The 1939 Register for England & Wales is soon to be released on FindMyPast, and I think there is a lot of confusion about what this record set is and for what it was used.

One of my questions is about the idea that this was a "working document" up until the 1990s.

A blog post on FindMyPast (23 Oct 2015) states:

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.

In the latest Lost Cousins newsletter (25 Oct 2015), the author states:

However, because the 1939 Register was subsequently used as the basis for the National Health Service Central Register it continued to be updated into the 1990s (at which point it was computerised).

I'm not sure whether this is actually true or not. My understanding was that the document would not have been systematically updated after National Registration ended in 1952, although the National Registration numbering system was used as the basis for the NHS registers after that date.

I cannot find any definitive source one way or the other that describes whether or not the "1939 Register" was actually updated after the end of National Registration?


2 Answers 2


If you look at the page 1939 Register Service on the Health & Social Care Information Centre website, the site says:

The 1939 Register Service (cost recovery) enables you to request data held on the 1939 Register for England and Wales, as recorded on 29 September 1939.

After explaining what data can be found on the Register and whose information can be released, it says:

Is any other data available?

If you wish to request additional information under the Freedom of Information Act 2000, please email [email protected] or contact us using the postal address below, marking the letter for the Higher Information Governance Officer (Southport).

Further down in the terms and conditions section they say that they will also release the date the service was notified of a death, but only upon request, and only if the notification was "recorded before the commencement of the NHS on 5 July 1948".

The National Archives (TNA) has a research guide here: National registration day: 29 September 1939. In the section Only the first stage it says, in part:

Keeping the register up to date had been planned for this time, unlike in 1915, and an elaborate, but effective, system was devised to cope with this, using a combination of national and local registers. A national Birth Register was set up to record every birth from 30 September, and a Current Register for people entering the country, or being demobilised from the armed forces or the merchant navy. Anyone applying for a replacement for a lost or stolen card was placed on the ‘Y’ Register. Identity Card numbers in these registers could be in different formats from numbers issued from the Register taken on 29 September 1939. Many refinements were made over time, including a complete re-issue of cards to every adult in 1943, and the introduction of cards with photographs for certain categories of people.

National Registration finally came to an end in 1952, but the individual numbers it generated became National Health Service numbers in 1948, and remained in use into the 21st century.

The register taken on 29 September 1939 in England and Wales only will be released online later this year by Findmypast.

A comment underneath this entry confirms that only the entries made on 29 September 1939 are being released by Find My Past:

AUDREY COLLINS Thu 1 Oct at 10:07 am

Only the register taken on 29 September 1939 is being released. Anyone who arrived after that date was added to the separate ‘Current Register’ mentioned above.

In this release from Find My Past, I suspect we will only see the updates to the information that were written on the original 1939 registers (similar to the way updates and notes were written on the US passenger lists, or corrections were made in New England birth registrations in the US). See update below the line.

Other updates made later that were not written on the originals will need to be retrieved via a FOIA request, according to the advice on the The Health and Social Care Information Centre's site.

Note that a similar situation exists in the USA with the Social Security Administration, where one can make a request for the SS-5 and receive an image copy of the original application form -- but if you want the Numident records, which record claim dates, name changes, and so on, the researcher has to make a separate request.

Changes in Surname

Chris Paton of The British Genes Blog confirms that changes in names such as new surnames for women who married later are written on the original registers: Review of 1939 English and Welsh register release

Noreen Giles: a cousin of my wife's side of the family. I previously suspected that Noreen might have married someone by the surname of Cochrane in 1940. This entry notes Noreen as a hotel chambermaid, and in a different ink has the name Cochrane written above her surname, which is scored out - implying that the entry was updated in 1940 after she married. In yet another ink, the name Whitby is also recorded above her name - a possible second marriage? One to pursue further.

Corrected Birth Dates and other information

The article Why the Queen has been erased from this database posted on CNN Money shows a page from Buckingham Palace assumed to be the page for the then-Princess Elizabeth, with two entries redacted. On line 2, you can see corrections on the entry for HM The Queen made in green ink:

enter image description here

Further down the page you can see other corrections made in different ink colors and two redactions:

enter image description here

The image appears to be Archive reference RG101/0631E/002/x (where x is the line number in the Register). Searching for Piece 0631E and item 002 in advanced search [see update below] brings up 36 open results including His Majesty the King (Ref: RG101/0631E/002/1) and Her Majesty the Queen (Ref: RG101/0631E/002/2). Their preview says "5 more people on this record". Note that the princesses are not listed on the register next to their parents, so there is no notice in the preview about other records in their entry being closed.


For more information and background on the 1939 Register see:

Despite their earlier comments made at the time the 1939 Register was released that users could search by Piece and Item number on the advanced search page, Find My Past has made changes to discourage people from doing so. The Archive Reference number has been removed from the graphic on the free preview page you get from an individual search result and has to be discovered by other means.

  • 2
    Probably - but only temporary records recording whether the cards had been dispatched???? I guess that depends on whether new card numbers were issued. Which takes me back to wondering whether the 1939 pages were annotated with the card / id numbers and if so, where? As per my first comment here!
    – AdrianB38
    Commented Oct 28, 2015 at 16:10
  • 2
    Answering these questions would be much simpler if the idiots would just show us some samples. Picture is worth a thousand words and all that. After all, there is no legal / procedural block on this data apart from the redacted entries..... We now have a blog entry on input screens on blog.findmypast.co.uk/… but still no clear picture of the output. I think we just have to wait for (a) Monday and (b) someone with a problem they want solving badly enough for the cash required.
    – AdrianB38
    Commented Oct 28, 2015 at 16:18
  • 2
    I confess to being quite spoiled by the Reference Reports created by the archivists at the US National Archives (NARA). If I had such a report on the 1939 Register or the Electoral Rolls, it would answer so many questions! For examples, look here: archives.gov/research/census/reference-reports Many of the Microfilm rolls listed in the paper on US Census 1790 - 1940 (starting with a T number) have a detailed report about how the records are arranged, how they were created, etc.
    – Jan Murphy
    Commented Oct 28, 2015 at 19:57
  • 2
    @Jan I'd like to accept this answer however I think the references to original schedules/forms are a bit confusing - would you mind clarifying? The dataset released by FindMyPast is not the original schedules, but the transcript books. I'm going to ask another question about what happened to the original schedules, as I think that is sufficiently distinct from this question.
    – Harry V.
    Commented Nov 3, 2015 at 15:09
  • 2
    @vervet -- I've edited the answer to make things more clear (and found more information in the meantime)
    – Jan Murphy
    Commented Nov 3, 2015 at 16:45

I asked this question directly on Facebook.

The response I recieved is that, yes: "The Register was updated until 1991 when it ceased to be a working document".

This means that for married women, "in the vast majority of cases" they will be recorded under both their married and maiden names. They say, "We'll be showing both maiden and married names and both will be indexed".

The updates to the register does not include death dates. Death dates are not in the register even if they died before 1991.

We will undoubtedly know more tomorrow after it is released.

  • 2
    Early death registration dates were in the register -- I have one in information supplied under the 'old system' in 2011.
    – user104
    Commented Nov 2, 2015 at 10:00

Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service and acknowledge you have read our privacy policy.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.