The 1939 Identity Register goes live 2 November 2015

The 1939 Register

Explore your world on the eve of war

41 million people recorded in one day on the eve of WWII

The 1939 Register will be launched online on November 2nd by in association with The National Archives. Dubbed ‘The Wartime Domesday Book’, it is the most comprehensive survey of the population of England and Wales ever taken

On November 2nd 2015, the eagerly awaited 1939 Register will be launched online by Findmypast, a world leader in family history. Anyone can now discover their family, their home and their community on the eve of WWII. Until now, the most recent information available was the 1911 census. Owing to the 100 year rule, the 1921 census will not be released until 2022, while the 1931 census was destroyed in the war and the 1941 census was never taken. The 1939 Register therefore bridges an important 30-year gap in history.

In September 1939, WWII had just broken out. 65,000 enumerators were employed to visit every house in England and Wales to take stock of the civil population. The information that they recorded was used to issue Identity Cards, plan mass evacuations, establish rationing and co-ordinate other war-time provisions. In the longer term, the 1939 Register would go on to play a central role in the establishment of post-war services like the NHS.

Comprising 1.2 million pages in 7,000 volumes and documenting the lives of 41 million people, the 1939 Register opens a window to a world on the brink of cataclysmic change. Each record includes the names of inhabitants at each address, their date of birth, marital status and occupation. A wealth of contextual information, including period photographs never before seen online, infographics, region-specific newspaper articles and historical and contemporary maps, are personally tailored to each record, offering a rich and unique user experience unrivalled by any other family history research tool to date.

Findmypast has undertaken a monumental task in digitising the 1939 Register. Stacked end-to-end, the hard copy volumes would have reached twice the height of St Paul’s Cathedral. Work on conserving, scanning, transcribing and digitising the Register has been ongoing for more than a year. Despite the challenge of translating 65,000 unique sets of handwriting, including updates that have been made by hand up until 1991, Findmypast guarantees at least 98.5% accuracy of readable records. The result is a direct route to the past that will allow users to glimpse their family, their home and their communities in 1939, as they’ve never seen them before.

Paul Nixon, military expert at Findmypast says: “The 1939 Register is one of the most important documents of modern British history.  It allows us to see where our relatives were living, with whom and what jobs they did at the start of World War II. To help people understand the period better and to create a picture of our world in 1939, we have added a range of contextual information to bring the records to life. Maps, photographs, newspapers, and infographics will immerse the user in the period and give a flavour of what life was like for our parents or grandparents.”     

Audrey Collins, family history records specialist at The National Archives says: “The release of the 1939 Register is one of the most important events in family history in a long time. The significance of these documents cannot be underplayed; they provide a snapshot of life on the eve of war. The online publication of the 1939 Register offers us the chance to understand where our families came from, who lived in our neighbourhood, and how it has changed over the years.” 

The 1939 Register is available online only at The Register is free to search but there is a charge to view the records with different pay per view packages starting at £6.95. Owing to data protection, there will be some closed records at the time of launch, either because the individual recorded is still living and less than 100 years old or proof of death has not been verified. At time of launch 28 million records will be searchable. The Register will be updated weekly.  Findmypast, working with The National Archives, will have an ongoing process to identify records which can be opened on proof of death provided either by matching against robust data sets or supplied by users.  Records will also be opened as people reach the age of 100 years+1 day.