My great grandmother was born in January 1905, but her birth was not registered until June quarter (i.e. April or later). Her son's birth in the 1920s was registered 57 days after his birth.

Births in England and Wales were supposed to be registered within 42 days, and both of these cases were late registrations.

I have read conflicting information about whether the parents would have had to pay a penalty for a late registration at that time?

For example, stories of parents adjusting a child's birthdate to fit within the 42 day window are ubiquitous, as described in this FamilySearch guide:

The father, mother, neighbor, or other person present at the birth must register a birth within 42 days. The 1874 act imposed a fee for late registration (43 days to 6 months). This penalty may have persuaded some parents to "adjust" their child's birth date to avoid paying the fee. After six months the birth could not be registered.

However, the text of the Registration of Births and Deaths Act 1874 (see section 39) seems to suggest the penalty was only for non-registrations, not for late registrations:

Every person required by the Births and Deaths Registration Acts, 1836 to 1874, to give information concerning any birth or death., or any living new-born child, or any dead body, who wilfully refuses to answer any question put to him by the registrar relating to the particulars required to be registered concerning such birth or death, or fails to comply with any requisition of the registrar made in- pursuance of those Acts, and every person who refuses or fails without reasonable excuse to give or send any certificate in accordance with the provisions of the said Acts, shall be liable to a penalty not exceeding forty shillings for each offence; and the parent of any child who fails to give information concerning the birth of such child, as required by the said Acts, shall be liable to a like penalty ; and a person required by the said Acts to give information concerning a death in the first instance, and not merely in default of some other person, shall, if such information as is required by the said Acts is not duly given, be liable to the same penalty.

  • I wonder what the life repercussions were for someone whose birth was never registered?
    – PolyGeo
    Commented Aug 21, 2015 at 0:56
  • I suspect that the anomaly may be explained by the difference between a fine (imposed by the courts) and a penalty (an extra fee to be paid to the registrar). Certainly Mark Herber's Ancestral Trails refers to "fines for non registration and penalties for late registration" He must have had a reason for the two different terms and given that he is a solicitor, he's probably using correct terms.
    – AdrianB38
    Commented Aug 24, 2015 at 18:36
  • @AdrianB38 Thanks for the input, but I'm not really clear what you're saying. A fine is a type of penalty. Are you saying that they had to pay a £2 penalty for late registration vs a £2 fine for non-registration? Or is the late registration penalty covered by other legislation?
    – Harry V.
    Commented Aug 24, 2015 at 20:57
  • I believe that the text that you have snippped above containing the 40s fine would not apply to late registration. In the case of late registration, there's no refusal (they've turned up), they've not failed to comply with a requisition of the registrar because he's never asked them (I'm interpreting this as an explicit request).
    – AdrianB38
    Commented Aug 24, 2015 at 21:30
  • 1
    The snipped text from clause 39 seems to kick in at 42d but only if the Registrar explicitly asks for the info. So the scenarios are: 1. Over 42d and the registrar asks - clause 39. 2. Over 42d and the Registrar hasn't asked because he doesn't know, Second Schedule. But we don't seem to have any cash penalty for coming in after 42d but before 3m - other than the risk of the registrar finding out....
    – AdrianB38
    Commented Aug 24, 2015 at 21:40

1 Answer 1


Very simple summary:

  • Q: If someone registered a birth in England & Wales after 42 days, would they have had to pay a penalty for a late registration?
  • A: It depends... That point was when a risk of a penalty started.

I asked this question on the Who Do You Think You Are? magazine forum and we came to an understanding there, based on the kind help of Antony M, a former registrar. If I misinterpret things, it's my fault.

Note - we are talking here about the "Registration of Births and Deaths Act 1874", applicable to England & Wales.

Clause 1 of the Act, Information concerning birth to be given to registrar within forty-two days, says, summarising crudely, that the parents are supposed to register the birth within 42 days.

Clause 2 Requisition by registrar of information concerning birth from qualified, informant after forty-two days says that if the birth has not been registered within 42d, then the registrar may require someone to attend to register the birth.

If the registrar does explicitly request information / attendance about a birth under clause 2, and people do not comply, then clause 39 Penalty for not giving information, complying with requisition, &c lays down penalties "not exceeding forty shillings". Such penalties would be fines imposed by a court of law after prosecution.

If the registrar has not been informed of a birth after 42 days via mechanisms such as reports from hospitals, midwives, etc., then the registrar is in no position to request information under clause 2. If, in such a case, the parents then turn up to register the birth, then fees charged by the registrar are as follows:

  • Later than 42 days late but before 3 months late - clause 4 Duty of registrar to, ascertain and register birth gratis applies and the registration is done for free. (Note clause 4 contains exceptions but these also apply to registrations within 42d).
  • Over 3m late and less than 12m late - clause 5 Registry after expiration of three months from birth applies and fees are directly payable to the registrar - the scale of fees is laid down in the Second Schedule to the Act, including 2s 6d to the Registrar.
  • Over 12m late - clause 5 Registry after expiration of three months from birth applies again and fees are again directly payable to the registrar. Such fees are double the previous case, so 5s to the Registrar.

The Second Schedule refers to fees payable to the Superintendent Registrar but I am unclear if they were in addition to those payable to the Registrar or if the schedule was simply defining separate fees for both to cover both options of attending at either. Note also these are simply administrative fees payable to the person concerned with no involvement of the courts.

It does therefore seem to me that there is no automatic penalty applicable after 42d - rather, one is at risk of being chased. My initial thoughts were also that there is a gap in the interval from 42d to 3m, in that if the registrar did not know, then there is no sanction. However, as more and more births were attended by midwives who passed information on to the registrars, then that gap was being effectively reduced.

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