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.

Remembrance Sunday – Soldiers Who Died in World War One

John Finnigan (Finnegan) C Company 11th Battalion Royal Inniskilling Fusiliers. Wounded 1 July 1916 near Thiepval. DIed 10 July 1916 on Hospital ship returning to ENgland. Buried in Elswick Cemetery Newcastle upon Tyne Northumberland.
Private John Finnigan, C Company of the 11th Battalion of the Royal Inniskilling Fusiliers, wounded on the First Day of the Battle of the Somme, died 10 July 1916 on the hospital ship returning to England

Today is Remembrance Sunday, the second Sunday in November each year. It is the day originally to remember all those who died in World War One.

Following is a list of my own relatives on my family tree who I know to have been killed during World War One. I would like to remember these brave soldiers. I have many others who served during the war but who survived.

Finnegan, Robert – Corporal in 11th Bn. Royal Inniskilling Fusiliers. Died 1 Jul 1916 – First day of the Battle of the Somme. Commemorated on Thiepval Memorial (Memorial to the Missing on the Somme)
Finnigan, John – Private “C” Copy, 11th Bn. Royal Inniskilling Fusiliers. Wounded 1 Jul 1916 – First day of the Battle of the Somme, died 10 Jul 1916 on hospital ship returning to England. Buried Newcastle-Upon-Tyne (St. John’s Westgate and Elswick) Cemetery, Northumberland.
Finnigan, William – Lance Corporal in 8th Bn. West Yorkshire Regiment (Prince of Wales Own). Died 26 Jul 1918 and Buried in St. Sever Cemetery Extension, Rouen
Croudace, John – Private in 12th/13th Bn. Northumberland Fusiliers. Died 21 Mar 1918. Commemorated on Pozieres Memorial (Somme Battlefield, 6 km. north of Albert)
Crowhurst, Bertie Walter – Private in 2nd Bn. Dorsetshire Regiment. Died 18 Mar. 1916. Buried in Kut War Cemetery (modern day Iraq)
Hayes, Herbert – Sergeant in 178th Siege Bty. Royal Garrison Artillery. Died 7 Jul. 1917. Buried in Lijssenthoek Military Cemetery (Poperinge, West-Vlaanderen, Belgium – 2nd largest Commonwealth Cemetery in Belgium)
Doran, William Henry – Private in 1st Bn. Border Regiment. Died 5 Jul. 1915. Buried in Twelve Tree Copse Cemetery (near village of Krithia, Turkey – Gallipoli battlefield)
Doran, Bernard – Private in 5th Bn. Border Regiment. Died 4th Feb. 1916. Buried in Lijssenthoek Military Cemetery (Poperinge, West-Vlaanderen, Belgium – 2nd largest Commonwealth Cemetery in Belgium)

Yes, if you have a connection to any of these soldiers I would like to hear from you.

Searching “Soldiers Died in the Great War”

Search results from FindMyPast for John Crondace, who is really John Croudace private in Northumberland Fusiliers
Search results from FindMyPast for John Crondace, who is really John Croudace

Soldiers Died in the Great War and Officers Died in the Great War are two sources to use for those who died during the war, after one has done a search of the Commonwealth War Grave Commission site, explained in three earlier posts (part one for John Croudace – this same soldier, part two and part three).

Soldiers Died in the Great War consists of 80 parts, published in October 1921 by the War Office and printed by His Majesty’s Stationary Office. They have been reprinted by J.B. Hayward. They have been transcribed and issued on CD-Rom and are also available online, and I will return to this later. The original 80 parts cover all British Regiments, Artillery, Engineers, Machine Gun Corps, Service Corps, Labour Corps and miscellaneous units. The people not included in these volumes are the sea soldiers (Royal Marines, Royal Marine Light Infantry or the Royal Naval Division) or the airmen other than the officers of the Royal Flying Corp and those attached to the Royal Air Force.

Search results from Ancestry for John Crondace, actually John Croudace of the Northumberland Fusiliers
Search results from Ancestry for John Crondace, actually John Croudace

The part for each regiment is divided up into battalions with the casualties listed alphabetically by battalion, with the exception of the Worcester Regiment which arranges its section with all the A’s by battalion, followed by all the B’s by battalion.

The information listed includes: surname; first name(s); place of birth; place of enlistment; place of residence (in brackets); regimental number; rank; how died (d.=died; d. of w.=died of wounds; killed= accidentally killed; k. in a.=killed in action; d. at sea=died at sea).

Officers Killed in the Great War is the companion volume to Soldiers Died in the Great War and may give more details on how they died (e.g. as prisoner in German hands, killed by his bearer, murdered by tribesman, etc).

