Birth and death registration

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The main source for births and deaths in British India are the Church records. However, registration of births and deaths did happen to some extent.

Historical background

The history of civil registration in India dates back to the middle of the nineteenth century. It started with the registration of deaths with a view to introducing sanitary reforms for control of pestilence and disease and not so much for studying population trends.[1]

Thacker's 1865 Bengal Directory, on page 147, states "Registration of Births and Deaths under Section 94 of Act VI of 1864...Registration of Births and Deaths took effect from 1st April 1864." Calcutta was divided into 6 districts. Read the full transcript of page 147. Although Thacker says Act VI of 1864, it seems probable that it was in fact Act VI of 1863. [2]

“Registration was first introduced into Calcutta in 1864, and neglect was rendered penal. Birth registration is now fairly correct and the mortuary returns received from each police inspector of the twenty one sections into which the city is divided are checked by other returns from the sextons of the cemeteries and the clerks of the burning ghauts...In the Madras Presidency the registration of births commenced in 1870..The mortuary registration was commenced in 1866... In the Bombay Presidency the registration of deaths was commenced in 1865. Birth registration has only just been commenced [c 1872]..” [3]

Burma had birth and death registration from 1865, for more details, including the information to be completed, refer Hand-book for British Burma, page 552 by George Edward Fryer 1867 Google Books. As Burma was a province of Bengal, it is likely that the situation in Calcutta, and possibly most/all of Bengal was similar.

The Central Province of Berar introduced a system of birth registration in 1866. Punjab and United Provinces followed a little later. In 1873, the Bengal Births and Deaths Registration Act was passed and was later adopted by the neighbouring states of Bihar and Orissa.

It was, however, only in 1886 that a Central Act- the Births Deaths and Marriages Registration Act- was placed on the Statute Book to provide for voluntary registration throughout British India. This Act was not to affect any law on the subject already in force or which might be passed subsequently for any particular local area and therefore had only limited force. Advantage was taken of the Act by the foreigners, particularly Europeans and British residing in the country. A few states like Madras and Bengal had their own specific Act (Madras registration of Births and Deaths Act 1899 and Bengal Births and Deaths Registration Act 1873) which had been adopted by a few other states.

In 1930, in the whole of India, Bengal was the only province in which registration was compulsory both in rural and urban areas. In Madras, registration was compulsory in all municipal towns and was later extended to all villages towns and was later extended to all villages with a population of 2000 and more. In Bihar and Orissa, registration was compulsory only in some municipalities whereas in Punjab and the Central Provinces, it was compulsory in all municipal towns. In Bombay it was compulsory in nearly all municipalities while in Assam it covered all municipal towns, small towns, tea gardens and a few towns of hill districts.

Generally, the officials of the revenue, police or health departments were also made responsible for registration. In municipal towns and cities the municipal authority was responsible for registration of vital events and this function was usually a part of the duties of the health department. Health officials like sanitary inspector, vaccinator and health assistant were made responsible for this work.

The hospitals were required to report to the local Registrar in respect of events occurring therein. [1].



British Library Catalogue references for the Acts:

Records forwarded to the India Office

These records do not frequently appear in the India Office Records. As the the British Library's page on Ecclesiastical Records explains, “registration of births was not compulsory and very few are entered in the records. Registrations do not generally appear until the 1920s. Entries show date and place of birth, child's name, parents' names and their nationality and religion, father's occupation, date of registration.” An example of European children entered in the Birth Register, appearing in the Ecclesiastical Records at the British Library, is given in this India List post.

Based on her own experience, Sylvia Murphy advised: "Within the general set of copies of presidency ecclesiastical records, is also to be found evidence that some British Subjects actually registered their children’s births. These are identified by the use of forms headed 'Office of the Marriage Registrar, Calcutta' (for example), and although a baptism date is given, there is no Church name included to show where the child may have been baptised. It may be the case that such entries reflect births and baptisms of children whose parents belonged to a non-conformist denomination which did not make its own returns to the India Office. Other indications of Birth Registration occur in the 1940s and after independence. Lists of names and dates of birth of infants registered are to be found at least in the N/3 (Bombay) ecclesiastical returns for this period, but no detailed copies of actual registration information are available. Presumably these have been retained in the office(s) of the Registrar(s) in India".

