In association with The National Archive

Getting started with the 1939 Register

The 1939 Register is different from other, comparable record sets. To reflect this, we’ve put together this short guide to help you get the most out of your search.

If you’re wondering how to start exploring the 1939 Register, we’ve created this short video that tells you everything you need to know about making your first search. If you’d like to know more, continue reading and we’ll give you some helpful tips and tricks that will assist in refining your search and allow you to discover a world on the eve of war.

Exploring the 1939 Register

In the Register, you have the opportunity to carry out a free search using a wide range of fields that can help you to identify the correct record prior to unlocking it, whether you're looking for an individual, a household or an institution.

As you can see, the 1939 Register advanced search screen allows you to search by name, precise date of birth (you can also be more vague, searching only by year), sex, occupation, marital status, street, district and more.

What's also useful is the option to search by other household member. This means that if the person for whom you're searching has a common name, but was living with someone with a more distinct name in 1939 then you can add them to the search to refine your results.

You'll notice the TNA Reference box. This is for those of you who have a reference from The National Archives for a specific record, which will allow you to go directly to the individual you're searching for.

As well as searching for an individual, you can search for a household or institution by address on this search screen:

1939 Register Address Search screenshot

This gives you the opportunity to explore who lived at your house in 1939, clear up any mysteries concerning the whereabouts of family members and more. It's particularly useful for researchers interested in the history of a specific household, street or institution.

How will I know I have the right person?

Locked household table exampleBefore you commit to unlocking a record, you'll be taken through to a preview page. On this page, you'll be given information about the person's name, year of birth, town and county of residence. In addition, you'll be able to see how many other people lived in the house at the time and how many of them are closed due to being younger than 100 and still alive.

With this information, you can confirm that you've found the correct record or household. The image above shows the preview for Lily Phillips. We can see that she was born in 1898, is resident in Bolton, Lancashire and lives with three other people, one of whom has a closed record (either because they were born after 1915 and are still alive, or born after 1915 and their death hasn't been recorded in the register). With this free information, we hope to help you to be more confident that the correct record has been found.

If your search returns zero results, edit your search. Often, less is more, so if your search is fruitless you can go back to the search screen and remove specific details such as addresses or ages that may have been recorded in a different way to the information you’ve inputted.

If you still receive no results, there’s a chance that the record of the person you’re searching for is officially closed.

Officially closed records

Owing to privacy regulations, we can’t show you the personal details of people in the Register who were born less than 100 years and a day ago and are still alive. In your results, you will see that some records are marked as ‘officially closed’.

The Register was updated until 1991, meaning that anyone who was born less than 100 years and a day ago but died prior to 1991 will have their record opened automatically. If the person died after 1991, we can accept scans of death certificates as evidence of death. If you feel that a record is officially closed erroneously, you can submit a request along with evidence of death to have that record made available to view. This process is free for Findmypast subscribers, but a purchase will still be necessary to view the record.

In order to submit this request, select ‘Close an open record’ if you’re a Findmypast subscriber or ‘Ask TNA to open a closed record’ if you’re not. The process takes a few days, and we destroy any digital copies we have of certificates soon after receiving them.