Book Review: Tracing Your Trade & Craftsman Ancestors: A Guide for Family Historians by Adele Emm

Tracing Trade & Craftsman Ancestors: A Guide for Family Historians by Adele Emm
Tracing Your Trade & Craftsman Ancestors: A Guide for Family Historians by Adele Emm

Tracing Your Trade & Craftsman Ancestors: A Guide for Family Historians. By Adele Emm. Published by Pen & Sword Family History, 47 Church Street, Barnsley, South Yorkshire S70 2AS, UK www.pen-and-sword.co.uk. £14.99. US Distributor: CasemateIPM 908 Darby Road, Havertown PA 19083. www.casemateipm.com. $29.95. 2015. 214 pp. Illustrations, index. Softcover.

Our ancestral trees may abound with common laborers but we will also have tradesmen – such as the butchers, bakers, and candlestick makers. This book puts these tradesmen and craftsmen into historical context and shows how they can be traced.

The first three chapters explain how an individual would have become a tradesman or craftsman, and why. The medieval guilds, common in many localities, controlled who could ply their trade within their area, the most familiar and most important being the London guilds. In 1515, the forty-eight London livery companies were placed in order of precedence based on power and financial status, creating what has become known as the great twelve, mostly merchant guilds. These twelve are listed in order along with the date of their original charter, not necessarily from when records survive and their website. Later a list is provided of the remaining London companies up to 100, giving name and website. Some of these are 20th century creations, and some you may not even know what the occupation is, such as fletchers, broderers, horners, paviors, and loriners.  Importantly, a chapter discusses: the training and apprenticeship to become a freeman of a guild; indentures and deeds of apprenticeship; pay; school leaving age; working hours; holidays; pensions; health and safety; trade unions and friendly societies, all of which is good contextual information.

The remaining chapters address specific groups of occupations including: merchants and mercers; shopkeepers; builders and the building trades; smiths and metal workers; cordwainers and shoemakers; clothing and allied traders; and a miscellaneous group under other trades. Expanding upon the builders and building trade chapter as an example, this includes details on: auctioneers and house agents; bricklayers; brickmakers; carpenters, joiners, turners and sawyers; road builders and menders; painters; stone masons; and thatchers. As you might anticipate not every occupation is included, as I was hoping for plumbers and glaziers. But there are enough clues in these chapters to provide ideas of where to look for information on any desired missing occupation. For those that are included you get a description of the occupation (often for different periods), examples of records or possible places to find records (e.g. guild or union records), and museums that may focus or illustrate well the occupation. The book has good illustrations of the large variety of records that mention our ancestors plus places and tools associated with the occupation. The printed resources mentioned within the text are generally not included in the select bibliography at the end of the book arranged by chapter and topic, so both places need to be checked for potential leads.

This is an excellent guide to get you researching the trade of your ancestors, pointing you to published and online resources, plus how to put them into a correct social context. For the trades included you are well on your way to learning about your ancestors. For those not included you will have ideas of where to look.

NEWS: New GRO Birth and Death Indexes and Digitized Certificates for reduced price – short time only

GRO-General Register Office Home page showing how to search indexes and order certificates
GRO-General Register Office Home page showing how to search indexes and order certificates

 News – New Indexes for civil registration birth and deaths in England and Wales that are a game changer. Plus for a short time period there is the option to order cheaper digital versions of the certificates. Read on for more details.

On November 3rd the General Register Office put online at www.gro.gov.uk completely new indexes for births (1837-1915 – 100 year closure) and deaths (1837-1957 – 50 year closure). These are completely new indexes created from the original registers made during the now abandoned DoVE project (Digitization of Vital Events). For these time periods these new indexes will certainly replace the other indexes that are readily available on free and commercial websites. All other national indexes have been created by transcribing the existing national indexes, which are at least two generations away from the original certificates, and thus transcription errors do exist.

It is the additions to the indexes that make for exciting news here. In the birth indexes the mother’s maiden name has been added to all records, originally this information was not added until 1911. In the birth indexes the age of death is now included in all records, something not added until December 1865. Also in both indexes all forenames have been extracted. There are no initials used here as in the published national indexes.

