Prepared by Elisabeth Lindsay.
Civil registration is the registering of vital records by a government authority, be it city, county, state or province. Civil registration of major life events such as birth, marriage, death, divorce, adoption, etc. is required in most countries, allowing governments to create legal documents and compile statistics. Prior to civil registration, such events were typically recorded by the church and recorded in church or parish registers, or recorded in family Bibles. In the United States, the civil registration of births, marriages, and deaths became mandatory in 1908, although it took some time for all counties and states to comply. In some countries, civil registration began much earlier. The dates of mandatory civil registration varies from one country to another and possibly within countries.
Civil registration is important to genealogy in providing a central repository for various types of records, although different types of records may be maintained by different civil authorities in different places. Owing to privacy laws, some restrictions may apply in who can obtain copies of certain document types. Understanding these restrictions and the time periods in which civil registration began is important for researchers, in knowing what records might be available at a give time and in what location. Today, owing to security concerns, there is a greater push for stronger restrictions and increased regulation as to what information for what time period can be digitized and published online, which may be anywhere from 25 to 100 years after the event. Such regulations are already having an impact on genealogy researchers, so it is good to become aware, to the extent possible.