The 1939 Register, often called the Eve of War Register, provides a snapshot of the civilian population of England and Wales just after the outbreak of the Second World War. It was taken on 29 September 1939.
The information recorded was used to produce identity cards and, once rationing was introduced in January 1940, to issue ration books.
Information in the Register was also used to administer conscription and the direction of labour, and to monitor and control the movement of the population caused by military mobilisation and mass evacuation.
Although similar to the Censuses which had been taken every ten years since 1841, the 1939 Register differs in several respects. It does not list the relationships between members of the household, on the other hand it does list dates of birth rather than just ages and, most importantly for Family Historians, name changes are recorded. This is enormously helpful when women married, changing their names to their husbands’, when immigrants chose to anglicise their names or, indeed, if names were changed for any reason at all.
It is also an invaluable resource for all family history researchers because the 1931 Census was destroyed by fire during the Second World War and, also because of that War, no Census was taken in 1941. Therefore, between the 1921 and the 1951 Censuses the Eve of War Register is the only record of the civilian population.
On the whole, military personnel and those serving in the Forces and on military establishments were not included in this Register but were recorded separately by the military authorities.
Until 1952, when National Registration ceased, it was a legal requirement to notify any changes of name or address. However, with the inception of the National Health Service in 1948, the Register took on an additional role, becoming the basis for the National Health Service Central Register; as such, it continued to be maintained and updated by the NHSCR right up until 1991, hence greatly increasing its value as a genealogical resource.
The civilian populations of Scotland, Northern Ireland, the Isle of Man and the Channel Islands are not included in this Register, but further details can be obtained from the National Records of Scotland and the Public Record Office of Northern Ireland.
The 1939 Register for England and Wales is kept at The National Archives in Kew.