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10 Tips for Searching the 1939 Register Like a Pro

Picture of Niall Cullen - Senior Content Strategist
Niall Cullen
14 November 2016

There are features in the 1939 Register you won't find in other collections. Read this to make the most of them

To help you take advantage of the Register and everything it has to offer your family research, we've put together a list of expert tips that will have you navigating it in no time.

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1. Browse Away

As well as being fully indexed and searchable, you can also
browse the 1939 Register. Browse offers you the ability to explore page-by-page. You can even narrow what you're looking for by county, borough/district, piece number, and ED letter code. More on those latter two later.

2. Search by Address

This feature is particularly useful if you are researching house history. To search by address, switch from the Person tab to the Address tab at the top of the advanced search page. Search for any street in England and Wales and you will be shown the list of houses in that street in 1939. If you want to broaden your search you can focus on all addresses in a particular borough/district, county or country.

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Address search allows you to narrow by street, district, county and country

Plus, in a recent improvement we've made to the 1939 simple search, when you start typing the name of an area in the 'Where (England or Wales)' field, our clever search tools will suggest possible matches, so you can find a particular location quicker.

3. Search by Birth Date

Unlike census records, the 1939 Register recorded full birth dates. This allows you to pinpoint the exact person you're searching for quickly and easily. Of course, if you don't have full date of birth information, you can also search by birth year and include our usual search parameters between zero and forty years.

4. Look for Other Household Members

This is one of the most useful search features of the Register and one that is also present in most of our census collections. If the person you're searching for 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 as each record contaisn all the information of whoever was in the property at the time the register was taken.

5. Know Your TNA References

Perhaps one for the more advanced genealogists, if you have located a physical 1939 Register record at the National Archives in London, and have its reference number, you can search for it by entering the piece and item number. Both of these fields must be completed for the search to work, but it's a sure-fire way to know you have located the correct record.

6. Realise Some Places are Missing

There are some known places in England and Wales that are missing from the original manuscript of the 1939 Register. They are believed to have been missed during the original national registration in September 1939 and therefore won't appear in the physical or online records. Click
here to see the affected areas.

7. Understand Institution Codes

If people are recorded as a member of an institution rather than a household, you'll see them categorised with one of the following letters - O = officer, V = visitor, S = Servant, P = Patient or I = Inmate.

8. Learn Some Social History

As our premium record set, the 1939 Register not only includes original records but maps, statistics, photographs and newspapers clippings from the time too. The maps offer three historical perspectives of the area you are looking at with a marker pin showing the exact address of the household or institution you're viewing. You can view a map from 1888-1913, another from 1937-1961 and a present day map. The newspapers and photographs all date from the wartime-era and usually come from the place you're viewing a record from. This all adds up to an unrivalled resource for discovering the social history of England and Wales in 1939.

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A 1937-1961 Ordnance Survey map of Nottingham

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Newspaper clipping from Nottingham Evening Post, 25 March 1944

9. Get Help Deciphering Codes

As you delve into the Register, you may see codes you don't understand. For example, E.D. letter codes are Enumeration District codes that appear on both the transcripts and images. For a full explanation of the different codes you may encounter visit the
search page, scroll down to 'Search tips' and click on 'What help can I get to better understand the search results?'

10. Update Us

While searching you'll notice that some records are marked as 'officially closed'. This is down to privacy regulations preventing us from publishing records of anyone born less than 100 years ago and still alive. The Register was updated until 1991, meaning the record of anyone who died after 1991 might still be closed. If you find a closed record for someone you know has died you can request this record to be opened by providing a copy of their death certificate. Likewise, if you discover the record of a person who is still living that has been opened in error you can request it to be closed. Simply click 'Open a closed record' or 'Close an open record' when viewing the household.

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