Benefits of the 1939 England and Wales Register

About five years ago, I had created a profile for Charles William Aldous on Ancestry.com. He was born in 1906 and, at that time, there were few records available to add to his life’s story.

I had found him on the 1911 England census listed as one of the sons of William and Elizabeth Aldous. They were living in Bedingfield, Suffolk, England, so it was easy to find his birth record on the BMD.

Other than those two documents, I was hesitant to add a marriage or death record to his profile. As an adult, Charles could have moved from the area, immigrated to another country, or joined the military. The records on the BMD databases supply only the basic information, such as name, year, and registration district. There was no way for me to be able to verify that a particular record belonged to Charles.

I decided to leave his profile incomplete (i.e. from birth to death). I knew that Ancestry.com was adding new records on a monthly basis and thought that one day I would be able to come back and finish Charles’ profile.

In August of 2018, I received great news! Ancestry.com had added the 1939 England and Wales Register to their database.

I have a tendency to call this set of documents a “census” instead of a register. The National Archives explains that at the onset of World War II this register was compiled for the purpose of issuing identity cards and rationing books to the population. Had the war been of a shorter duration, the government would have proceeded with a 1941 census.

And, even though the 1939 England and Wales Register is not a census, it has proven to be invaluable. The National Archives explains:

The 1921 census and all later censuses which survive are kept by the Office for National Statistics. These censuses will only be available 100 years after the date they were conducted. Unfortunately, the 1931 census for England and Wales was destroyed by fire in 1942, and no census was taken in 1941 because of the Second World War.

For family tree researchers this news was devastating. Without the 1931 and 1941 census records, there is a 30-year gap in England and Wales population statistics (from 1921 to 1951). The 1939 register helped to shorten this gap. Genealogists worldwide should applaud the English government for its decision to compile this report at the onset of World War II.

As you look at the pages of the 1939 register, you will notice it contains minimal information (name, address, birth date, and occupation); however, it is of great importance to anyone searching for their ancestors in England and Wales.

In fact, since the release of this register, I have been able to complete many of my English profiles. Charles William Aldous was one of those ancestors that I revisited.

As I began my search of the 1939 register, it did not take long to find Charles. He was living in Aspall with his wife and child. Aspall is only 2 1/2 miles from his birthplace of Bedingfield.

Another way that the 1939 register is useful is that it provides the full birth date of the person listed. The England and Wales census records from 1841 to 1911 only give you an approximate age of an individual as of the date of enumeration. The 1841 census is the hardest to search as the census takers used a +/- 5-year average. This meant that a person who was 16 years old could be listed anywhere between the ages of 11 and 21.

Another reason that the 1939 register is important to genealogists is that we did not have to wait until 2039 for its release. As you will notice on the above record, the entry for Charles’ son has been redacted or covered. The government decided to release the register with the stipulation that any person that was still living or could not be confirmed to be deceased should be blocked from public viewing.

Ancestry.com has also joined with the National Archives to update these records on an annual basis. Here is what they say:

Images have been redacted to protect the privacy of those still alive and we will be annually adding records for those with birth dates older than 100 years or if a record of the death has been reported to The National Archives. Images will also be updated to reflect the opening of the record. All indexes have been created from redacted images as provided by The National Archives and as such, some indexes may not include all information as originally recorded, where it is obscured from view.

So, if it has been a few years since you visited your family tree, you may want to see if the 1939 England and Wales register can help you fill in the blanks. I have found it to be a useful tool in expanding my family tree. And, with Ancestry.com updating this register every year, it can help you grow your family tree, too.