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to enter, whether he was bound to search for himself, or whether others were expected to communicate unto him, or what penalty might ensue from neglecting the matter altogether, the act does not condescend to mention. We have stated the purport of this act of the Protectorate at some length, because it is the only attempt which has been made in this country to establish legal evidence of birth by registry, though it was inconsistent in not extending also to the proof of deaths instead of burials, and must have been weak and powerless, from the omission we have noticed.
As to its practical operation, the Rev. J. E. Tyler, who had been incumbent of Morton-Pinkney, in Northamptonshire, and for some time rural dean, speaking only of what he had himself found, thinks that there was a great diversity of practice in keeping the registers during the protectorate, and that very great inaccuracies and great neglect followed from the time of the suspension of the parochial episcopal clergy to the period of the restoration. But Mr. Burn states, as the result of his more general investigations, that the plan worked well; at least that the registers during the period of Cromwell's government were unusually well kept.
At the restoration, the clergy resumed the official registration of baptisms, marriages, and burials. Several Acts of Parliament more or less affecting the details of the subject have since been passed; but two alterations introduced at different periods are deserving of particular notice, as they show how far the authority of precedent may now be quoted in dealing with some tender parts of the subject. By an Act of William III., granting his majesty "certain duties on Marriages, Births, and Burials," the established clergy were compelled, under a heavy penalty, to act as civil officers, and gratuitously to take exact account and keep a register of all persons married, buried, and christened or born within their respective parishes. How the clergyman was to arrive at a knowledge of all the births in his parish is not revealed, but the above duties he was bound to perform " without fee or reward" for the benefit of the revenue, or he forfeited £100. And secondly, as the object of legislation on the subject then was to tax the registry, dissenting ministers were by the 25 Geo. III. c. 75, graciously included within the operation of the previous Acts, and their registration of births or baptisms and burials were thus recognized by law. This was afterwards repealed, and in 1812 passed the curious Act of 53 Geo. III. c. 146, by which parish registers are at present regulated. It has commonly been styled Sir George Rose's Act, but with cruel injustice to that gentleman's reputation, for though he introduced it, yet, as the House reprinted and reconsidered it six times, and amended it into a patchwork of blunders, we may fairly presume that it might at first have been a tolerably sensible and consistent measure. The result was attributable to that mode of tinkering and botching the parts in committee and in either House, without keeping in mind the wholeness of a plan, which sometimes makes the Act passed as unlike the bill introduced as the living ass is unlike the Bologna sausage.
It is entitled, " An Act for better regulating and preserving Registries of Births, Baptisms, Marriages, and Burials in England," whereas it makes no provision whatever for the entry of births. The defective forms of registration prescribed by this Act, the confusion which they introduce, and the frauds which they encourage, from not sufficiently identifying the parties referred to, have been already noticed in the selec, tions from the evidence before the committee. , The churchwardens are directed yearly to transmit copies i fit the registers to the registrar of the diocese. Now it is a well understood principle of law, that if you forbid or order any thing and leave the parties to obey the injunction without fear of evil consequence from neglecting it, neglected it generally will be: as the Act does not enforce its order by a penalty for neglect, churchwardens frequently save themselves the trouble or never think about it. Mr. John Shephard, registrar to the Bishop of London, says, that out of 600 parishes in that diocese, which ought to send copies, on an average there are 150, and those some of the largest and most "populous parishes in the diocese, which do not. Then the registrar is ordered carefully to deposit the registers which he receives, to secure them from fire, and to prepare indexes for search. But as there is neither penalty for the omission nor reward for the performance of these onerous duties, and as the registrars belong to that class of sensible people who do nothing for nothing, they rather reluctantly give the registers house-room when they arrive and only take care to put them out of the way. Mr. Burn says the return made to parliament in 1831 shows the wretched state in which the transcripts of registers are kept in nearly every diocese in the kingdom. Mr. Stacey Grimaldi has examined a great many and has never seen an index; he has seen some transcripts so rotten, from the improper way in which they had been kept, that they could not be turned over without falling in pieces. And yet the gentlemen, whose dreams have been so recently disturbed by visions of riot and conflagration destroying all their muniments of title in a general register office of deeds built fireproof for the very purpose, and guarded by a regiment of soldiers, if necessary,—they have for years back fearlessly suffered the evidence of their family descent to be housed without the slightest security against either riots and conflagrations, or rats and mice. The only penalty inflicted in any part of the act, is transportation for fourteen years; and the act in a subsequent clause kindly ordains that one half of the penalties levied under it shall go to the informer and the remainder either to the poor of the parish or to such charitable purposes as the bishops may direct, so that the culprit is a sort of trustee through whom the title to transportation is derived, but who enjoys no part of it himself, the whole beneficial use being executed in the informer and the poor. As the committee in their report announce, " on this extraordinary statute the whole system of parochial registration depends at present." No wonder then at the unanimous agreement among the witnesses, that the present system of registration requires some amendment.
