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Vaccination Registers & Certificates

Nature of Source

Records of compulsory vaccination against smallpox which was one of the biggest killers during the 19th century. Widespread vaccination of children began in the 1830s with the passing of the first Vaccination Act. The vaccination programme was funded through the Poor Rate and administered by the Poor Law Unions. However the voluntary nature of the Act meant that take-up was poor so the authorities made vaccination compulsory in 1853 with a new Act. The legislation stipulated that parents must vaccinate their children within three months of birth. Vaccination registers were kept by local registrars and a vaccination certificate was issued to the parents of each vaccinated child.

A further Act in 1867 strengthened the legislation and handed responsibility to the Poor Law Guardians and in 1871 vaccination officers were officially appointed by the Guardians. The officers were mainly medical officers working for the workhouses who also assumed responsibility for keeping the records. Half-yearly registers were submitted by the registrar to the vaccination officer of the newly born that had not been vaccinated. The vaccination officer also held the 'Return of Deaths of Infants under Twelve Months of Age' which contains the child's full name, the date and place of death and the father's name and occupation or the mother's name if the child was illegitimate. Parents could now be prosecuted for non-compliance with those that refused or were exempted noted in the vaccination registers. 

Following public opposition to compulsory vaccination led by the Anti-Vaccination League, the law was repealed in 1909. Finally in 1949 compulsory vaccination was abolished.

The survival rate of the registers can be patchy. The certificates contain similar information to that of a birth certificate and can act as a substitute to civil registration birth indexes.

See also
Workhouse Records (Poor Law Unions)

Where Found

County Record Offices (Poor Law Union, Workhouse, Poor Law Guardians and local health authority records; Private collections including the registers kept by medical practices)
The National Archives (MH 12, Correspondence with Poor Law Unions and Other Local Authorities including some copies of registers submitted by local guardians. The series can be accessed at the TNA Online Collections)

Period Covered

1840 - 1948

Genealogical Value

Date and place of birth of child. Name of father and occupation. Name and maiden name of mother. Address of child.

Further References

Brunton, Deborah. The Politics of Vaccination: Practice and Policy in England, Wales, Ireland, and Scotland, 1800–1874: Rochester Studies in Medical History, 2008


Gibson, Jeremy & Rogers, Colin. Poor Law Union Records [England & Wales]: Federation of Family History Societies, 1997/2000 (Contains lists of surviving vaccination records and their whereabouts)


Halliday, Stephen. The Great Filth: Disease, Death, & the Victorian City: The History Press, 2011


Wilkes, Sue. Tracing Your Ancestors' Childhood: Pen and Sword Books, 2013


Williamson, Stanley. The Vaccination Controversy: The Rise, Reign and Fall of Compulsory Vaccination for Smallpox: Liverpool University Press, 2007


Wills, Simon. How Our Ancestors Died: A Guide for Family Historians: Pen & Sword, 2013


Websites (Smallpox vaccination timeline) (Image of a vaccination certificate) (Lincs To The Past, Lincolnshire Archives: Vaccination and the Anti-Vaccination movement) (Ask Baby: Timeline of vaccinations. A timeline of vaccinations from the eighteenth century to the present day (NHS Choices: The History of Vaccination) (Wellcome Library: London's Pulse: Medical Officer of Health reports 1848-1972. The website allows you to search more than 5500 Medical Officer of Health reports from the Greater London area. The site also has a Health of London timeline)
(Victorian Web: Nineteenth-Century British Medicine and Public Health) (British Library: Learning: Victorians: Health)

Online Databases

Online Catalogues (Listing of online catalogues for the partial whereabouts of records including Access to Archives [A2A]) (Bromley Union No. 1 District Vaccination Register, 1896)
(Bath Record Office: Bath Ancestors Database: Vaccination Registers, 1871-1888) (Devon Social & Institutional Records. This collection of records has been gathered by the Devon Family History Society from a wide range of local records covering daily life in the 18th and 19th centuries. Search the of records to find paupers and vagrants, apprentices, peddlers and tradesmen. Datasets include Vaccination Registers against smallpox for Brixham, Dartmouth, Exeter Heavitree and Exeter St Thomas, Haberton, Paignton, Topsham, Totnes and Woodbury for various dates between 1870 and 1905)
(Manchester Cholera Victims 1832. The dataset contains detailed notes relating to the first 200 cases of the 1832 Cholera epidemic in Manchester including the  victim’s name, age, year of birth, address)

CD Roms

Powys Family History Society (Register of Successful Vaccinations)
Archive CD Books (Newport Pagnell Vaccination Register, 1909-1927)