Civil records in Guernsey

One of our most experienced researchers gives us a guide to the Library's research holdings. First, what you can expect to find in the Civil registers, held here on microfilm.

By Jean Vidamour

Introduction to the civil registers

Guernsey' civil records, as opposed to the records held in the Parish Church registers, are held in the island's Greffe, or Registrar's Office; copies can be accessed in the Priaulx Library as indexes and on microfilm.

Civil registration commenced in 1840. Although registration was compulsory, it was at least twenty years before the system was running satisfactorily.

Civil birth register

By the early 1860s, failure to register a child would result in a fine; those who did not register their child also had to appear before the Royal Court and declare that the child was legitimately theirs.

If, in these early years of registration, a child's name does not appear in Guernsey's civil register, it does not therefore mean that the child was not born in the island; for births before 1870 a check of the church baptismal registers is also recommended.

What do the civil birth records contain?
  • Date of birth
  • Father's name
  • Mother's maiden name
  • Where born (usually at home)
  • Father's occupation

NOTE: Entries can be in French or English, and sometimes a mixture of both, i.e. Jean Le Poidevin, Occupation: Farmer; John Le Poidevin, Occupation: Fermier.

Civil death register

Compulsory registration of death also began in 1840, but people were even more tardy about registering deaths than they were about births. Where a death certificate cannot be found on the civil registers, a search in the Parish burial records should be undertaken.

NOTE: There is an important difference between English and Guernsey registers. In England, a woman ceased using her maiden name upon her marriage, but in Guernsey a woman retained her maiden name throughout her life, and will be indexed on the death register under her maiden name alone. By the 1950s, however, both married and maiden name were used.

What do the civil death registers contain?
  • Date of death (from 1907 a time of death is included)
  • Name and status of deceased, if female (e.g. wife or widow)
  • Age
  • Both the parent's names, including mother's maiden name
  • Where died (from 1907 onwards, usual place of abode)
  • Occupation
  • Where born (from mid-1900s)
  • Cause of death and certifying doctor (cause of death is often given in French)
Civil marriage register

From 1840, non-church marriages were permitted to take place in the Greffe. This register also includes marriages from those non-conformist churches that held a license to perform weddings. From 1920, all marriages are recorded at the Greffe as well as the church where the marriage was performed.

What do the civil marriage registers contain?
  • Date and place of marriage
  • For both the bride and groom:
  • Full name
  • Marital status
  • Age
  • Occupation
  • Abode at time of marriage
  • Father's name
  • Father's occupation
  • Names of two witnesses
  • Officiating minister or registrar.

NOTE: Surnames beginning with Le, De etc. are indexed under the main element of the name.

Next: Church registers.