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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.
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.
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short U-Tube video about the Register, and a getting started guide on their website, though part of this is already out of date.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
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).
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.
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.
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
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.
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.
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.
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 Waris 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).
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.
– 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.
This is the third post in a series about how to search on FindMyPast.
One of the major reasons for the change in search design was the ability to add databases and images to the collection and to have a standardized way of searching everything at once. Selecting the A-Z of Record Sets brings up a complete current listing of datasets. This is certainly growing as FindMyPast is in the midst of adding 100 datasets in 100 days campaign. These vary in size greatly but can still be added quickly and efficiently.
The first task is narrow down the options. The first way is to define your region – World; United States; United Kingdom; Australia & New Zealand; and Ireland. Even after this search there still likely to be multiple pages to read through. You can read through the list, you can search on a type of record or you can type in a locality (such as the name of a county).
In this case study I want to highlight what you can learn about the records. Here I am going to select the Anglo-Boer War Records 1899-1902. Selecting the database brings up a search screen, showing the fields on which you can search. This time I am going to search of the surname Mosley. I am looking for Henry Samuel Mosley who served in the Veterinary Corps and was awarded medals during the war.
There are 19 Mosley’s, but no Henry or Samuel and of note no one from the Veterinary Corps. Interestingly, doing what I suggested in the last post, selecting surname variants produces 126 hits. One of those hits is a H.G. Moseley of the Army Veterinary Department who is on Roll 230. This record is a transcript so the original would need to be sought and checked to see if this is a transcription error or not. There is no image of the originals for this collection.
Let’s return to the search screen where when we scroll down the page we find important information about this record set.
What can these records tell me? Certainly the first time into any new set of records you should read this. You may also find it useful to read again after you have worked with and become more familiar the record content as you are more likely to appreciate the subtleties of what the information provided is telling you.
In this case study we have drop down menus for: Learn more about these records; Sources used to compile the register; and Details about the Anglo-Boer War Records 1899-1902. The specifics will vary depending upon the record set. For this case study let’s examine the details a little closer.
Learn more about these records: Tells us that the dataset contains 271,771 names, with a completely revised casualty list of 59,000 records. The transcripts may provide: first name; last name; service number; unit(s); rank; regiment; memorials; medals (roll reference and possibly clasp entitlement) honours and awards; literary references; casualties.
Sources used to compile the register: Here is a list of the various sources used to create this compiled dataset. Only with more research will you become familiar with the different sources and what they do or do not provide, which is especially important if you do or do not find the person you are seeking in this dataset. As with any research the probability is high that there are additional sources to be found.
Details about the Anglo-Boer War Records 1899-1902: Here is explanatory information on the sources used to create the database and why it was compiled in the first place; why different and duplicate information can be found on the same soldier; why there are problems with place names and how they have been solved; why the database may change.
Useful Links and Resources: These links are to the upper right of the screen. In this case study it highlights the 1891 and 1901 census returns for England, obviously because many of the men included in the data set will be children or teenagers in the 1891 census, and may be absent, ready to leave, or have returned in time for the 1901 census.
Conclusion – Experiment with and practice with the different search options to find your ancestors. How you search should depend upon what information you are looking for. Importantly when you do find an ancestor, and probably more so when you don’t find an individual you are expecting to find in a given dataset, read the supporting descriptive material as it will explain what you have searched.
In the last post I highlighted how to Search All Records and saw some of the benefits.
In this blog post lets search within a specific Record Category. In this case study I am going to search the Census, Land & Substitutes category. So from the pull down menu on the search bar select – Census, Land and Substitutes. You will see a different search screen appear, different from the one used in the last blog post for search all records.
Often when you start new research you want to get a sense of how common a name is. So let’s search on Milner and in the Where box I am going to select the United Kingdom. That comes out with 75,551 hits which is too many for even me to search through. The first page of results suggests some early records are coming up from the early 1700’s from the Westminster Rate Books and Cheshire Land Tax Assessments.
I need to edit my search using the big blue edit button on the left of the screen in the box. This time I will limit my search to the county of Kent, where my Milner’s come from. Now I am down to 1,547 with results from various census returns and UK Electoral rolls.
Editing my search to 1851 inserted in the first When box – the other date boxes are for year of birth or year of death (not a good choice for finding a person in the census). Now I am down to 63 results arranged alphabetically by first name.
At this point you could scroll through the list to see who you might be looking for – search for a first name – search for someone else in the house – search for an address. In my case I am going to search on the village of interest – Leeds. I add the name Leeds to the where box. Now I am down to 16 individuals residing in Leeds, Kent in the 1851 census. The year born is provided, though obviously calculated from the age in the census return, so the information is only as accurate as the person giving the age chooses to make it. However, based on those ages you can see that there are multiple Milner families living in Leeds, all of whom are related.
