George Formby

The 1939 Register for England & Wales

TheGenealogist has released the 1939 Register, adding their unique and powerful search tools and SmartSearch technology. This offers a hugely flexible way to look for your ancestors at the start of the Second World War.

TheGenealogist’s well known brick wall shattering search tools include the ability to find your ancestor in 1939 by using keywords, such as the individual’s occupation or their date of birth. You can also search for an address and then jump straight to the household. If you’re struggling to find a family, you can even search using as many of their forenames as you know.

Once you’ve found a record in the 1939 Register, you can click on the street name to view all the residents on the street, potentially finding relatives living nearby.

TheGenealogist’s innovative SmartSearch technology enables you to discover even more about a person, linking to their Birth, Marriage and Death records.

The 1939 Register is a very important and useful record set that is made all the more important by the fact that the 1931 census for England and Wales was destroyed by fire during the Second World War, and no census was actually taken in 1941 because of the war. Allied to the powerful search strengths of TheGenealogist, the 1939 Register, therefore, provides us with the most complete survey of the population of England and Wales between 1921 and 1951, which makes it an invaluable resource for all family, social and local historians.

Searching the 1939 Register Online

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1939 Register Video Introduction

The 1939 Register can often reveal to you important additional information about your ancestors that will help build your family’s story. Individuals, for example, are listed with their full dates of birth. This is a huge benefit that the 1939 Register has over the census, which simply lists the age of a person.

Married Names Added

An additional benefit of the information contained in the 1939 Register is that the surnames of women were regularly updated upon their marriage because the Register continued to be updated until 1951 and then, after this, by the NHS from its inception in 1948 until they began to transfer their records to computers in 1991. This means that you can search for your female family members listed by both their maiden and married names in this data.

Living people under 100 years of age were redacted from this database due to the requirement of meeting privacy rules. However, Each year TheGenealogist will update the database with the latest unredacted records.


In September 1939, war clouds had gathered across Europe with Nazi Germany’s invasion of Poland. On the 3rd of the month; just two days later, Britain declared war on the belligerent regime. The British government found themselves in a national emergency that would require the collection of information on its people without delay.

The wholesale conscription of men into the services had to be planned for, along with the introduction of ration books to feed all the populace when the enemy would be expected to interfere with the supplies destined to an island nation such as Britain.

This called immediately for an updated list of all the population... and it couldn’t wait for the next census scheduled for 1941.

The solution was to carry out a survey of all the citizens on the 29th September 1939 and create what we know today as the 1939 Register. The resulting roll would provide the authorities with a snapshot of the civilian inhabitants of England and Wales just after the outbreak of the Second World War and it is now of immense use to family historians seeking to build our family tree.

The information gathered for the 1939 Register was not simply for the authorities to use while administering conscription and, once rationing was introduced in January 1940, to issue ration books.

National Registration Identity Cards

A National Registration Identity CardThe back of a National Registration Identity Card
Front and back of a National Registration Identity Card

Details gathered and recorded in the Register were also essential for the Government to issue identity cards for the population, as well as to plan the direction of labour. They were also used by the authorities when the monitor and control of the movement of the public became necessary at the time that military mobilisation and mass evacuation began to happen.

The massive survey that was undertaken to create the 1939 Register was intended to document the particulars of every member of the civilian population on a specific date and ascribe them a number. Military personnel were not recorded in this process as the registration of members of the armed forces was dealt with separately by the military authorities. While the 1939 Register, therefore, does not include service personnel who were either in army, naval and air force establishments on the 29th September, or even members of the forces who were resident or visiting their own home at the time, it does record people who would go on to later serve in the armed forces. The reason for this being that compulsory enlistment was actually only to begin in October of that year.

For each individual person the following details are recorded:

  • address
  • schedule number
  • sub number
  • surname
  • first name(s)
  • role (for institutions only – Officer, Visitor, Servant, Patient, Inmate)
  • gender
  • date of birth
  • marital status
  • occupation

While the 1939 Register is not a census, it is arranged along similar lines and includes similar, if less detailed, information. It does, however, show exact dates of birth where census returns simply give a person’s age.

The civilian population

  • These records do include the civilian populations of:
    • England
    • Wales
  • These records do not, however, include the civilian populations of:
    • Channel Islands
    • Isle of Man
    • Scotland
    • Northern Ireland
  • The records do include
    • members of the armed forces on leave
    • civilians on military bases

How the Register was compiled and arranged

Information is arranged by:

  • enumeration district – each enumeration district has a unique four- or five-letter code, and large enumeration districts may comprise of more than one book
  • household or institution – each household or institution is represented by a schedule number. A large institution such as a hospital may be an enumeration district in its own right
  • national registration number – each person is represented by a sub-number within the household or institution

When preparing the Register, the General Register Office used the plans already in place for what would have been the 1941 Census. It was based on registration districts and sub-districts, and was administered by Superintendent Registrars and Registrars of Births and Deaths.

The enumeration districts used for the Register were based broadly on those used for the 1931 Census, adjusted to account for the population movements since 1931. They were subdivided into smaller units for National Registration purposes. The general rule was that an enumeration district should contain no more than 300 households, not counting institutions.

The final arrangement of the Register was not by registration district, as in a census, but according to the boundaries of local government units. These were the bodies responsible for the Local National Registration Offices and Food Offices, who maintained and updated information in the Register. These were County Boroughs, Municipal Boroughs, Urban Districts and Rural Districts, except in London which was made up of Metropolitan Boroughs and the Cities of London and Westminster.

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