The 1939 National Register – access it for free

You can now access the 1939 National Register for free in all Hertfordshire libraries.

If you're looking into your family history, the 1939 National Register might help your research.  You can use for free on any public computer at your local library.

What is the National Register?

In December 1938, it was announced in the House of Commons that, in the event of war, a National Register would be taken that listed the personal details of every civilian in Great Britain and Northern Ireland. This Register was to be a critical tool in coordinating the war effort at home. It would be used to issue identity cards and organise rationing.

On 5 September 1939, the National Registration Act received royal assent and Registrar General Sir Sylvanus Vivian announced that National Registration Day would be 29 September.

Having issued forms to more than 41 million people, the enumerators were charged with the task of visiting every household in Great Britain and Northern Ireland to collect the names, addresses, marital statuses and other key details of every civilian in the country, issuing identity cards on the spot.

The identity cards were essential items from the point the Register was taken, right up until 1952 when the legal requirement to carry them ceased.

So the 1939 Register represents one of the most important documents in 20th century Britain. The information it contains not only helped toward the war effort, it was also used to found the NHS.

What information is provided?

  • A transcription of the full names, dates of birth and occupations of every member of the household (including children).
  • An image of the original handwritten register, plus contemporary local newspaper articles, photographs and maps of the area.

What can't you see?

The records of those people who are less than 100 years old and are still alive are classed as ‘officially closed’ due to privacy regulations.

The Register was kept up-to-date until 1991 so if an individual was less than 100, but died before this time, their record was opened and available to view.

If the person has died subsequently but the record is still closed, you can contact Find My Past with a copy of the death certificate to request that the information be made available.