Great news for anyone interested in British genealogy. The 1939 Register has been released online and can now be freely accessed here at the State Library through the FindMyPast UK and Ancestry databases.

What is the 1939 register?

The 1939 register is one of the most important British documents of the twentieth century and provides a snapshot of the civilian population of England and Wales just after the outbreak of the Second World War.

In December 1938 the House of Commons announced that in the event of war, a National Register would be taken that listed the personal details of every civilian in Great Britain and Northern Ireland. This Register  would be used to coordinate the war effort at home and would be used to issue identity cards, organise rationing and plan mass evacuations.

War was declared on September 3 and shortly after it was announced that National Registration Day would take place on September 29. Forms were issued to more than 41 million people and on September 29 enumerators collected information from every household in Great Britain and Northern Ireland, issuing identify cards on the spot.

George Orwell - 1939 register

A page displaying the residents of Wallington village, Hertfordshire. At number 97 The Stones lived Eric Arthur Blair – better known by his pen name George Orwell. (Click to enlarge)

Why use it?

The 1939 register is a highly useful resource for family and local historians as it’s the only surviving record of the British population between 1921 and 1951. The 1931 census was destroyed when a fire swept through the Office of Works in Middlesex in 1941. During the Second World War no 1941 census was taken. You can search the register by name, by street and by occupation and each record includes the names of all inhabitants at each address, their full date of birth, marital status and occupation.

Viginia WoolfTranscription of the entry for Virginia and Leonard Woolf, Monks House, Sussex. (Click to enlarge)

Churchill - 1939 register

The entry for Winston Churchill, his wife and household staff (Click to enlarge).
At the time time of National Registration Churchill was First Lord of the Admiralty. You will notice that his entry was later annotated with the occupation – Prime Minister.

Closed records

For privacy reasons, information about living people will be kept closed for 100 years from their year of birth, or until proof of death has been confirmed. Some search results will contain blanked out lines, which indicates closed records of individuals deemed to be alive.

If you find an officially closed record for someone who has died,  you can request that it be opened. Click here for more information.

What’s not included?

These records do not include the civilian populations of:

  • the Channel Islands
  • the Isle of Man
  • Scotland (for information relating to records of individuals living in Scotland at the time of the 1939 Register please contact National Records of Scotland)
  • Northern Ireland (for information relating to records of individuals living in Northern Ireland at the time of 1939 Register please contact Public Record Office of Northern Ireland)
  • Armed forces personnel (unless they were on leave at the time the register was compiled).

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