Urgency – What is time sensitive here is that on November 9th the General Register Office started offering digital copies of the birth and death certificates, in these periods only, for a reduced price of 6 Pounds (US$7.45), as opposed to the regular price of 9 Pounds 25 Pence (US$11.49) for the paper copies. This a trial offer and is only available for 3 weeks or 45,000 pdfs, whichever comes first. It will probably be the number of certificates as this is a bargain. So do your searches now. What the government will choose to do after this is a complete unknown. I personally ordered 4 certificates yesterday on the first day and have ordered another 10 this morning. I will be ordering more.

GRO - General Register Office search entry screen before login
GRO – General Register Office search entry screen before login

How to Access the new GRO Indexes and Order Certificates

Go to the website – www.gro.gov.uk. Click on the link for Order Certificates Online – this will take you to a certificate ordering service notice. Click on the link for Order Certificates Online and search the GRO historic birth and death indexes.

At this point you will first need to register. If you have done this in the past you will need to sign in and then you will be sent a validation key to your registered email address. If they are going to send you digital pdfs they want to guarantee that they have a valid email address. My validation key came quickly, but online discussion groups suggest that it might take an hour. If it still has not come check your spam folder, or check old email addresses you may have used in the past.

Once in you will be asked if you want to search the birth or death indexes. Making the choice opens up the appropriate search template.

Birth Indexes

GRO - General Register Office birth search Screen for Callaghan - Hagan children
GRO – General Register Office birth search Screen for Callaghan – Hagan children

There are three fields that are required – surname, gender and year. With surnames you can search for: exact matches only; phonetically similar variations; or similar sounding variations. Personally I have had good luck with the similar sounding variations especially when dealing with my easily corrupted names like Finnigan and Callaghan. With gender you have to select male or female which means you will probably be repeating all searches twice if you are looking for the children of a particular couple rather than an individual. Then you choose a year of registration – remember this may not be the year of birth if the even occurred towards the end of the year. You can choose to select +/- 0, 1 or 2 years. So when searching for the children of a couple open the range to 2 years, and repeat the searches at 5 year intervals to pick up all the intervening years, repeating again to pick up both sexes.

Your most likely search will be the addition of the mother’s maiden name, and again you have the three same variations as you had on the surname field.

Let’s do a search for the female children of a Callaghan and Hagan couple. For Callaghan I am choosing similar sounding names, and in this example I am choosing exact name for Hagan. I am searching in 1882 +/- 2 years. I get to two results. Mary Callaghan – mother’s maiden surname Hagan – GRO Reference: 1884 S Quarter in Gateshead Volume 10A Page 887. I also get Bridget Callighan – mother’s maiden surname Hagan – GRO Reference: 1881 J Quarter Volume 10A Page 932. Note the difference in surname Callaghan and Callighan. I knew of Mary’s existence as she lived long enough to be in next census, but not Bridget. I thus checked the death indexes for Bridget and have ordered those certificates. Currently on the same line as the relevant search result you can choose to order a certificate or pdf.

GRO - Genearal Register Office Search Results showing spelling variations on Callaghan surname for sisters
GRO – Genearal Register Office Search Results showing spelling variations on Callaghan surname for sisters

Selecting either one prefills the order template. Scroll down the screen and ensure that you are ordering the less expensive pdf by email and not the standard certificate (unless you want to). Further down the screen you can also select the number of copies and you can add a personal reference number.

Illegitimate Births – To find an illegitimate birth, father unknown, you put the child’s surname which will be the mother’s surname in the surname at birth field (a required field) and leave the mother’s maiden name blank. I tested this with a couple of certificates I already had in my files and it found them.

Death Indexes

Here the age of death is a real bonus but you still might have to get creative with your searches and watch for some errors. Again you have to provide a surname, gender and a year to search. In this example I was searching for a Mary Ann Callaghan born in the June Quarter of 1879 in Gateshead district but was not found in the household in the 1881 census. So I searched on Callaghan – similar sounding variations, first forename Mary, female 1880 +/- 1 year to catch all between 1879 and 1881. There were 111 Mary Callaghan’s. Since Mary was born in Gateshead district I assumed she might have died there, so I limited the search district to Gateshead. There was only one result for a Mary Ann Callaghan in the March Quarter of 1880 aged 11 years. I still think this is mine and I have ordered the certificate but it highlights another potential problem. Evidence is appearing online that in some case if a child dies at age 11 hours or 11 days or 11 weeks or 11 months they may get indexed as 11 years rather than a 0. Obviously this can happen for any infant so be careful and you may have to order additional records to confirm.

