Find your ancestors in 1939 Register

1939 Register

The 1939 Register is one of the most important twentieth-century genealogical resources for England and Wales. The 1931 census was destroyed by fire. No census was taken in 1941 because of the war. So the 1939 Register is the only national census-like resource available for this period.

Once war became inevitable the British Government knew they had to issue National Identity cards. They planned for the wide-scale mobilisation of the population and the eventual introduction of rationing. The most recent census was now almost a decade old, so more up-to-date statistics were needed. Some preparations had already begun for the 1941 census, so the Government capitalised on this to take a register of the civilian population. They issued Identity cards immediately afterwards (which were used until 1952).

The Government constantly updated and changed the 1939 Register over time to take account of changes of address or deaths. When they introduced rationing in 1941, they planned it with information from the 1939 Register. The 1939 Register eventually formed the basis of the NHS registration system.

Each record contains a transcript and an image of the original entry in the 1939 Register. Like a census, the Register can tell you a lot about how your ancestors actually lived. You can find out if your ancestors had servants or staff, who their neighbours were, how many children they had and what they all did for a living.

What information can I expect to see in a record? Each person’s record contains:

  • Name
  • Full date of birth
  • Address
  • Marital status
  • Occupation

Most people are recorded as a member of a household. Some people are recorded as a member of an institution. In this case, they are classified with one of 5 letters:

  • O – Officer
  • V – Visitor
  • S – Servant
  • P – Patient
  • I – Inmate

What can I expect to find out about the occupation of my ancestor?

You can find out very precise details about the occupation of your ancestor. If they were a farm worker, you can find out what kind of farm they worked on. If they worked in a factory, you can find out what the factory produced. You can find out whether your ancestor made the goods they sold, if they worked in a shop. If they worked in medicine or the law you can discover what branch they specialised in.

The 1939 Register required people to explain exactly what they did. The notes that came with the form were very precise about how to note the occupation. General terms, often found on previous census documents, such as Foreman, Overseer, Doctor, Mill-hand, Porter or Farmer, were not acceptable. Instead, people were asked to be as specific as possible, giving details of the trade, manufacture or branch of a profession.