Find out what your ancestors were doing on the eve of WW2 by searching the 1939 Register on Findmypast, its official online home, in partnership with the National Archives. Discover exactly what they did for a living, maps of where they lived and even who their neighbours were. Or click on the address tab to search for your own address, or an address you know, to see who was living there in September 1939. Then you can put it all in context. Read newspaper articles and see photographs from the era.
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:
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:
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.
What else does the transcript of a record contain?
The transcript gives you the information from the record in an easy-to-read form. You can also see an image of the original handwritten record.
On the transcript page, you can also find many additional materials to help you better understand the record:
Articles and photographs – Find out more about life in wartime Britain.
Archive newspaper reports – Get a feel for the period. You can look at more newspapers in our newspaper collection – see the Useful links section on this page.
Detailed maps – See the address as it was in earlier times and how it is now. Maps display a marker pin which, for over 70% of the records, indicates the address to street level. Where there is no marker pin, you see displayed the borough/district instead. There are 3 maps – 2 historic, and 1 modern:
Ordnance Survey 1888 – 1913. Scale: 6 inches to the mile
Ordnance Survey 1937-1961. Scale: 1 inch to 25,000 inches
Open Street map of the present day. You can zoom in and out of the maps and you can make them full screen too.
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.
Here are some tips on the many ways you can search the 1939 Register:
Name of person – The 1939 Register can include different names for people at different points in their lives from 1939 to 1991. It was usually annotated when people married, divorced, were adopted or changed their name. You can enter any of their first names or last names in the First name or Last name field and the search engine will find them. You can also enter more than one name in these fields – for example, Smith Jones in the Last name will pull up people who were called Smith at one point and Jones at another.
Name of second person – You can search for a second person in the household. This has a variants tickbox so you can include searches for alternative spellings.
Address – To search by address, simply click on the Address tab at the top of the page. You don't have to give a house number. The street name alone will bring back all the houses on that street. Please note that there are some places that are missing from the original manuscript of the 1939 Register. For a list of known missing places, follow the link in the Useful links and resources section.
Date – You can search for a year of birth with plus or minus a number of years. You can search by birthday alone – for example, 5 March would be entered Day 5, Month 3. You can even just search by day, or day and year, or month and year. Remember that when you enter a year, you benefit from a more flexible search – for example, searching 10 years either side of 1 Jan 1900 will return you all the people with 1 Jan birthdays from 1890 to 1910.
Occupation – You can search occupation by keywords to find words with the same stem – for example, entering ‘coal’ will find ‘coal mining’, ‘coalminer’ and also ‘coal miner’ (but it won’t find related occupations that don’t contain the word ‘coal’, such as ‘hewer’).
Sex – You can search by sex – male or female. Some records are labelled ‘unknown’, because the sex wasn’t recorded in the 1939 Register. Entering ‘unknown’ in the search field will bring up only these records.
General search – You can do a general search without looking for a name. For example, you can search for all women working in cinema by selecting Female in Sex and Cinema in Occupation. Or you could look for all the gardeners in Suffolk by searching for Gardener in Occupation and Suffolk in County.
Technical search – If you know the TNA reference for the page you are looking for, you can search by Piece number and Item number. You must complete both of these fields, not just one.
Here are explanations of some of the codes and other peculiarities that crop up when searching the 1939 Register:
Borough/district – This refers to the enumeration districts used in 1939. Those outside of London include various abbreviations after them:
R.D – rural district
U.D – urban district
M.B – municipal borough
C.B – county borough
E.D. letter codes – Enumeration District letter codes are displayed on the transcript and image.
Enumeration Districts – These start in London with AAA, then spiral out to an area corresponding roughly with modern Greater London boroughs, the surrounding Home Counties, an outer ring from Bedfordshire round to Hampshire and the Isle of Wight, the North East, the Lake District, Yorkshire, the North West, West Midlands, East Midlands, East Anglia, South West and finally Wales. Within each of these districts the counties are listed alphabetically, not geographically.
London – This starts with the City of London, followed by an alphabetical sequence of all the Metropolitan Boroughs and finally the City of Westminster.
Counties – Within each 'county' the County Boroughs come first, then the Municipal Boroughs and Urban Districts (combined), and finally the Rural Districts. Each section is in alphabetical order.
Yorkshire – This is divided into the three ridings.
Lincolnshire – This is divided into Holland, Kesteven and Lindsey.
Sussex – This is divided into East and West.
Isle of Wight – This is listed on its own, and not as part of Hampshire.
Rutland – This is a county on its own, and isn't lumped in with Leicestershire.
East Midlands – This finishes with the Soke of Peterborough, as though it were a separate county.
Cambridgeshire – Quite a lot of what we consider Cambridgeshire is actually listed as the Isle of Ely.
Birmingham and Bristol – These big cities both straddle county boundaries but are listed only in Warwickshire and Gloucestershire, respectively.
If you think that someone should appear on the 1939 Register because they’ve died, you can request online a copy of their death certificate from the General Register Office (GRO), included in the Useful links section on this page. A certificate costs £9.25.
You can find the date of death, and further details needed by the GRO for anyone who died before 2007, in our England & Wales deaths, also included in the Useful links section.