Before Rose’s Act in 1813, there was no consistency in the way church records were kept and the standard of record keeping varied enormously. An injunction by Thomas Cromwell in 1538, Vicar General to Henry VIII, required each church in England and Wales to enter christenings, weddings and burials in a register. Elaborate instructions were given for the register’s safe keeping. Parish registers were then accepted as legal documents as they were the only written evidence that could be produced especially in inheritance cases—to support the existence of a marriage or the legitimacy of a child. The first registers were of paper but an Act of 1598 ordered that the registers be copied into parchment books which were more durable and more expensive. The wording of this Act was unfortunate which stated that old registers were to be copied from the first year of Her Majesty’s reign. This provided an excuse to copy only from 1558 when Elizabeth I came to the throne.
During the Civil War many registers were not properly maintained. In 1733 the use of Latin in English and Welsh registers was discontinued. The Hardwicke’s Marriage Act introduced the use of proper marriage registers to prevent clandestine marriages. The Rose’s Act of 1813 required each parish to save separate registers for baptisms, marriages and burials.