02 November 2015
The 1939 Register has been released today in association with The National Archives. What can we learn about our ancestors on the
The 1939 Register has been released today in association with The National Archives. What can we learn about our ancestors on the eve of the Second World War?
Taken just a few weeks after the start of World War 2, the 1939 Register is effectively a census of the population – a snapshot of our ancestors in those still and steady days of the phoney war. On Friday 29 September 1939 the enumerators dished out the registration forms, and by Monday 2 October, with impressive orderliness, everyone had been issued with an identity card. This wasn’t the sole purpose of the operation, though – it was also to help the Government plan for rationing, manpower, conscription, and evacuation. Okay, the war may not have kicked off ‘big style’ on the Home Front; but the powers-that-be knew that major disruption was on the way and they needed to manage a population on the move. And it wasn’t just the men being rapidly mobilised (the British Army almost doubled from September 1939 to June 1940): Operation Pied Piper would oversee the evacuation of 3.5 million women and children, away from the big cities and anticipated air raids.
So, quite aside from these massive numbers, what can you discover about your individual ancestors? The registers record the name, date of birth, address and occupation for each person. Usually when searching family history databases, we recommend ‘less is more’. However, to search the 1939 Register most accurately we recommend entering your ancestor’s precise date of birth in the first instance, and completing the name fields for the second person in the household where known.
The records released on Findmypast.co.uk cover England and Wales, and reveal details for ancestors either born more than a century ago, or who died before 1991. If your ancestor was born within the last century but died after 1991 then their details will be currently redacted. As the century elapses, or if you present proof of death (ie a death certificate) to Findmypast, the details of further ancestors will become available to view online.
The details revealed by the 1939 Register are particularly exciting as the most recent census available to date is the 1911, the 1921 Census won’t be available for family historians to search until the 100 years’ closure period is up, and the 1931 Census has long since gone up in smoke. And it is thanks to the efforts of Guy Etchells and Steven Smyrl in their Freedom of Information campaign to enable public access to the 1939 Register, that we are able to view these records at all.
The digitised 1939 Register collection is available to search for free at Findmypast.co.uk but you will need to buy credits to view images, or it’s free on site at The National Archives, Kew. We would love to hear about your searches and discoveries found in the 1939 Register – please email [email protected].