierarchy governing the district at the time.

So - there could be an error made in the registers when they were recieved and filed at GRO, or the error could have been made when the images were taken and digitised some years ago.

Another possibility is that for a period the management of the sub-district of Bourton on the Water came under Nortleach District for some reason, and it may be that has not been picked up when the UKBMD lists were compiled perhaps it was a very temporary change. Districts and sub-districts are constantly being changed around and renamed and passed between different jurisdictions, as any registrar will confirm.

The only original record is the register entry which will be held by Gloucestershire Registration Service, who are probably the only people who can confirm the truth of it for you.

  • Thank you. I'm still wondering about where this error may have occurred. A single record in error means it was written in the wrong register, and unless Stow and Northleach shared a registrar, that's unlikely. So is it possible that an entire quarterly register was misfiled at some level?
    – AndyW
    Dec 4, 2017 at 11:27
  • As I said - the original registers are held by Gloucestershire - those are the only records that really matter. They should be able to tell you whether the management of the sub-districts has altered over the years.
    – AntonyM
    Dec 4, 2017 at 14:42
  • 1
    I found that the Gloucestershire registry offers its own BMD search, and that gives Thomas' birth record in Bourton on the Water under Stow on the Wold, which is as I'd expect. So the apparent misfiling under Northleach does appear to relate to the copy registers at the GRO - I've reported this to the GRO and will see what they come back with. Thanks!
    – AndyW
    Dec 11, 2017 at 11:12
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    Well, the GRO have looked into my error report, and concluded: "Investigated – No amendment required", with a comment: "Indexed data not available." I'm not sure what that comment means, as the entry was clearly available when they sent a copy to me, but it doesn't look like this is going to go any further.
    – AndyW
    Jan 2, 2018 at 13:48

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