What is the 1939 Register?

By Editor, 9 May 2018 - 6:09am

As Ancestry joins Findmypast and adds the 1939 Register to its collection, WDYTYA? editor Sarah Williams explains why the register is an essential family history tool

1939 Register
A family fills in their national registration forms, London, 1939 (Credit: Getty Images)

The 1939 Register is a record of the population of Great Britain taken on 29 September 1939 in preparation for war. The register was used for the issue of ration books and for conscription into the armed forces. After the war it was used as the foundation for the Central Register of the NHS.

Ancestry adds 1939 Register to its collections 


The 1939 Register for England and Wales has been digitised and has been available on Findmypast since 2015, however earlier this year it was added to MyHeritage and it has also just been added to Ancestry.

Records for Northern Ireland have not been put online, but it is free to request an extract. However, you need to provide an address or at least a street or townland. Unless you are requesting details of someone who was born over 100 years ago, you will also need to provide proof of death.

The 1939 Register for Scotland has also not been put online yet. However, it is possible to request, by post, details of an individual for a fee of £15 plus postage. This excludes anyone who is or may be alive, so you may need to include a death certificate with your application.

Get more from the 1939 Register

1939 Register annotated

(Copyright: The National Archives)

1. Date of birth

The inclusion of dates of birth is one of the elements that makes the 1939 Register so valuable to family historians. However, as always with many official documents, the accuracy of the information depends on the person who supplied it. Where people wanted to disguise their age, you may find that the year is wrong but the day and month are more likely to be correct.

2. Redactions

Individual records remain closed until 100 years after the person’s date of birth, unless they are known to be deceased. Where the NHS was notified of a death before 1991, this was noted and the record would be opened when the register was released online, but most deaths that occurred overseas would not have been notified, including war deaths.  

3. Column 11

This column is mostly left blank, but interesting snippets of information appear against some names. These often refer to war service on the home front, such as ARP (Air Raid Precautions) wardens, Special Constables or volunteers with the Red Cross and similar organisations. Occasionally you will see that a person belonged to a military or naval reserve, or even find a service number when they later joined the armed forces. Much later additions might include the abbreviations “PWC” (Post-War Credits) or “FA” (Family Allowance). 

4. Married name amendments

Because the paper register was updated until 1991, it includes changes of name. These are mostly where women changed their surnames on marriage or remarriage, but include other changes of name such as corrections and changes by deed poll. While National Registration was in force, until 1952, it was a legal requirement to notify all changes of name; after that date most but not all changes appear in the register.

5. Abreviations

There is no key to most of the codes that appear against names in the register, and different ones were used during the half-century when the paper register was in use. Some are accompanied by a date, which will be the date when the register was updated; this may be the date of the event itself, such as a marriage. Sometimes there is a three-letter area code to show that the person had moved to another district.

6. 'See page xx'

Some entries are crossed out in red, and marked “See page XXX”. This occurs where a person’s line in the Postings column was full, and a new one had to be made on a spare page at the back of the book. These are ‘continuation entries’, and you can browse through the images to the relevant page.

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