Note in the illustration that the search criteria are in the box to the left of the results. On the right of the line for each individual there are two blue boxes – a camera for an image – a page for a transcript. For the census records you will usually find both. Some searches will only provide a transcript.
Now as a safety precaution I returned to my search results leaving my search parameters the same but selecting the box for surname variants. This time instead of 16 individuals I now have 27 individuals. I have picked up variations with Millner and Milliner, both commonly found in this area. Yes, the individuals are still all related to one another.
You can re-order the results. The results by default will be presented by relevance. There is a pull down menu to the top right of the results box that allows re-ordering by: last name; first name; born; died; event; and record set. Obviously some of these will not do anything depending upon how you have already filtered the results, but in this case it might be helpful to reorder by first name (to make surname variations irrelevant) or by birth year to put them in age order and to find the family patriarchs.
FindMyPast has been changing rapidly as it updates its offerings and search mechanisms. This has not been so noticeable for the Americans and Australians, but for the British readers it has been a major change.
The British version of FindMyPast was the original website. It had great content, search tools, and supporting information. However, its design and structure which made it so easy to navigate also made it inflexible when it came to adding additional databases quickly for subscribers to access.
The new design and search mechanisms are the only ones the Americans and Australians have known, but the change to one platform has created turmoil for the British Users who liked the old structure which had not changed for years.
For those who are not yet subscribers to FindMyPast you can do any of the searches without being a subscriber, but you cannot see the transcription details or images without being a subscriber. I think you will find it worth your while to join and explore.
So let’s examine the three ways to search on FindMyPast
1. Search all records
2. Search within a record category
3. Choose a specific set of records
We will explore – Search all records in this post and focus on the other two mechanisms in the subsequent two blog posts.
1. Search All Records
From the opening page at www.findmypast.com go to the pull down menu under Search records and select the first option – Search all records
Yes, you may want to start filling in the boxes. First though take notice of the advice on how to get started. The first item is the most important – Start broad, and then filter – this is actually very important and encourages you to do things in the order that the search engine likes.
Start with the boxes across the top first. – Who, When and Where
Who – this is the person or family you are looking for. You can search on exact names or name variants and the first time through the search I go for variants on first name – so I pick up Richard, Rich, Dick or any other appropriate variation, but usually exact on the surname – though I know many of the surnames are commonly found in various forms – Milner, Millner, Milliner, etc.
When – here you have the option of choosing a date for born, died, or a date of a specific event, e.g. specific census. Then with a drop down menu you can choose +/- 1, 2, 5, 10, 20 or40 years.
Where – this provide a drop down box with World, Australia and New Zealand, Ireland, United Kingdom, and United States and Canada. This obviously gives you an idea of where the primary datasets are from. In the box beside the Where you can also narrow the place down geographically
In this case study I am going to search for Richard Milner, born in 1790 +/- 10 years in the United Kingdom. I get 329 results presented in tabular format. In this case we are presented with 10 results and then there is an advertisement for how many times the name Milner was found in British newspapers (1,029 hits). The important point is that the results table continues below this advertisement and you may not catch that depending how it appears on your screen.
If at this stage I narrow my geographic location to Kent, a county in England, my options are reduced to 13, of which only 7 have the name Richard connected with the Milner. Even this simple option narrowed my options.
In the column on the left side of your screen you will see how to narrow down your results. It is best to move down the column in order, unless you know specifically where you are going.
First you will notice that some of the records categories are greyed out meaning there were no hits for the given search parameters in those collections. So for these search parameters I have hits in: Birth, Marriage and Death (Parish Registers); Census, Land & Substitutes; Military Service and Conflict.
If we take a close look at the results page we actually get a good number of records for our man. The first record is his attestation record into the 36th Regiment of Foot in April 1815, just a couple of months before the end of the Napoleonic Wars. This record tells us, among other things that he was age seventeen and born in the village of Leeds in Kent. The fourth result down is the 1851 census where we find the 56 year old laborer and Royal Marine Pensioner from Leeds, Kent living with his 47 year old wife Maria.
The fifth result down is a transcript from the Thames & Medway Marriages database showing that Richard Milner married Maria Burress on 31 May 1833 in St. Margaret’s Rochester, extracted from the parish register. The sixth entry down is an 1862 entry from the September quarter of England’s civil registration for deaths in the Medway District where Richard is residing and would be a possible death record – from this one entry you cannot be certain but it is a possibility.
Thus the benefit of searching everything is the possibility of finding multiple records for one individual. Care needs to be taken to ensure you have the correct person. The only way I know which results are for my Richard Milner is the fact that I have already done the corroborating research on this man.