How to get results for John Croudace when there is a typo resulting in John Crondace
Search Screen on FindMyPast for John Crondace / Croudace using * to replace letters in search

Searching Online – can be carried out on both FindMyPast and Ancestry. The database on both sites is the Soldiers Died in the Great War, but it actually includes Officer Killed in the Great War. Both online indexes use the same dataset provided by Naval & Military Press Ltd, thus you are not likely to get any difference in results when searching on one site verses another.

Research Points
– Spelling errors – any printing errors in the original publications, such as in the example Crondace instead of Croudace, will be picked up in the online indexes.
– Casualties in Italy may be labelled as Italy or more likely to be labelled F&F (France & Flanders) so compare with burial site on the Commonwealth War Grave Commission website.
– The lists commonly show France & Flanders but you need to check the Commonwealth War Grave Commission website to see if the soldier died in France or Flanders (Belgium).
– Most regiments only record death up to Armistice Day (11 November 1918) thus do not pick up soldiers who were dying of wounds received or who were still fighting in the later campaigns.
– Usually for soldiers only one regiment is identified and this is most likely the one in which he enlisted – which may be different from the one he was attached to when he died. With officers multiple regiments may be identified.
– The rank identified is the highest achieved overseas while on active service and may be a temporary rank.

WWI – Finding the Dead – Commonwealth War Graves Commission part 1

Home Page fro Commonwealth War Grave Commission Website with simple search box in upper right.
Home Page for Commonwealth War Grave Commission Website with simple search box in upper right.

I said in an earlier posting that this year I was going to have a special focus on World War One research. I have had a couple of postings mentioning new resources, but now I want to start explaining how to use the existing resources to trace your World War One ancestors and to put them into context.

Let’s assume your ancestor did not survive the war. The place to start is the Commonwealth War Graves Commission website at www.cwgc.org.

The Commonwealth War Graves Commission ensures that the 1.7 million people who died in the two world wars will never be forgotten. The Commission is responsible for marking and maintaining the graves of those members of the Commonwealth forces who died. It therefore cares for cemeteries and memorials in 23,000 locations, in 153 countries. One of the sad parts of these numbers is that for many the person in the grave is unknown, and for many on the memorials no identifiable remains have been recovered.

Don’t lose hope though. For the family historian the important resource provided is the index to the 1.7 million who have died in the two wars. There are 1,059,642 names from the WWI and 649,489 names from WWII.

Let’s start here by defining for this database what period is being searched when WWI is selected. The first day deaths are recorded is the 4 August 1914 with four deaths, while the last day for recording WWI deaths is 31 August 1921 when 24 deaths were recorded in England, India and South Africa. Remember that the war began on 28 July 1914 with Austria-Hungary’s declaration of war with Serbia. England declared war with Germany on 4 August 1914 and so four members of the British Armed Services lost their lives on the first day of the war. England declared war later against Austria-Hungary on 12 August 1914; against Turkey on 5 November 1914; and against Bulgaria on 15 October 1915.

Let’s jump right in and do a search, partially because that is what most people are going to do. From the home page you can do a simple search using: surname; initials; service; and war. For this illustration I am doing a search on the name Croudace, and I choose WWI. I have seven results listed, and this is definitely one of the benefits of an unusual surname. In this case I can examine all seven results by selecting the surname on each line in turn.

John Croudace - Northumberland Fusiliers son of Andrew John Croudcae and  Jane Croudace
Search results for surname Croudace on Commonwealth War Grave Commission Website

The soldier I actually need is John Croudace.  The results shown are in a standardized format. What you hope and pray for is data in the Additional Information field for without it you may or may not be able to positively identify your serviceman or woman. In this case we learn that John Croudace is the son of John and Jane Croudace, of 14 Bentinck Street in Newcastle-on-Tyne. I have John with his parents (A.J. – Andrew John and Jane Croudace) and siblings at this address in the 1911 census. I have my serviceman.

Details for John Croudace of the Northumberland Fusiliers, son of John and Jane Croudace
Details for John Croudace of the Northumberland Fusiliers, son of John and Jane Croudace

The standardized data fields are: name; rank; service number; date of death; age; regiment/service; grave reference, and the cemetery where buried or the memorial where his name is inscribed. There may also be the valuable additional information. The additional information was drawn from the soldiers paperwork where they often, but not always, named parents, or wives. This is especially valuable as many of those documents were destroyed by fire during World War II. I will come back to what has survived of these records in a later post. There can also be extensive information with photographs on the cemetery where the person in buried.

Presentation Memorial  Certificate  for John Croudace.
Presentation Memorial Certificate for John Croudace.

In the upper right corner of the casualty details box is a button for – view certificate. This is a very nice certificate to print to remember your serviceman or woman, and to insert into your research files. Please note that one key piece of information is missing from the certificate which would be vital if you are planning on visiting the cemetery or monument. What is missing is the grave reference number, or the panel number of the memorial.

We will take a closer look at this website in the next blog posting.