District Geography Issues – On the search screen there is a good listing of all registration districts by name and when they were used by time period. For many people outside of England or Wales you may not be familiar enough with local district names to know if a name is close or far from where you expect to find an event. If you are not familiar with the district names and the places within the districts look to the Registration Districts in England and Wales page on Genuki created by Brett Langston. You can see here the names of the districts within each pre and post 1974 county. You can also download a pdf Place Name Index from the same page.

On the GRO website you are limited to searching in one district. You cannot select multiple districts or counties as you can with FreeBMD so sometimes it may be better to search on other sites first. There is a workaround for this limitation to pick up a wider geographic area. For any given time period the registration districts are combined into volumes. So for example in my 1880 death search Gateshead is in Volume 10A. I can omit anything in the district field but put 10A in the Volume field and it will pick up, in this case, all entries from County Durham, giving me 4 options. District 10B would be for Northumberland. The volume numbers vary by time period so you can use the List of Registration Districts provided on this site to find the relevant numbers for the time period of interest. Note that for numbers less than 10 add a 0. So Kent which is district 2A, on this site you search on 02A

Marriages – Nothing has changed here. Marriages were not indexed or digitized as part of the DoVE project before they ran out of money. You therefore have to use the existing images and order full paper certificates.

The Future – Unfortunately we don’t know what will happen at the end of this 3 week trial period. The results will be evaluated, but that does not mean the government will act on it.

The Opportunity right now is to have access to great indexes (likely to stay) but also to be able to get lower priced digital certificates. This is a golden opportunity to find those missing children and dead ancestors that you have not been able to locate yet. Take advantage of it.

GB1900 – Online Project – Great for Genealogists

GB1900.org Opening Screen - Project to save Great Britain place names identifying all places on 6 inch to one mile maps for 1900
GB1900.org Opening Screen – Project to save Great Britain place names identifying all places on 6 inch to one mile maps for 1900

Online Project to Save Great Britain’s Place Names – Great for Genealogists

Come join the project to identify all the place names in Great Britain. First I will explain what the project is, how it works and then why it is a great way for you to get to know the neighborhood in which your ancestor lived.

The new online project – GB1900 – is calling for volunteers to help make sure local place names can live on and not be lost forever. GB1900 aims to create a complete list of the estimated three million place-names on early Ordnance Survey maps of Great Britain (England, Scotland and Wales). It will be a free, public resource, of great value to local historians and genealogists. I will come back to this later.

The project partners include the University of Portsmouth (Great Britain Historical GIS Project: A Vision of Britain through Time); National Library of Scotland; National Library of Wales; University of Wales; The People’s Collection of Wales and the Royal Commission on the Ancient and Historical Monuments of Wales.

On their new GB1900 web site, http://www.gb1900.org, volunteers work on digital images of all the 2nd Edition Ordnance Survey County Series maps of the whole of Great Britain, at six inch to one mile scale. These maps show not just every town and village but every farm, hill and wood – and include names for most of them. The site’s software enables contributors to mark each name by clicking next to it, and then to type in the name itself. To ensure correctness each name needs to be identically transcribed by two different volunteers.

The final list of place names will be not just the most detailed gazetteer ever created for Britain, it will be the world’s largest ever historical gazetteer. It will be released under a Creative Commons license, making it usable by everyone without charge.

How the GB1900 Project Works

Go to www.gb1900.org. The first time you will need to register – name, email address and password. In the future when you return to login you will provide your email address and password. As of this morning there are 590 volunteers who have transcribed 440,789 places, and confirmed 42,766 places. What this means is that many more individual places have been tagged by individuals that have been confirmed by a second transcriber. Every place is being identified by two transcribers.

The first time into the system read the brief tutorial. It is easy to understand, but read it carefully. The mistake I made by not reading the tutorial carefully enough is that I was placing the marker on the map at the location of the feature, e.g. farm, mill, etc. This was wrong. The marker needs to go under the first letter of the text for that feature. Having tagged enough places now on the maps I can see the validity of this, especially in the crowded urban areas. Unfortunately, if you put a marker in the wrong place you can’t undo it.

