10 things you should know about the 1939 Register

The 1939 Register acts as a fantastic census substitute taken at the outbreak of the Second World War. We've put together 10 things you should know about the register so you can get the most out of it.

British actor Alec Guinness (1914 - 2000) with his fiance Merula Salaman 19th May 1938. They met while both working for John Gielgud's stage company at the Queen's Theatre in London. (Photo by Keystone/Hulton Archive/Getty Images)

The 1939 Register is 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. The 1939 Register is also now available as part of an Ancestry subscription.

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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.

Alec G Household

4. Who lived on my street?

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. You could even compile a little history of your street and share it with neighbours.

Alec G Original

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. Unlock closed records

The records of those born less than 100 years ago are protected with a black line saying the record is officially closed. Many records have been opened earlier where proof of death has been provided. You will need to submit an Evidence of Death form to Findmypast including a copy of the relevant death certificate.

10. 1939 Register in Scotland and Northern Ireland

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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.