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What does the 1939 Register mean for family historians?

Find my past author
23 October 2015

There's a lot of excitement about the impending release of the 1939 Register, but what exactly does this mean for family historians? We asked Product Manager and keen genealogist Estelle Calfe to tell us more.

Over the last few months all we've talked about in the office is 1939. For us family historians we can't wait to see it. But what makes it so exciting?

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First and foremost it's the closest record set we're going to get to a census for a while. The next census due to be released is the 1921 census and we are not likely to see that before 2022. The 1931 census was destroyed and there wasn't one taken in 1941.

Let's be clear though, the 1939 Register is just that, it's a register of people living in England and Wales in September 1939. It is not a census. But, it does contain some really useful information that we don't get on any of the census returns.

It contains some really useful information that we don't get on any of the census returns

You're probably wondering what you'll get. You'll see a household, as you do with a census. So, if I search for my Grandad I should find him with my Grandma, my Dad and my uncle living in Lincolnshire at the time the Register was taken.

In the 1939 Register the enumerator took down everyone's date of birth, so this is one of the great things about the record set. Usually, to get a date of birth you'd have to search the England and Wales birth index, take down the volume and page number and then contact the General Register Office and order a copy at a cost of £9.25. So the 1939 Register is going to give you the dates of birth of everyone in the house saving you a lot of time!

The 1939 Register is going to give you the dates of birth of everyone in the house

Also you will find out what names the people in the household have also been known by. This could include maiden names or changes by deed poll. The register itself was maintained up until 1991, so the other names could be names the people in the house were known as prior to 1939 and also up until 1991. For example, I'd expect to see my auntie who was 4 when the Register was taken, then I'd expect to see the name she took when she married in 1960. Again, usually you'd find this information out by ordering copies of birth and marriage certificates.

For family historians this record set is really going to help to bridge the gap between 1939 and the present day. It's going to give us some context around life for our parents and grandparents in 1939. For anyone new to family history it's going to be a great place to start. When I started building my family tree back in 1995 I had to go to the General Register Office at St Catherine's House in London, leaf through the massive birth indexes to find my grandparents, then order birth certificates to find out their dates of births and the names and occupations of their parents. With the 1939 Register you'll be able to do this within just a few clicks from the comfort of your own home. Family History doesn't get any easier than this!

To sign up for updates on the 1939 Register and its release,
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