This was taken on 29 September 1939 and provides a snapshot of the civilian population of England and Wales just after the outbreak of the Second World War. The records were used to produce population statistics and identification cards and, once rationing was introduced in January 1940, to issue ration cards. Information was also used to administer conscription. After the war the records continued to be used - it was compulsory to carry identity cards until 1952 and when the National Health Service was created in 1948 the Register became the core of the NHS Register. The Register continued to be updated until 1991, when the records were computerised.
As the 1931 census for England and Wales was destroyed by fire during the Second World War and no census was taken in 1941, the 1939 Register provides the most complete survey of the population of England and Wales between 1921 and 1951.
Access to the 1939 Register has been made possible by an agreement between The National Archives and FindMyPast. It is possible to search the records on the 1939 Register site, but to get complete access to the data including the original document you need to pay. The other alternative is that you can access the records for free at The National Archives at Kew.
The Register was not intended to record members of the armed forces, so these will mostly be excluded. Details of any living people have been hidden.
The following extracts give a sample of the data that you might expect to find in the full records (click on image to enlarge). The blacked out lines "This record is officially closed" is where information is withheld for living people.
(c) Crown Copyright Images courtesy of The National Archives and FindMyPast
These records will be useful for a one-place study. They show details of who was living in a place on the day that the Register was compiled, with details such as date of birth, marital staus and occupation. FindMyPast have geo-tagged the addresses to a contemporary map - which should be useful, though on the samples that I have looked at these are not always accurate.
I will be spending some time looking at these records at The National Archives during the winter months.