If you're in the early stages of building your family tree in the countries of England and Wales, your first record stop should be the 1939 Register.
A Brief History of the Comprehensive Survey in the UK
While researching this post, I learned that the 1939 Register was the most thorough survey ever taken of England and Wales civilians. This record helps British family historians research around the record loss of the 1931 Census and the non-existent 1941 enumeration.
During the Second World War, the 1931 census records were destroyed by fire. Because of the conflict, the government could not take the 1941 accounting. Without the 1939 register, British researchers would have a gateway genealogy record set from 1921 to 1951.
Thankfully, the 1939 Register records the names and biographical details of 41 million civilians in England and Wales.
Be advised, individuals in the military were not included in this recordset. Additionally, persons living in Scotland, Northern Ireland, the Channel Islands, and the Isle of Man were excluded as well. Sadly, if your English or Wales ancestor visited these excluded places on registration night, they won't be in the 1939 register either. They would be registered later.
However, you might find foreign visitors, including embassies and consular staff.
The Register recorded the following information on the population:
Exact birth dates
Addresses on the date of registration
Occupations and supplementary duties (such as fire watchers)
Skills that the individual wasn't currently pursuing
Name changes - when a surname was crossed out and another written in (i.e., married women, adoptees, correction to the records.)
Potential marriage date - typically written beside the surname change of a woman
Schedule Number - the number given to each household or institution
National Registration Number – the number given to each person within a household or institution
While this record provides a lot of information, what you do not get are the following:
Places of birth
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Findmypast's Technology Helped Make 4 Million Names Accessible
While the 1939 Register recorded 41 million names, 10 million of those could not be accessible to the public due to British privacy laws.
Apparently, Findmypast developed a technology to identify which of those 10 million individuals were deceased. Through this technology, 4 million more names because available, which is a blessing for genealogical researchers.
How to Access the 1939 Register
The most complete collection of images and indexes for the 1939 Register is found on the Findmypast.com website.
Watch this video to watch step-by-step, how to research the 1939 Register on Findmypast.
How to Search the 1939 Register
Click on the 1939 Register search page on Findmypast.
Use the database search to find your relatives by:
You can also search for another household member or the names of suspected neighbors.
Bonus Search Tip: Always cast a wide net and then narrow it down as necessary.
Warning: be open to the possibility that your ancestor was in a location you would expect to find them. Many people had moved to odd locations away from London and big cities for safety reasons.
Two other groups of individuals known to be recorded at addresses where they didn't normally reside are traveling salesman and hop-pickers. Thus, do not be hampered by the addresses being contrary to what you expected.
Once you find a family member in the Register, be sure to scroll to the bottom of the transcription page. There are several delightful bits of historical context and a map that you won't want to overlook.
How to Browse the 1939 Register
Click on the 1939 Register browse page on Findmypast.
Then key in one of the following:
numeration district code (‘ED Letter Code’) such as DVIA
numbers from National Registration Identity Cards or ration book
Continue Learning about the 1939 Register
The British National Archives has a great post that can detail why your relatives do not appear in the 1939 Register. Read that post here.
A great lecture about the process of creating the 1939 Register is available from the British National Archives on their YouTube channel. Watch it here.
To learn more about other collections on Findmypast, check out these posts: