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Making sense of old handwriting

Parish Registers


What are Civil Registers?

The concept of civil registration became a force of European and world record-keeping following the French Revolution. During the first half of the nineteenth century, movements for civil registration arose in various European countries but were effectively blocked by the conservative elements of society, which were dominated by the Catholic Church. These elements feared that civil registration would result in a further secularization of society and a reduction of the control that the church had over the people.

The Records

The books of a civil register are generally organized into three separate sections: births, marriages, and deaths. There is generally one volume or more for each year, although in some cases during the early years when district populations were small, a volume may cover more than one year. Often, each volume and/or each year will be indexed.

In the civil register, the format of the entries and the information they contain is similar to that found in parish registers. There is, however, a much greater uniformity within a given country and time period between civil register books than between parish books due to the fact that the material which the civil register contains is dictated by national law, and national governments have often provided printed civil register books. The information given in a civil register entry also tends to be much more complete than early parish entries and even superior to parish entries of the later nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. The completeness of the content of civil registers in a country varies over time and place. All usually have in common the procedure in which a declarant, often the parent or other relative, appeared before the judge or secretary of the civil register and reported the event recorded. The first person described, often with his marital status, age, and/or place of birth and/or residence, will be that declarant.


Paleography Introduction