Copies of Birth Registration entries in India

  • This India List post dated 18 October 2005 advises “Every town, small or big, has its own independent machinery under individual state (provincial) laws to keep a record of births and deaths in a local area(usually it's the municipal corporation)” but also advises that for old records there is no guarantee that a particular record would be available or in good shape for being copied.
  • This later India List post indicates that some records of European births may be obtained from the Birth Registers held by Indian authorities.
  • This India British Raj List post also indicates the local municipality issues copies from the Birth Registers.
  • This India List post indicates that not many births may have been registered.
  • This India List post mentions a document taken from the "Birth Register for Europeans and Eurasians of the Delhi Municipality" dated 1912 and a later document from 1939

The copies of Birth Registration entries mentioned in the India List posts all appear to have been obtained many years ago. Recent copies have been obtained from the Shimla Municipal Corporation, after a visit there in 2013, see the article Shimla: Manual record-keeping that's eye-popping efficient ( However, it is not known how generally available these documents are or what time period is covered by records in existence in India. The Birth Registration system, which was only compulsory in some areas, always has been based on the local municipality, so it is necessary to know where a person was born before attempting to obtain records.

Some websites for Municipal Corporations are listed below. The website for Shimla includes a standard letter for requests for certificates, to be sent to The Registrar, Birth & Death MC Shimla. The website for Chennai includes an online certificate application, for births and deaths from 1930, but you need to know the relevant date. Note the additional comments. The website for Coimbatore indicates the Commissioner is responsible for records, which are held from 1871. There may be websites for other Municipal Corporations which also have an online facility. For smaller towns, the terminology may be 'Municipal Board' or Municipality.
Previously Bengal Presidency

Previously Madras Presidency

  • Chennai Corporation: Online facility for verification or printing of birth & death certificate Applies from 1910, and you need to know the date of birth or death. This online service is free. You could try writing regarding earlier registration, (similar to the Shimla letter), to The Registrar, Birth and Death, Corporation of Chennai, Ripon Building, Chennai – 600003 India (charges may apply). This India List post advises the website is free to access and download. The records, which would have originally been handwritten, have been transcribed, so are subject to error, as described. Also the post advises most babies were just registered with the parents’ names and not the name of the child, so suggests just entering initially the date of birth. This additional India List post advises the researcher "with a bit of ‘fudging’, ended up with new information".
  • Coimbatore City Municipal Corporation
    • Public Health , section "Birth & Death records custodian" states "...transfer the birth and death records to the Commissioner's office and the same is kept under the custody of Commissioner....previous year's records (ie 1871 to 2009) are stored at Corporation main office - Birth & Death record room." Contact the Commissioner

Previously Bombay Presidency

Death registration

Princely states

In other areas of India, which were not controlled by the British, births and deaths of British subjects were registered with the British Residents of various Native or Princely States. These records form the N/5 series of the Ecclesiastical Records. For details, refer Princely States - British Library N/5 records.

FIBIS resources

See also

External links


  1. 1.0 1.1 Handbook on Civil Registration. Office of the Registrar General India, Ministry of Home Affairs, Government of India, New Delhi by P. PADMANABHA Registrar General, India March 7, 1981: Chapter 2, Historical background Original link
  2. The Corporation of Calcutta was constituted by Bengal Act No. VI of 1863 and was then constituted, as would appear from Section III of the Act, of 'Justices of the Peace for the Town of Calcutta', which meant all Justices of Peace for Bengal, Behar and Orissa, resident in the Town and all Justices of the Peace for the Town itself. The object of the Act was to vest the property of the Town of Calcutta and the management of its Municipal affairs in a Corporation and to make better provision for, inter alia, the conservancy and improvement of the Town. Kanoon
  3. House of Commons Papers: Accounts and Papers: East India (progress and condition). Statement exhibiting the moral and material progress and condition of India, during the year 1872-73. Actual pages 125,126, computer pages 154,155