Civil registration

Civil registration is the system by which a government records the vital events (births, marriages, and deaths) of its citizens and residents. The resulting repository or database has different names in different countries and even different US states. It may be called a civil registry (but is also an official term for an individual file) but also the office responsible for receiving the records may be called a vital statistics office, vital records and statistics office, registrar, registry, registration office (official registration office), or population register.

The main purpose of civil registration is to create a legal document that can be used to establish and protect the rights of individuals. A second purpose is to create a data source for the compilation of vital statistics.

In most countries, there is a legal requirement to notify the relevant authority of certain life events, such as births, marriages and death. The first country to establish a national population registry was France in 1539, using the records of the Catholic Church. Sweden followed in 1631, based on a register drawn up by the Church of Sweden on behalf of the Swedish king.

The United Nations defines civil registration as “the continuous, permanent, compulsory and universal registration of the occurrence and characteristics of vital events pertaining to the population as provided by decree or regulation in accordance with the legal requirements of a country, mainly for the purpose of establishing the legal documents required by law. These records are also a primary source of vital statistics. The complete coverage, accuracy and timeliness of civil registration are essential to ensure the quality of vital statistics.”

Vital events that are generally registered in the civil registry include birth, death, stillbirth, name, change of name, marriage, divorce, annulment of marriage, legal separation of marriage, adoption, legitimation and recognition. Legal documents derived from civil registration include birth certificates, death certificates, and marriage certificates. A family register is a type of civil registration that deals more with events within the family unit and is common in continental European and Asian countries such as Germany, France, Spain, Russia (Propiska), China (Hukou), Japan (Koseki) and North and South Korea (Hoju).

Also, in some countries, immigration, emigration and any change of residence may require notification. A resident registry is a type of civil registry primarily related to current residence.