Posted by Kristen Hyde on May 24, 2018 in Collections, Research, United Kingdom

The 1939 Register is a valuable resource for family history research, particularly it learning more about your more recent relatives. It is the only surviving overview of people in UK and Wales from 1921 to 1951 – the 1931 census was destroyed during World War II, and the 1941 census was cancelled because of the fighting that ensued.

The 1939 Register was taken at the start of World War II to collect key information about every civilian in England and Wales. This information was then used to produce everyone’s National Identity Cards. At first, the Register was simply an overview of the population, but it was later used for rationing and tracking the movement of the population for decades after the war.

The Register is considered to be a ‘living document’, which means the data that was originally taken was updated over time to reflect changes in your ancestors’ lives.

For example, while you’ll find key information such as name, gender, address, date of birth, marital status and occupation within the records, you’ll also find notations that point to changes, such as maiden names being crossed out and replaced with a married surname.

The records might even hold a few extra details like whether your ancestor worked as an air raid warden.

You may find that some records are hidden or redacted, which is to protect the privacy of people who are still alive. While the records will be opened gradually over time, you can also contact The National Archives to request a record be closed, or opened if you believe the person to be deceased.

The 1939 Register is incredibly useful, as along with its rich details, it also reveals an overview of life in 20th Century Britain and helps us understand what life was like for our family at this time.

With the Register taken very shortly after WWII had been declared, we can start to get a sense of the impact this had on our families.

For example, 1.5 million civilians (including children, mothers and pregnant women) were evacuated to the countryside for their safety during the combat of WWII. Foster families took them in, and while many experienced the joys of fresh air and farm life for the first time, these experiences were tarnished by homesickness and uncertainty.

Rationing became a key part of the war effort, with restrictions placed on basic foods and resources like eggs, butter, bacon, cheese, milk and fuel.

Women also stepped into new roles in order to help out with the war effort. As a result, we can see how the impact of austerity measures changed the course of fashion, bringing new styles that were more practical for the wartime.

But despite the hardships, our ancestors kept calm and carried on – working hard to help forge a more positive future for their descendants.

You can learn more about your grandparents or parents lives by exploring the 1939 Register on Ancestry, and begin building out the more modern branches of your family tree.



Kristen Hyde

Kristen is Ancestry's Social Media Manager for the United Kingdom.


  1. Peter Green

    Please can you tell me if there are any restrictions with use of 1939 Register. Findmypast will only allow access to subscribers that have a UK e-mail address, even if you are logged into their website.

  2. ann atkinson

    Could you tell me why a lot of the names are blocked out please. I have been searching for my grandparents on the 1939 census and the address where they lived has the whole family blocked out saying this record is officially closed. why is this please.

    • Roger Dadd

      Hi Ann, It’s because the Archives have not yet established the people are dead even if you know it to be true. You can get in touch with Archives and give them the proof but I just waited until more records were released. Roger

      • Karen Stewart

        In the Saddleworth records I noticed yesterday that my dad was blacked out yet his older sister and brother were shown. all 3 are now deceased. yet the strange was is that I came across the wife of my dad’s best friend and she is still very much alive and is 2 years younger than dad (I was on facebook with her yesterday) her husband who is similar age to dad was also blacked out. dad was born 1932 and died 2009 (after his brother but before his sister). also saw other people who were younger than dad yet still shown. the only way I knew that it was the friends wife was his surname was above her married name. she confirmed with me yesterday that it was indeed her. I’m annoyed that dad was blacked out. now trying to go through the many many codes for Rochdale to find my mother, the suburbs are not listed, it’s going to take me forever to find which code numbers belong to Castleton, doesn’t seem to be a way to find out. I’m in NZ (I’m a first gen Kiwi) so makes it harder for me to know the size of Rochdale. did visit in 91 but was mainly only in Castleton and only for brief periods.

  3. ann atkinson

    I Know for a fact that 3 of the people living in the house including my grandparents are deceased how can I get the record opened please

    • Emma

      As per the article “You may find that some records are hidden or redacted, which is to protect the privacy of people who are still alive. While the records will be opened gradually over time, you can also contact The National Archives to request a record be closed, or opened if you believe the person to be deceased.”

  4. Patricia Bosomworth

    My dad was born 1922 cant get onto or find him on the 1911 census. Do yo have to pay for information on 1911 census

    • Dennis Rogerson

      If your dad was born 1922 he won’t show up untill 2021 when it has its first showing
      However we had census 1939 which was to see who was here before the war started

  5. Peter

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  6. Paula joni king

    I want to find my dead fathers family I don’t know who I am his name was Paul King he died Oct 82
    I really need answers
    Paul King died Oct 82any info or family members

  7. John Black

    The site continuosly refers to Endland and Wales. How on earth does one start a Scottish Fanily tree?

  8. Dennis Rogerson

    I’m on and for the life of me I cant find how to access the census record
    With or without the app
    ? Help

  9. Jackie Jenkins

    I am trying to find my recent relative that was in the war that started long time ago. The names are major Joe day and Charles Andrews

  10. Louise

    I’m looking for someone who may have lived in the Pontypridd district of South Wales during the 1960’s. Can you easily search the Electoral Rolls to find out where they lived?

  11. Tony Roach

    The 1939 census is excellent.
    Ancestry say that “The records will be opened gradually over time”.
    Can you tell me if the opening date is an ongoing task performed continuously by someone at Ancestry. If not, when was the last date that records were opened & when is the next date scheduled for records will be opened.

  12. Alan Merryweather

    I’m a habitual corrector of errors and recently came across an entry where the first name listed is redacted, and unfortunately, all subsequent surnames are indicated only by ditto marks. I am told that it is up to me to make the contact to try to get this surname into the index, but that is way beyond my interest in the matter. So the names may remain unindexed for a couple more decades.

  13. I am an experienced genealogist. I know from FindMyPast that there are people where I expect them to be in the 1939 Register; their records are not redacted so why is it impossible to find them on Ancestry? Further, in trying a broader approach in case there has been a transcription error, why do the results generated take absolutely no account of the location entered in the search?

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  15. Martin Owen

    I have found some entries on the 1939 England and Wales Register relevant to my family. In one case I can see my paternal grandmother but the two lines below her name are ‘officially closed’. I understand that this may have been done to protect people who were still living when it was published. However, the two lines in question here must refer to my father and his sister and I would like to see what it said about them. Can these lines be reinstated?


  16. Jeff

    To get relatives information which is blacked out and says “Officially Closed” you need to go to National Archives Site and request search of the 1939 register To get them to open closed part of the record you will need to know where they lived in 1939 and upload a copy of your relatives death certificate There is a fee for the search which is £24:35

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