To accomplish this, Mr. W. Brougham has introduced his Bill "To establish a General Register of Births, Deaths, and Marriages in England," which is mainly, if not entirely, based on the recommendations of the committee. To judge of its efficient applicability, it will perhaps be convenient to consider, first, the machinery of the bill, and how the several parts of that machinery act with respect to each other; secondly, how the information is to be obtained which is to set that machinery in motion.
A metropolitan office is to be provided, and the care and management of the register and the controul and superintendence of the officers employed about it are confided to the commissioners of stamps, who are to appoint a general Registrar General and a certain number of inspectors and such clerks and servants as they may think necessary. So many of the collectors of assessed taxes as may be necessary will be the local registrars, and the surveyors of taxes will be superintendent registrars of their districts, but in every parish or township in which the collector is incapable or shall refuse to act as registrar, then a registrar is to be chosen by the rate-payers assembled in vestry, and to continue in office during his good behaviour. The duties of the registrar do not extend to marriages or the registration of them, his only business being with births and deaths: respecting these he is to enter the particulars (mentioned afterwards) in corresponding pages of two books, " The Registrar's Book" and " The Superintendent's Book:" he is quarterly to transmit to the superintendent registrar (i. e. the tax-surveyor) of his district so many leaves of the latter book as may be filled each quarter, and to deliver over the registrar's book when filled to the minister of the parish, to be thereafter kept in the parish chest of the parish: of marriages, every officiating person who is or may be authorized to solemnize the office of matrimony will be the registrar; he will be furnished with marriage register books, and immediately after each marriage solemnized by him will enter the requisite particulars in the book and counterpart, and deliver the book when filled to the minister of the parish, to be kept as before, and the counterpart to the superintendent registrar of the district. Each superintendent registrar is quarterly to send whatever books and papers he may have received to the registrar general, by whom they are to be kept in the metropolitan office in such order as may seem convenient for ready examination; for which purpose indexes are to be made and kept there, open to the public search.
As to these arrangements, so far as they concern births and deaths, we have only to inquire whether it might not be more desirable that the local registrar should be chosen by the rate-payers in vestry assembled, as in country parishes they would frequently be disposed to appoint the resident clergyman, there the most competent person for the situation, whilst he might be equally disposed to obtain a small increase of his limited income by the performance of its duties.
But the latter provision as to marriages, evidently contemplates some state of the law touching the legal solemnization of marriages, which is not yet in existence, and which must be determined, ere an opinion can be formed of the operation of the present bill on that branch of the subject. Every person authorized, 8tc, is to register the particulars of marriages solemnized by him, and to deliver the book when filled to the minister or churchwardens of the parish in which the marriages registered in such book have been solemnized. Now it is well known that some dissenting clergymen are itinerant in the performance of their duties, and that many of them are removed to different stations at yearly or other intervals; each of these, therefore, to comply with the directions of the bill, must take his register book with him as part of his baggage, and be followed through his mission by those who wish to search it. To the minister of which parish each of them should deliver his book when filled with marriages in half a dozen parishes, is a question not solved in Mr. Brougham's bill. These difficulties may be avoided if the register book of marriages be not part of the personal equipment of each authorized minister, but have a " local habitation" in every chapel and place of worship licensed for the solemnization of marriage,- and contain entries of all the marriages there solemnized.
The form of the index or indexes to be prepared in the metropolitan office is left to the discretion and experience of the registrar general, which is probably the best way of ensuring its adaptation to the public convenience.
Searches might also be facilitated if in each parish an index of names referring to the page of entry in the parish register books were prepared after the lapse of each ten years or some other defined period; this could be best determined after the experience of a few years. As however there will be as many cotemporary register books of marriages as there may be ministers in a parish authorized to perform the ceremony, there would be peculiar convenience in having the names of all parties married within certain periods in each parish brought into one index.