You will see three types of markers. Brown – these are the places you have tagged; Green – these are places someone else has tagged; Purple – these are places tagged by someone and tagged again correctly by a second transcriber. When registered, you place the cursor under the first letter of a place name and hit enter. An entry box appears. Type in the name of the feature and confirm. The marker appears on screen, but you can’t see how it is labelled. If you are confirming a green marker and type in what the other person typed it changes to a purple marker, if you type in something different you get a brown marker. As you do more data entry menus will start to appear on your data entry box as you start typing. This is especially useful if you have common features in your area of interest, e.g. quarries, old mine shafts, foot paths, foot bridges, etc.

Common mistakes that I have made include – apostrophes in the wrong place, or missed; expanding an abbreviation, e.g. street when its only st on the map, which is easy to do especially when the entry box covers up the information on the map; or being too quick and ending up with a marker being placed where there is no feature. Unfortunately, if you make a typing error and immediately spot it, or put a marker in the wrong place there is no way to correct it.

Personal Statistics identifying how many places you have transcribed and confirmed, and listing the top 10 users (Paul Milner at number 10)
Personal Statistics identifying how many places you have transcribed and confirmed, and listing the top 10 users (Paul Milner at number 10)

If you log out and then come back into the system, then click on your name you will be told how many entries you have transcribed and how many entries you have confirmed. There is a ranking table for transcribers, and the number selected is the lower of your two numbers. So as of this morning I am number 10 on the top ten user list with 2,021, having transcribed 2,021 names, while I have confirmed 2113 places first marked by others.

As a Genealogist you should get involved.

You should get involved because looking at these detailed 6 inch to the mile maps helps you to get to know the neighborhood in which your ancestors lived. Doing the transcription reinforces in your mind the places names – streets, farms, mills, rivers, woods, all of which are named. But also you will learn about the: wells, parish boundary markers; public houses, foot paths and foot bridges.

The gazetteer on the opening pages seems to use the underlying modern Open Street Map index, so it will not find all locations on the map. It can be used to find a village or town that you want to explore. A slider in the upper right corner of the map can show you how the area has changed between the old 1900 maps and present. For my readers outside Great Britain the find my location button will not work.

For those with Welsh ancestors this project grew out of the Cymru1900wales.org project, so there are more place names already identified in Wales than other places in Great Britain.

For those with Irish connections, the old maps are not part of this project (yet?). However, the modern interactive map of Ireland is available on the opening screen, move the slider in the upper right to the left to see the modern underlying map.

This is a fun way to get to know the area in which your ancestor lived, be involved in a worthwhile project, and most importantly you don’t have to worry about old handwriting issues that you may have with other transcription projects. Come join this fun project, help yourself and your fellow researchers. Learn your ancestral neighborhood.

Book Review: Tracing Your Ancestors’ Parish Records by Stuart A. Raymond

Tracing Your Ancestors' Parish Records A Guide for Family and Local Historians by Stuart Raymond
Tracing Your Ancestors’ Parish Records A Guide for Family and Local Historians by Stuart Raymond

Tracing Your Ancestors’ Parish Records: A Guide for Family and Local Historians. By Stuart A. Raymond. Published by Pen & Sword Family History, 47 Church Street, Barnsley, South Yorkshire S70 2AS, UK www.pen-and-sword.co.uk. £12.99. US Distributor: CasemateIPM 908 Darby Road, Havertown PA 19083. www.casemateipm.com. $24.95. In Australia from www.gould.com.au. $30.25.  2015. 148 pp. Illustrations, index. Softcover.

This is a subject I know something about having written two recent books on English parish registers and the Parish Chest records. Yet, this book was a delight to read adding details and expanding upon what I already knew about the subject.

For many family historians it is the baptism, marriage and burials registers that are first and often only records used to identify an ancestor and put them into a specific time and place. These registers are covered in this book, but in one short chapter in the middle of the book. It is the other records created by the parish that will make our ancestors come alive. Their level in society is irrelevant as they will either be conducting the business of the parish, working for the parish in one of many capacities, or receiving assistance from the parish and its officers. In other words everyone can and should be found in these records, assuming they have survived for your parish of interest.

