From the office: The cost of the 1939 Register

By Editor, 2 November 2015 - 3:01pm

Is £6.95 too much to pay to access the 1939 Register? In a world where so much online data is free why should we pay at all? Sarah Williams looks at the commercial realities of the biggest UK genealogical digitisation project since the 1911 census. 

Sarah Williams is editor at Who Do You Think You Are? MagazineMonday 2 November 2015
Sarah Williams, editor
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1939 Register

The home page for the 1939 Register www.findmypast.co.uk/1939register

We’re all very excited here in the WDYTYA? office by the release today of the 1939 Register and the Twittersphere shows that we are not alone. However there have been a few comments on social media about the price that Findmypast are charging to ‘unlock’ the actual record images.

It’s an interesting question and one that reminds me of when the 1911 census was first released online in 2009. Then as now there were those who were unhappy about being charged extra to access the records. These are, some point out, public records and should therefore be freely available to all. But who pays for this? Is it right, when the public purse is stretched to the limit, that all taxpayers should pay for this data to go online, or should it be paid for by the people who will actually use it? Personally, I would prefer public money to be spent on keeping archives and libraries open, but maybe that’s just me. I think the days when we could have everything are long gone, if they ever existed.

As for making records available to the public, this project has made them more available to the public than they ever were. Before this data release, those wanting to access the 1939 Register for England and Wales had to go through a fairly lengthy process and pay the eye-watering sum of £42. Now you can access the data instantly for the much more palatable price of £6.95 or, if you can make it to The National Archives in Kew, you can access the data for free.

Some Findmypast subscribers have complained that the 1939 Register is not included in their subscription and I feel their pain. I would love to be able to browse through the Register unlimited by credits and Findmypast should perhaps have been clearer earlier on that this release was not going to be included as part of the subscription package.

But again, this is no different to the 1911 census, which was also released initially on a credit basis. The 1939 project has been vastly expensive and companies simply won’t invest in these vital digitisation projects if they are not commercially viable. It is our understanding that, as with the 1911 census, the 1939 Register will eventually be included as part of a Findmypast subscription, although not surprisingly we haven’t been given a date for this.

I guess at the end of the day, we can’t expect data like this to be free. If you want to access the England and Wales 1939 Register online now, then you will unfortunately need to pay £6.95 (if you want to access the records for Scotland it will cost you £15), but you will be supporting a great digitisation project. 

I realise that this is more than many people will be willing to pay, in which case it is a question of either waiting until it is included in the Findmypast subscription or paying a visit to The National Archives in Kew (it’s a shame TNA couldn’t arrange some free access points in archives further north for those who can’t get to Kew). Hopefully in time it will be available for free in local libraries and archives across England and Wales, but for now, let’s celebrate and support this enormous undertaking.

You can find out more about the 1939 Register in the December issue of Who Do You Think You Are? Magazine on sale 24 November

 

 

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