November 02, 2015 09:00 ET

Eve of WWII Population Survey for England and Wales Now Available Online at

1939 Register Release a Watershed Moment for Americans Searching Family Roots

LONDON, UNITED KINGDOM--(Marketwired - Nov 2, 2015) - Today the newly digitized records of the 1939 Register will be launched online by, a world leader in family history, in association with The National Archives of the United Kingdom. This important record set is a landmark moment in genealogy, as well as an entry point for Americans of British descent searching for relatives in England and Wales at the start of war. 

Joshua Taylor, professional genealogist, says, "The 1939 Register is one of the most important document releases for genealogists in recent history. A comprehensive record of the civil population on the outbreak of war, it's a wonderful point of entry for Americans with British roots looking to build their family trees. It also offers an opportunity to compare two great nations as they entered and readied for war. By looking at the 1940 US Census data in comparison to the 1939 Register it's interesting to see that Americans were on average younger, more likely to be married and men were more plentiful with higher rates of employment than English and Welsh men." 


  • The civilian population of England and Wales recorded in the Register in 1939 was 41 million, living in 12 million households, with an average of 3 people living in one household. In 1940 in the United States, the population was 132.2 million, living in 35 million households, which is an average of 3.7 people per household.
  • In England and Wales the average age was 33 for men and 35 for women, compared to the US median age, which was 29 for both men and women according to the 1940 Census.
  • In 1940 in the United States, 50.17% of the population was male; 49.83% was female compared to 53% female and 47% male in England and Wales.
  • The 1939 Register reveals that almost 50% of women in England and Wales fulfilled a domestic role, either unpaid at home or in service. In America in 1940, by comparison, 57% of women were devoted to full-time domestic duties, but were not counted as part of the labor force therefore the number one occupation for women was clerical worker.
  • The highest occupation registered for English and Welsh men was 'retired', with 'clerk' as second. For US men the top two areas of occupation were manufacturing and agriculture.
  • In England and Wales in 1939 the divorce rate was 0.1% compared to 46.2% being married, 45.6% single and 6.5% widowed. In 1940 in the United States, 61.07% of the population 15 and over was married.

The 1939 Register also puts numbers to London's evacuations. At the beginning of September 1939, under the threat of German bombing, 1.5 million children, women and disabled were evacuated. The 1939 Register, which was taken at the end of September, shows only 2% of the population in London was aged 0-10.

Dubbed 'The Wartime Domesday Book,' The 1939 Register is the most comprehensive survey of the population of England and Wales ever taken. In September 1939, WWII had just broken out. 65,000 enumerators were employed to visit every house in England and Wales to take stock of the civil population. The information that they recorded was used to issue Identity Cards, plan mass evacuations, establish rationing and co-ordinate other wartime provisions.

Comprising 1.2 million pages in 7,000 volumes and documenting the lives of 41 million people, the 1939 Register opens a window to a world on the brink of cataclysmic change. Each record includes the names of inhabitants at each address, their date of birth, marital status and occupation. The only surviving record of the population between 1921 and 1951, it bridges a 30-year gap in history and serves as a significant source of data for historians and genealogists alike.


Joseph Kennedy - The special relationship between Britain and the United States is underlined with these records. The father of President John F. Kennedy, Joseph was in the UK at the time of the 1939 Register, with the future President himself present in the House of Commons during speeches endorsing British entry into the war just before the register was taken. Joseph Kennedy is listed as ambassador to the United Kingdom at the time. Perhaps lacking the attributes that made his son such an iconic leader he would later resign from his post in November 1940 due to his defeatist attitude, reputedly prompting a British civil servant to say "I thought my daffodils were yellow until I met Joe Kennedy."

The real life M - As Spectre looms large at the box office and the world wonders if James Bond will escape another tight scrape, the real life inspirations for the Bond books can be found in the 1939 Register on the eve of war. Hugh Sinclair (given the codename 'Quex') was director of British Intelligence and set up the Secret Intelligence Service (also known as MI6). He bought Bletchley Park with his own money and set up a wartime intelligence station. Although in 1939, (listed as a retired Admiral with no mention of his intelligence work), he was suffering from cancer which he would die of a month later, the year before he reported on Adolf Hitler to the Prime Minister, describing him as a dangerous megalomaniac not to be trusted. The report was buried because it didn't align with appeasement policies of the time.

The Beckhams - Victoria Beckham's life today is a world away from her maternal grandfather George Cannon who was working on the London Docks and living in Tottenham, with her paternal grandfather not so far away in Edmonton earning his keep as a French polisher.

David Beckham - may have inherited his skill on his feet from his great grandfather Edward Charles Beckham's sea legs, he was listed in the 1939 Register with his wife, living in Wood Green and serving in the navy. Further records on Findmypast give a full physical description of Great Grandfather Beckham, showing he was 5 foot 3 3/4 foot tall with fair hair, blue eyes and fresh complexion.

Anthony Hopkins - Famously attached to his Welsh roots and known to visit the house he grew up in when he returns to the UK from his home in the United States, his 1939 Port Talbot home can be found in the register where his parents the baker Richard and housewife Muriel lived.

Britney Spears - The grandmother of pop singer Britney Spears was listed in the 1939 Register with her parents George & Lillian Portell in Finchley, London. She would later become a 'GI Bride', marrying an American soldier and leaving the UK at the end of the war for a new life in Louisiana.

Simon Cowell - The paternal grandparents of Simon Cowell were living in Chigwell on the eve of the Second World War.

Payment Details

The Register is free to search. There is a charge to view the records with different pay per view packages starting $10.95. Owing to data protection, there will be some closed records at the time of launch, either because the individual recorded is still living and less than 100 years old or proof of death has not been verified. At launch 28 million records will be searchable. The Register will be updated weekly. Findmypast, working with The National Archives, will have an ongoing process to identify records, which can be opened on proof of death provided either by matching against robust data sets or supplied by users. Records will also be opened as people reach the age of 100 years+1 day. 

Note to editors:
The 1939 Register collected information based on self-definition, allowing the majority of occupations to be recorded without supervision or standardization. This created an extraordinarily detailed and rich record of the population, with over 12 million unique occupations recorded. The statistics presented here were created through Boolean searches based on the most common terms for each occupation and are intended to be indicative rather than definitive.

About Findmypast

Findmypast (previously DC Thomson Family History) is a British-owned world leader in online family history. It has an unrivalled record of online innovation in the field and 18 million registered users across its family of online brands, which includes Lives of the First World War, The British Newspaper Archive and Genes Reunited, amongst others.

Its lead brand, also called Findmypast, is a searchable online archive of over four billion family history records, ranging from parish records and censuses to migration records, military collections, historical newspapers and lots more. For members around the world, the site is a crucial resource for building family trees and conducting detailed historical research.

In April 2003, Findmypast was the first online genealogy site to provide access to the complete birth, marriage, and death indexes for England & Wales, winning the Queen's Award for Innovation. Since that time, the company has digitised records from across the globe, including the 1911 Census, which they digitised in association with The National Archives.

About The National Archives

The National Archives is one of the world's most valuable resources for research. As the official archive and publisher for the UK government, and England and Wales they are the guardians of some of the UK's most iconic national documents, dating back over 1,000 years. Their role is to collect and secure the future of the government record, both digital and physical, to preserve it for generations to come, and to make it as accessible and available as possible. The National Archives brings together the skills and specialisms needed to conserve some of the oldest historic documents as well as leading digital archive practices to manage and preserve government information past, present and future. 

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