So what is here? The English parish was an integral part of English life for at least a thousand years, certainly up through the early twentieth century. Order within the country was maintained through the parish its officers and institutions, including: clergy; guilds; vestry; churchwardens; overseers; constables; highway surveyors; parish and vestry clerks; beadsmen; beadles; organists and singers; dog-whippers; and sidesmen all of whom are put into context and all of whom generated records and accounts. The parish itself is governed by the vestry so it is the vestry minutes and account books of the different officers that are often the most voluminous and detailed records within the parish, and unfortunately the least indexed or published. Until the mid-nineteenth century the parish was responsible for the poor and the book explains how and what shape that care took, how it changed over time, and what records were generated along the way. Care needs to be taken of the church buildings and its contents so we find: inventories of church goods; bede rolls; glebe terriers; Easter books; faculties; seating plans; magazines; sermons; registers of services and preachers. The church and its members were often involved in litigation as witnesses, petitioners, or as accused in the church courts, all leaving records. To put ancestors physically on the ground and understand their worth within the hierarchy of the parish look for the tithe records; the enclosure awards and maps; or the details on the parish charities.

Throughout the book the emphasis is on understanding the history of the records, their context and what they provide or tell a researcher. The researcher is pointed towards more in depth resources through annotated recommendations often history books that have used a specific record set to describe a specific place or time period. These histories are extremely valuable in putting ancestors and the places in which they live into a correct detailed historical context, for no parish is an island unto itself. The contents of specific document types are often extracts from published sources, only a few original documents are illustrated or extracted. The reader needs to look at both the citation endnotes and the recommended reading lists within each chapter for rarely will a source be in both lists.

I agree with the descriptive text on the cover, at least for English researchers, that this “is a book that all family and local historians should have on their shelves.” You will not be disappointed as this is a big subject and this book will start you off well.

Side note – my books Discover English Parish Registers and Buried Treasures: what’s in the English parish chest by Unlock The Past focus more on how to find, use and interpret the records,, and provide lots of practical advice. The above book adds more context and history.

Book Review: Tracing Your Merchant Navy Ancestors: A Guide for Family Historians by Simon Wills.

Review of Tracing Your Merchant Navy Ancestors
Tracing Your Merchant Navy Ancestors: A Guide for Family Historians by Simon Wills

Tracing Your Merchant Navy Ancestors: A Guide for Family Historians. By Simon Wills. Published by Pen & Sword Family History, 47 Church Street, Barnsley, South Yorkshire S70 2AS, UK www.pen-and-sword.co.uk. US Distributor: CasemateIPM 908 Darby Road, Havertown PA 19083. www.casemateipm.com. 2012. x, 180 pp. Illustrations, index. Softcover $29.95

Pen & Sword continues its excellent Family History book series with this guide to researching your Merchant Navy ancestors, a common occupation for many British ancestors, yet they can be difficult to trace. This guide book puts your ancestors into social context and provides guidance on where to find specifics on the men, and the ships on which they sailed.

The book is divided into nine chapters: Britain’s Merchant Fleet; life in the Merchant Service; finding and following a ship; tracing seamen and non-officers; captains and other officers; disaster and bravery; Merchant Navy in wartime; places to visit; case histories.

The book is full of fascinating helpful facts that put your ancestors and the research issues into context. For example, in 1899 there are 10,998 British-registered steam and sailing ships over 100 tons, dwarfing the closest rival the USA which had only 2,739 seagoing ships, while other countries went down from there. The ships are also not necessarily where you might expect them to be for in 1835 a list of the top ten ports where ships are registered includes, not surprisingly in the number one position London with 2,663 ships, Newcastle in number two with 987 ships, but how about Whitehaven, Cumbria in the number 7 slot with 496 ships, and Southampton a well- known port does not make the list.

One of the keys to Merchant Navy research is understanding where and when your ancestor was likely to have been as sea. The records, and thus where and how to search vary greatly by time period. In additional many of the record collections have been broken up and disseminated to archives scatted around the British Isles, with a large collection to the Maritime History Archive at the University of Newfoundland. Luckily the book does provide suggestions on when the records are centrally located, plus where and how to search when they are not.

