Tuesday 10 November 2015

Searching the 1939 National Register of England and Wales

The whole genealogical world must know by now that the National Register of 1939 for Great Britain, actually just England and Wales, has now been released through FindMyPast. It is the only listing of people between 1921 and 1951 as the 1931 census was destroyed in an air raid on London and no census was taken in 1941. Every citizen, upon being added to the list as of September 29, 1939, was issued an identity card which was then needed to be shown for the purchase of essential items or to prove they were British residents. The extra security was a necessary consequence of a country at war.

For residents of Scotland, an extract of information can be ordered from the National Records of Scotland by filling out their form. You must prove the individuals are dead in order to get the data and, of course, send them £15.

Yes, I did some searching of the 1939 register, too, the worst part being that, in addition to my normal subscription, which is not cheap, it also cost me a substantial amount to “unlock” the information for each household I wanted to see.

In 1939 I did not have any members of my direct-line still left in England but I did have some great-grand-uncles and –aunts and several cousins living there. Those are the people that I went looking for. A few who were serving in the armed forces, of course, are not on the list, so that left a few blanks. Also not available is any information on people who are assumed to still be alive. Their names are not shown on the index and redacted on the scanned pages of the register.

One interesting sidelight of the searches is that you get to see a portion of maps showing where the family lived. FMP presents segments of a 1937-1961 Ordnance Survey 1:25,000 map, an 1888-1913 Ordnance Survey 6-inch map and a map of present day. You can zoom in or out of those to see the whole area. I always like to see maps as they give me perspective on where and how the families lived.

So what did I learn with the few families I found?

1.      I found most of the people I set out to find. I had to fiddle around with names and dates and locations somewhat on a couple of them. Emma Wary, a great-grand-aunt, was indexed as Emma Wwray. I did find her by her birth date finally. I did inform FMP of the error so we’ll see if they make the correction. I did not find some men who were likely in the armed services and away from home. Without good information about their families I could not confirm a usual residence for all of them. Information given on most of the family members I found, such as occupations, conformed to other data I already had on them.
2.      In a couple of instances I discovered that some of the spouses of my family members were living with a parent or parents. I had information before about who they probably were but this data confirmed the names. For example, Frances Shepheard, the wife of a 1st cousin, 2X removed, had her mother, Elizabeth Kuharzik, with her. Frances’ husband, Wilfrid Jack Shepheard, was not at home but away at sea. A redacted line on this entry was most certainly their daughter, Pauline, a delightful lady, still alive,who I finally found last year. I wrote about her in a blog post last January. Wilfrid’s sister, Margery Teresa Russell, was living with her husband, Leslie Russell and his parents, Ernest and Evelyn, interestingly at a place called Edge of Beyond, in Kent.
3.      I found another 1st cousin, 2X removed – Reginald Thomas Ellison. Until now I did not know he was married or that he had children. The information on the register confirmed it was him by his birth date, which I had previously known. One of the few things I knew about him was that he was an only child of John Thomas Ellison and Fanny Ann Shepheard, my great-grand-aunt. The register showed Reginald had a wife named Muriel. Her mother, Sarah Allison, was living with them. I confirmed (more or less) that Sarah was Reginald’s mother-in-law when I later found the index record of their marriage. I also found civil registration information that showed they had at least three sons in the 1920s – the list indicates both the father’s and mother’s surnames. So there are a few more people in my tree now to find out about.
Family of John Thomas and Fanny Ann (Shepheard) Ellison, with son Reginald Thomas Ellison (ca1906). On the 1939 National Register I found Fanny Ann and new information about the family of Reginald.
So was it worth it? I found information on nine families with 16 people. Names of four others were redacted but I think I figured out from my own data who some of them might have been. None of them are/were direct ancestors so the information is incidental to my personal ancestry. I did confirm a few names and dates and found a few new cousins. But overall, I would have to say it was very expensive information (just over Cdn$9 per family) and I doubt I will do much more with searches of this database. I have enough credits left to unlock only one more family so it will have to be of prime interest to my own line.

Searching the register did remind me that there are still several BMD documents and wills that I need to order. Funds will certainly be better spent on obtaining those documents in the future.

Wayne Shepheard is a volunteer with the Online Parish Clerk program in England, handling four parishes in Devon, England. He has published a number of articles about various aspects of genealogy and is the Editor of Relatively Speaking, the quarterly journal of the Alberta Genealogical Society. Wayne also provides genealogical consulting services through his business, Family History Facilitated