This is a UK-related question, relating to the search for my grandmother's birth records.

She lived between the late 1870s and 1946. I have found her mentioned in censuses from 1881 to 1911, and I have her marriage and death certificates, plus her entry in the 1939 Register, but absolutely no birth records. My question is whether she would have needed to produce a birth record to get married, vote (from 1918 onwards) or for any other purpose during her adult life.

I don't know if she ever had a passport to travel abroad - I doubt it - but could she have reached the age of +/-78 years without a birth record?

If not, how would I find it having exhausted all of the usual sources?

  • 2
    Each Census between 1881 and 1911 should have mentioned her birthplace. Knowing that/those should help narrow where to look for her birth record dramatically. She most certainly could have lived a life without having a birth record, but the births of almost all people in that period were registered.
    – PolyGeo
    Commented Feb 12, 2020 at 21:25
  • 2
    It's possible she might have needed to prove her age for to receive a pension.
    – user6485
    Commented Feb 13, 2020 at 9:14

2 Answers 2


There would be no requirement to produce a birth certificate to get married (and still isn't -although you do now need to produce some proof of identity- most use a passport).

Likewise there is no need to have a birth certificate to vote now, so unlikely to have been necessary at any time.

The rate of non-registration of births was quite low by the time of your grandmother's birth, probably around 1%, but that is still quite a number, so it may be she was never registered.

But you should consider the other options:

  • That she was older/younger than she claimed to be and therefore the birth is in a different year.
  • That she was born in a different place to the one you expect and so registered in a different district, or
  • That the entry is indexed under a different name, usually due to illegitimacy.

There is also the possibility of an adoption.


Women's entitlement to vote began with the Representation of the People Act 1918. That allowed women over 30 years old, with certain other qualifications such as property ownership, to vote in the General Election.

A PDF of the Act is available at legislation.gov.uk. It's lengthy, and seems slightly vague on exactly how someone would end up on the register. I have not read the whole Act, but skimmed through sections that appeared relevant, and I did not find anything requiring documentary proof for entry onto the register.

From page 38 of the PDF, which is the page numbered 290 on the original:

  1. It shall be the duty of the registration officer to cause a house to house or other sufficient inquiry to be made, and to prepare ... lists ... of all persons appearing to be entitled to be registered

So the registration officer's team (the 'overseers') are instructed to tour their wards finding out who was entitled to vote. The Act does not instruct them to seek any particular evidence of entitlement.

On the following page is a section dealing with "Claims to be Registered", for those who were missed from the register or had erroneous entries, and this looks to be more informative:

  1. Any person who claims to be entitled to be registered ... may claim to be registered, or to be registered correctly, by sending to the registration officer a claim in the prescribed form

Followed by:

  1. The form of claim for a person making a claim on his own behalf shall contain a declaration of the qualification of the claimant to be registered, including a declaration that the claimant has attained the required age, and is a British subject

So it looks like a person's word was generally considered enough to be put on the electoral register. No birth certificate or other documents were required.

There is a subsequent section on Objections, by which any elector could object to an entry on the register. This provided a mechanism by which false claims of entitlement could be dealt with. And the officer or overseer's judgement would presumably apply, if they had reason to doubt a claim, but this is not made explicit in the text sections that I read.

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