The book is not just for those who served as ships masters, mates and seamen, but also includes all the other occupations you may find at sea such as carpenters, cooks, donkeymen, engineers, firemen, greasers, gunners, medical officers, pursers, stewards, storekeepers, telegraphers, and trimmers. The role of women is also highlighted.

Each chapter has numerous illustrations of ships, crew and the documents they used or those created by officials. There are numerous finding aids, and references suggested and where you may also find material online the web addresses are provided. I was actually surprised at how much may now be online, making the search process from outside the British Isles a little easier.

If you have Merchant Navy ancestors you will certainly want to have a look at this up to date research guide.

 

Book Review: The Family History Web Directory: The Genealogical Websites You Can’t Do Without by Jonathan Scott

The Family History Web Directory: The Genealogical Sites You Can't Do Without by Jonathan Scott
The Family History Web Directory: The Genealogical Sites You Can’t Do Without by Jonathan Scott

The Family History Web Directory: The Genealogical Websites You Can’t Do Without.  By Jonathan Scott. Published by Pen & Sword Family History, 47 Church Street, Barnsley, South Yorkshire S70 2AS, UK www.pen-and-sword.co.uk. ₤14.99. US Distributor: CasemateIPM 908 Darby Road, Havertown PA 19083. www.casemateipm.com. 2015. viii, 245 pp. Illustrations, index. Softcover $24.95

Mr. Scott comes to the task as a freelance writer, former deputy editor of Family History Monthly, and writer, since 2007 of the ‘Best websites’ column for the Who Do You Think You Are? Magazine. He is therefore used to finding and evaluating genealogy websites with the depth and breadth of experience clearly showing.

The introduction to the book explains the filing system at work in the book. “Each chapter lists websites broadly in order of importance, interest and usefulness. The idea being that for those just starting their research into a particular branch or topic, this will lead them quickly to the best of most interesting resources. Then in the index at the back all the websites appear again, often more than once, but listed this time alphabetically by title, content or subject.” (p.vii)

The book is divided into five sections. The first section identifies websites for getting started in genealogy addressing the fundamentals such as civil registration, census and parish registers. The second and longest section, entitled digging deeper, takes you into all sorts of record groups: burial records and monumental inscriptions; probate and wills; taxation; election records; crime and punishment; court records; coroner’s inquest; poor law and workhouses; schools; directories; newspapers; migration; overseas research; Wales; Ireland; Scotland; hospitals and medicine; catholic records; Jewish records; nonconformist records; photographs and films; Londoners; maps; estate records; seventeenth and eighteenth century sources; slavery; sports and pastimes. The third section examines websites for military and conflict, addressing each of the services, as well as examining specific conflicts and time periods. The fourth section addresses occupations with nineteen different categories with the last being a catch all for other occupations and apprentices. You will likely find multiple sites here for your occupation of interest. The final section covers miscellaneous sites identifying: resources by region; blogs and forums; house history; medieval ancestors; heraldry; nobility and gentry; sharing research; social networking; plus software and apps.

For each entry it provides a title; address and a brief description if warranted, and often one is needed, which just adds to the value of the listing.

While I was reading this book I found myself marking those sites that I had never heard of and wanted to go and check out, or ones that I had not visited in a while and I wanted to remind myself to have a fresh look. All the time I was thinking will this provide something new for my own research? The result was a book with a surprisingly large number of marks of sites I need to check out. I am working through the marks as time allows and finding all sorts of additional information.

Most people are unlikely to read this book from cover to cover. Rather it is a tool to aid you in your research. It is one to be dipped into to solve a problem or to specifically look for new websites. In that sense it is a goldmine of leads for British research. I can highly recommend it. Yes, some of the websites will become obsolete, so you can use the wayback machine at archive.org. You will also still need your favorite search engine as new websites will be created. In the meantime, get this book.

Release of 1939 Register for England and Wales

1939 Register symbol on FindMyPast
1939 Register symbol on FindMyPast

The recent release of the 1939 Register has brought fresh excitement to British researchers. This is one of the most important documents created for twentieth century British research, because the 1931 census was destroyed during the war, and the 1941 census was never taken. I was going to write earlier this week about this but I am glad that I did not as search techniques and results presented have changed. I will provide some background information, an introduction on how to search the records and some case studies.

