10 things you should know about the newly-released 1939 Register

By Editor, 2 November 2015 - 10:07am

We're very excited here in the office exploring the new 1939 Register release. We've put together 10 things you should know about the release so you can get the most out of it. Share your discoveries with us!

Frances de la Tour five things

The 1939 Register reveals actor Alec Guinness (listed as Alec G Cuffe) living with his new wife Merula and members of her Salaman family including two other actresses (Getty Images)

Today sees the release of one of the biggest online datasets for English and Welsh genealogy. Around 40 million individual entries from the 1939 National Register, compiled on the outbreak of the Second World War, have been made available online as part of a vast undertaking by Findmypast in partnership with The National Archives.

You can read more about the story behind the 1939 Register and how to get more out of the website in the December issue of Who Do You Think You Are? Magazine (on sale 24 November) but if you can’t wait until then, here’s some things you need to know before you part with your £6.95.


1. Date of birth

Unlike an ordinary census, the National Register asked for date of birth, rather than age. If you are struggling to find a birth certificate for someone who was still alive in 1939, then this might be the answer.


2. 7,000 volumes

The Register consisted of 7,000 volumes each containing 2,000 residencies - a total of around 40 million individual entries. Watch this fascinating short clip showing the conservation and scanning involved: www.youtube.com/watch?v=IdZE0NP-IVs


3. Who's in the house?

Just as in a census, the 1939 Register will reveal everyone who was in the household on the night of the 29th September 1939. You may discover family you did not know about, or vital details that will help take your research back a generation. The £6.95 includes everyone in the household even if it was a lodging house, for example, with multiple occupants.  

4. Who was in my house?

The 1939 Register is not just for family history. You can search by address and find out who was living in your house during the Second World War. If you click on the image, you see a whole page of the Register so you should be able to see who lived next door as well - we found an example with six different households, all for £6.95.

5. What will I discover?

For each individual, the 1939 Register will tell you: Full name; address; date of birth; marital status; occupation; and whether the individual was a member of the armed services or reserves. Unlike a census it does not include place of birth.


6. Armed forces

Although the Register says whether an individual was a member of the armed forces or reserves, those on active duty in the military were not included in the headcount, even if they were billeted in the household and were there on the night of the headcount.


7. Prisons, hospitals etc

Unlike in the census, those in prison or other institutions supplied their full name and details. Discoveries here may lead to other records.


8. Fills a data gap

The 1931 census for England and Wales was destroyed by fire during the Second World War, and there was no census taken in 1941, making the information contained in the 1939 Register even more valuable.


9. Use advanced search to get the right person

The 1939 Register for England and Wales is free to search and you will be told how many other people were living in the household plus the year of birth of the person so that you can be confident that you are looking at the right person before you choose to ‘unlock’ the full document. You can carry out an advanced search for free so if you know the occupation or exact date of birth or address or even the name of somebody who is likely to be in the same household, then you can include that in your search to increase accuracy.

Due to the high costs incurred by this project, the 1939 Register will not be included in a Findmypast subscription. Instead, there will be a charge of £6.95 per household, which may include numerous individuals. If you’re happy to wait, then it will eventually be included in a Findmypast subscription. Alternatively, you can access the 1939 Register website for free at The National Archives in Kew.


10. 1939 Register in Scotland and Northern Ireland

The Findmypast release is only for England and Wales. If you are looking for entries for Scotland click here. The application is by post and costs £15 although this is reduced to £5 if an entry cannot be found.  Similarly Northern Ireland is also not included in this online release. Access to individual entries from the Register for Northern Ireland is free, although it does involve submitting a freedom of information (FOI) request and is a slower and more complex process than for other parts of the UK. You can find out how to submit an FOI request to PRONI here

Words: Sarah Williams

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Alan Crosby: The importance of preserving the present
previous blog Article
From the office: The cost of the 1939 Register
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