The 1939 Register


When I was writing my blog last week on the 1921 Census of England and Wales, I mentioned the 1939 Register. I planned on linking back to an earlier blog on the topic and discovered, l never wrote about this resource (I was confused since I had done research on it for a lecture I was preparing on Findmypast.) Remember that your ancestor, or members of the family, might have settled in England or Scotland. So here's the blog I thought I wrote.😀


The 1939 Register, taken on the 29 September 1939, represents the most comprehensive survey of England, Wales (and Northern Ireland, although that is not included in this database). It was used to create identity cards, Ration books and to coordinate conscription among other things the beginning of World War II. It contains names and addresses, plus full birth dates, marital status, occupation and neighbors. The UK has a 100 year privacy rule, so the release of this document was a huge win for genealogists. Because of the destruction of the 1931 census during WW II, and the lack of a census in 1941 because of the War, the Register fills in this 30 year gap between the 1921 and 1951 censuses. There are individuals, however, who are redacted from the Register because they were born less than 100 years ago, and there is no proof of their death. If you have a deceased ancestor or family member who is redacted, you can get this information opened if you can provide proof of their death.


Some people commented last week about how disappointed they were that the 1921 Census was not going to be included in their subscription. That was also the case initially with the 1939 Register when it was released in 2015. Findmypast was selected by the National Archives (UK) for the project. The charge to view the full transcription and image was a way to recoup some of their expenses. Findmypast also suggests other records such as birth, death and census records for the individual. The appearance of The Register on other websites didn't occur until 2018: Ancestry Index and Images; MyHeritage Index Only - no Images. By that time, the Register was folded in to Findmypast's Ultimate subscription. You can read about the process involved in creating the 1921 Census here.


When you search the Register today, you see the transcription page shown below. It lists the people in the household, and although it doesn’t have relationships, the names are taken down in the same order as a census beginning with the head of the family, the spouse, the children then any others. When this was done in September of 1939, the census bureau was already actively preparing for the 1941 census, and so they used the procedures and in many cases the enumerators who had already been trained. In this case, John King born 6 Jan 1871…you get the exact birth date as the person gave it (John's birth record reads 7 Jan 1871, so not too far off), which can help you find the birth record if you don't already have it. Also in the household are his wife, Catherine and three (assumed) children, John, Edward and Catherine.

1939 Register Transcription, John King Household, Findmypast

You also have a map (which you can enlarge) with the address and exact location of the house and some general information about the area in 1939.

If you have an Ultimate subscription, you can view the image of the record. The redacted lines represent those born within the last 100 years with no proof of death. You can see that the transcriber wrote down exactly what was on the original...Edward's name was written first, then corrected to show the older son, John.

1939 Register Image of the John King Household in Durham, England

So why is Frost written in for Catherine? Beginning in 1948, the Register was also used for the National Health Service. Individuals were required to keep addresses and names up to date. When a woman married and changed her name it was updated in the register—the notation in the left column shows this was done the 22 December 1944. This is not the marriage date, but the date the register was changed, but you should be able to identify the marriage before that date. Catherine married Frost so again you have the information to obtain a copy of the marriage record. The General Register Office of the UK holds only indexes for births and deaths, so you need to go to the County Register Office. For Durham, I searched for a Frost married between 1941 and 1950 (their criteria) and came up with Arthur R. Frost who married Catherine King. I could order the certificate right from the results page and it would be mailed to me for £11.00. If you have British (or Irish) ancestors with family members that remained in England or Wales, this database is a must! It will allow you to identify cousins that may still be living. Perhaps you have a Frost that has shown up on your DNA match list and you had no idea how they might be related…This could be a hint. Like all records it will point you to other sources. This record, for example, sent me to the 1901 and 1911 Census of England, which showed that John's first wife had died. It also told me that John and his first wife were both born in County Down and his second wife was born in Durham. I was able to use the GRO UK to find the death record for his first wife, and the marriage record for his second marriage, along with the birth records for the children born in England (his first marriage and the birth of his first two children were registered in Ireland).


What about The Register for Northern Ireland? According to Claire Santry the Northern Ireland Register is at PRONI, however because of National Registration Act 1939 prohibited publication, it has been unavailable. For all of the reasons the Register is important in the rest of the UK, it is even more important for Northern Ireland since the 1926 Census for Northern Ireland was destroyed. That basically takes the gap in census records for Northern Ireland from 1911 to 1951. The card index for the Northern Ireland Register is by address, so if you know where your family is in 1939, you can make a Freedom of Information Request if you can prove that the person was born more than 100 years ago and can provide the death information. Not an easy process, but I plan to look into it a bit more when I'm in Belfast in May.


Happy Hunting and Stay Safe!



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