Background information

In December 1938 it was announced that if Great Britain went to war then there would be a National Register. Following the declaration of war of 3 September 1939 the National Registration Day was set as 29 September 1939. For those who have seen the PBS show Home Fires this event was shown in one of the early episodes. Every civilian was to be recorded, with forms being issued to over 41 million people throughout Great Britain and Northern Ireland, though only the records for England and Wales have been released. Completion of the cards resulted in the issuing of national identity cards which were required to be carried at all times up to 1952, ration books, and later were used for establishing the National Health Service. The use of this record for the National Health Service is why you will see recorded the married surname of many women marrying later, and also why some people younger than age 100 are not hidden in the records, their deaths having been recorded up to 1991 in the records. If you can document that someone has died then records currently closed can be opened up.

Search for Walter Crowhurst on Advanced search screen showing all options
Search for Walter Crowhurst on Advanced search screen showing all options

How to access. The 1939 Register has been released online by FindMyPast in partnership with The National Archives. The Register consists of over 7,000 volumes with over 1,200,000 pages providing names, dates of birth, addresses, marital status, occupations, and sometimes additional comments for over 41,000,000 people. FindMyPast claims a 98% accuracy rate in transcription, so my ancestors must fall into that 2%, with more on this later.

FindMyPast provides additional background information, including a nice short U-Tube video about the Register, and a getting started guide on their website, though part of this is already out of date.

Anyone can do a search in the 1939 Register for free on FindMyPast, but to unlock the images you will need to purchase credits (300 credits unlocks 5 households). The purchasing of credits applies whether you are a subscriber or not. Providing you use the same registration email each time, then you will not have to pay to view the register pages in the future.

Search Options – You can do a simple search on first and last name; birth year and where they were in 1939. This might work for you but the advanced search screen opens up a great number of options. You can search on First and Last names, with variants; birth year, with optional range of years; date and month of birth; place keyword; sex; occupation; marital status; street; borough / district filter; county filter; country filter; first and last name of other household member; plus TNA reference. If you scroll down the search screen you will find explanations of these fields and these should definitely be read if you don’t find who you are looking for.

Example – Walter Crowhurst – gg-grandfather

Free preview screen for Walter Crowhurst household in Strood Rural District, Kent
Free preview screen for Walter Crowhurst household in Strood Rural District, Kent

Let’s provide some examples. We will start with a search for Walter Crowhurst, born 1859 – my gg-grandfather. Because of the age there are only two options and we choose the one in Strood R.D. in Kent. The preview screen shows Walter Crowhurst born in 1859, in a house with two other people. There are no closed entries in this household, implying that the other two people are either known to be deceased or would be over 100 years old. To see all the details the household needs to be unlocked. This is where you need to register and purchase credits (a subscription to FindMyPast is separate and not required).

Unlocked results screen for Walter Crowhurst household
Unlocked results screen for Walter Crowhurst household

Unlocking the household shows us that Walter Crowhurst was born 12 Sept 1859 is a pensioner, and is living with two of his sons: Victor James Crowhurst, born 21 Jun 1896 a farm labourer; and John Lenard Crowhurst born 13 Sep 1898 a Labourer. The new information for me is that beside John Lenard’s name we have in the comments section – Pensioner Gunner 21 years in Royal Artillery with the number NC1031520.

Details for Walter Crowhurst of Rose Cottage, Upper Halling, Kent
Details for Walter Crowhurst of Rose Cottage, Upper Halling, Kent

Given his age this suggests that he probably served during World War One but will not likely show up in any of the normal WWI records because he continued to serve after the war, and thus his records will still be at the Ministry of Defence. Walter’s address is given as Rose Cottage, Upper Halling, with no street being provided. It is common for houses in Britain to have names and so care is needed if an address search is performed.

Map showing location of Rose Cottage in Upper Halling where Walter Crowhurst Resides.
Map showing location of Rose Cottage in Upper Halling where Walter Crowhurst Resides.

Scrolling down the screen on the opened results page you will find a map highlighting where the house is located. You can see the house on the 1888-1913 Ordnance Survey six inch map, or the 1937-1961 Ordnance Survey 1:25,000 map. This can give you an indication of how the neighborhood has changed over time, though in this example it has not changed much.

