1939 Register – An important 20th century record. With the news that FindMyPast has added the 1939 Register to all their subscriptions, I thought it opportune to write a post about the register. I am sure most of you don’t know, but in the blogging world most posts are planned and written 3 months in advance. But when an announcement such as this is made the plan gets thrown out the window and the schedule reshuffled ! However I really don’t mind as I am so pleased that all of you with FindMyPast subscriptions can now access this vital 20th century record. Let me tell you all about it and why I am so excited to have it more widely available.
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1939 Register – An Important 20th Century Record – Background
In the years before WW2 the British government knew that war was almost inevitable, it is thought that Neville Chamberlain in his
famous “Peace in Our Time” speech in 1938 was really buying time to ready the country for war. One of the important strategies that had to be undertaken was taking a census of everyone who was living in the UK. The usual ten year census was due to take place in 1941 which would be too late to be of any use. It was vital that a complete list of inhabitants was made so that identity cards could be issued, ration books handed out and people could be conscripted into the services and essential industries. For these reasons the 1939 Register was created. It is known that a few people weren’t registered, mainly so they could avoid being conscripted into the services, but having said that it is believed to be an almost complete record.
The register is made up of a massive 7,000 volumes, each volume has 2,000 households. In all 41 million individuals. Unlike the 1911 census the documents that we see aren’t the forms filled in by the head of the household, but the lists that were created from those forms.
1939 Register – An Important 20th Century Record – The Documents
The 1939 Register forms were sent out to every household and institution in the country and enumerators were recruited whose job it was to collect and check that the forms were filled in properly. Once that was done the enumerator then issued identity cards immediately for each individual living in the household. Once an identity card was issued it had to be carried at all times, this requirement lasted until 1952.
So what does the Register tell us? It gives the following information
- Full name
- Date of birth
- Marital status
- If a member of the military or military reserve, but only if they were at home on leave.
- Role if the listing is of an institution. For example, patient, nurse, warder, prisoner
There a number of things you need to know about the register.
If a woman married after the register was taken then the register was amended with her new surname. This happened for many years after WW2 ended. This is an amazing help for genealogists.
Those servicemen and women living in military bases or billeted elsewhere were not included. Presumably because this information could be helpful to the enemy if they gained access to the information. However civilian’s living on military bases were included. So you might find a wife and children living in married quarters listed, but no husband even if he was living at home at the time.
Those in prison or other institutions were included in the register, with full details given unlike some census where initials only were recorded.
The 1939 Register on FindMyPast covers England and Wales only. It does not include the Channel Isles, Isle of Man, Scotland or Northern Ireland.
If you wish to access the register for Scotland you will need to fill out a form, print it off with payment of £15 per person. You will have to supply name, and date of birth if known and a death certificate. Click here for further details. For details of people living in Northern Ireland you need to contact the Public Record Office of Northern Ireland (PRONI). Click here for further details. I was unable to find the fee payable for getting Northern Ireland records, but I understand the application has to go under the Freedom of Information Act.
I understand that the register for the Isle of Man has been lost so isn’t available, but I can’t find anything about if the Channel Isles register still exists. I have sent a few emails out, but not heard anything back as yet.
Some records are blanked out, that is because the person listed has a birth date which indicates that they are under 100 years old. You can ask that a persons details are release so they can be viewed if you can supply a death certificate. Application can be made to The National Archives or FindMyPast. FindMyPast did cross reference the register with the GRO Death Indexes which allowed many records to be opened up, but if a death occurred overseas or a death in the index could be 100% confirmed as the person in the register then it is still redacted.
The register was used by the National Health Service (NHS) up until 1991 and the page on the right hand side contains details written in by the NHS. These pages are not available for viewing by the public. The actual register is still held by the NHS and is not available for public viewing.
Remember that prior to the 1939 Register being compiled many children, pregnant mothers etc were evacuated to what were believed to be safer areas. Therefore don’t limit your searches to where the family should have been, especially if they normally lived in cities.
1939 Register – An Important 20th Century Record – Summary
I hope this post has shown why I am so excited that FindMyPast has released the 1939 Register to all it’s subscribers. It is such a unique snapshot of the country before it became immersed in WW2. The fact that if a woman married after 1939 her new surname might be included will be very helpful to family historians. Plus the inclusion of a date of birth, not required in a normal census will help to link up birth indexes etc especially where a surname is common. (A genealogy friend of mine, Sandra Smith, tells me that I shouldn’t say “common surnames” they are just popular!)
The National Archives has an online guide to the register – click here to access.
1939 Register – An Important 20th Century Record
Images – Neville Chamberlain -By Bundesarchiv, Bild 183-H12967 / CC-BY-SA 3.0, CC BY-SA 3.0 de, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=5433968. Carless Talk by Leslie Grimes [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons. Leave this Sonny – By Ministry of Health (publisher/sponsor), Cowes, Dudley S (artist), J Weiner Ltd, 71/5 New Oxford Street, London WC1 (printer), Her Majesty’s Stationery Office (publisher/sponsor) [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons
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