Example – James Croudace – g-grandfather
Let’s search for James Croudace my great-grandfather born according to the 1939 Register on 10 Nov 1884 but this is actually incorrect because his birth certificate shows that he was born on 7 Nov 1884. This example highlights the care needed with trying to search using the dates of birth. James is listed as a widow and working as a general labourer. Note that the address is shown on this image as 29 ditto, with no indication above showing what street is. On the preview page the address is shown as 29 West Road, Newcastle-upon-Tyne CB, Northumberland, England. So be careful that you have collected all the information that the record provides as it may not all be on the actual image.

No relationship is known to any of the other people in the rest of the household but it is a good example of what additional information you may find. Annie Graham born 17 Feb 1910, probable wife of Joseph Graham is overwritten in green ink to show a new married surname of Bickerdyke, while off to the side also in green is a dated entry 26-2-69 showing CR283 New, actually this is the date of her new marriage.

Example – Richard and Jean Finnigan – grand-parents

Unlocked results screen for Richard Nicholson Finnigan and Jean Finnigan of 93 Aldwick Road, Newcastle Upon Tyne
Unlocked results screen for Richard Nicholson Finnigan and Jean Finnigan of 93 Aldwick Road, Newcastle Upon Tyne

The above examples were easy to find. Let’s see how creative you might have to get. I was looking for Richard Finnigan born 22 Sep 1904 but he was not found in the search because of a FindMyPast transcription error on the month, and Richard giving a wrong year of birth, plus no Finnigan’s showing up on the results page. I did a search for Jean using date of birth and again no Finnigan matches. I recalled that the family moved in the 1930s as part of a slum clearance to Aldwick road in Newcastle-upon-Tyne so I did a search – but there were no Finnigan’s on the street. The search was repeated just for the street name, and there were multiple results screens but one potential Richard and one potential Jean. Now when I first did the search the TNA reference number was given and you could search on that number to reduce the number of potentials. It showed the Richard and Jean to be on the same page of results, with one closed record. I wish the TNA reference option was returned because it gave me enough encouragement to think I had the correct family in spite of the errors.

Unlocked results screen for Richard Nicholson Finnigan and Jean Finnigan of 93 Aldwick Road, Newcastle Upon Tyne
Unlocked results screen for Richard Nicholson Finnigan and Jean Finnigan of 93 Aldwick Road, Newcastle Upon Tyne

I paid to unlock the record and it was the correct family – Richard + Jean + 4 closed records (not 1as the search screen suggested). So why was the family so difficult to find? In the FindMyPast index their surname was listed as ~??? – try finding that surname on a search, though it is readable as Finnigan. Richard is employed as a Brass Foundry labourer in the heavy works, and in the comment field listed as an ARP Warden, the first documentation I have of this family story. The other confirmation I have that I have the correct family is that Richard’s middle name – Nicholson – has been added in green ink.

Example – Reginald Ernest Milner and Jane Milner- grandparents

My grandfather Reginald Ernest Milner, born 6 August 1904, plus his wife Jane Milner (nee Croudace) born 22 January 1909 along with my father James B.W. Milner born 4 October 1929 (died 1980), plus two closed brothers are all missing an unaccounted for in the 1939 Register. I have tried all sorts of combinations of names, dates and no names but with no luck so far. I think this family may fall foul of one of the exceptions in that military families are not included and I suspect Reginald was in the Army reserves and may already have been called up. My understanding is if he was in the army he would not be in the Register, but does that mean his family was not either? I include this family in the blog to point out that not everyone is easy to locate and therefore you have to think about why not. Is it an indexing problem, missing information or do they meet one of the exceptions. Unlike the Finnigan I am not sure where this family was in September 1939 – Mill Lane, Newcastle; farming in Essex; visiting family in Kent; at an army base in Yorkshire. No matter I can’t find the family anywhere.

Summary – For those with ancestors or relatives still in England or Wales in 1939 you should be looking at this resource. You can do free searching in the indexes, but you will have to pay to see the results. It will provide birth dates, which you may or may not have already, give locations and occupations, and may provide additional information.