Saturday, 16 January 2010

1939 National Identity Register

Family historians may know that, following applications under the Freedom of Information Acts, it is now possible to request information from the UK 1939 National Identity Register.

The National Register was taken on 29th September 1939 (shortly after the outbreak of the Second World War) and was used for the issuing of identity cards and rationing books. Information from the register later formed the basis of the National Health Service Central Register. For genealogists, much of the importance of the 1939 National Identity Register lies in the fact that no census was taken in 1941 and so, although not strictly a census, the register serves as a replacement.

As with many records, the process for obtaining information is slightly different in Scotland than it is in England & Wales. Although in all cases it is only possible to request information on deceased persons.

The situation in England & Wales is far from clear, although Guy Etchells has successfully requested information on the deceased residents of an address in Leamington Spa and the results can be seen at

However, a news release from the Scottish Government at clearly sets out how to obtain information from the Scottish register, providing an address to write to and detailing the necessary fee. What isn't clear from the news release is whether it is necessary to know the address where a person was resident in 1939 in order to request their details.

Further information can be found on Chris Paton's blog Scottish Genealogy News and Events. Chris has successfully requested details of two ancestors, in one case without knowing an address, and received a response in just three days – quite impressive!

For me, the ability to request information on an individual without knowing their address greatly increases the usefulness of the 1939 National Identity Register. In effect, you supply a name and date of death and in return are given that person's date of birth, with their occupation, marital status and address on a given date – if only all genealogical research was that simple!

I wonder if the fast turnaround was in part due to the fact that the availability of this information has not been well publicised. In fact, aside from the news release and Chris' blog mentioned above I could find very little online about it.

I was particularly surprised to find no mention of how to request information from the 1939 National Identity Register on the website of the General Register Office for Scotland (although there is a little history given in the section on the NHS Central Register and elsewhere).

However, I was intrigued to find, hidden away on the site, the information that the 1939 National Register has been digitised (apparently in the last few years). It seems likely that the existence of this digitised version of the register is the reason why requesting information from Scotland is apparently so straightforward.

Presumably the digitisation of the register was not done with any intention of making the information public. However, surely a strong argument can be made that the information held in the register is no more personal than that provided in modern records of births, marriages and deaths. Records which, although not available as digital images online, can be viewed in full by anyone who visits the ScotlandsPeople Centre in Edinburgh.

If the Scottish 1939 National Identity Register is already digitised why not make it fully accessible to the public at the ScotlandsPeople Centre?

UPDATE: 14 September 2011

I've recently become aware that people searching online for information on the 1939 National Identity Register may be coming across this, now outdated, post. For the avoidance of confusion, the access details and costs are currently as follows:
England & Wales - £42 per request
Application details at

Scotland - £13 per request
Application details at

Northern Ireland - via FOI request
General details at
For details of a success request see Chris Paton's post:


  1. Re Eng & Wales. I have sucessfully applied for two sets of details from the 1939 Registration. In the first case there was some confusion, but the second request went through without any problems. There seems to be a problem with people who registered in 1939 and then went into the forces as when they were demobbed they were issued with new NHI numbers. I have written about the situation should anyone wish to read about .it

  2. Thanks for the input Gerard. I read the details given on your website of your experiences with the National Register with interest.

    Good to hear you have been successful!


  3. An announcement on how the English and Welsh returns will be made more accessible by the National Health Service Information Centre will be forthcoming in the next few weeks (that's from their press officer yesterday), whilst a second appeal by Guy Etchells will be heard in March concerning information on living individuals.

    A difference with north and south is that an English and Welsh enquiry until now has provided info on all members of the household now deceased. Scottish returns are per individual. Guy is recommending enquiries go in now down south before a formal scheme is announced, as you might get it for free - see the relevant Rootschat thread at,418504.0.html

    The Scottish returns were originally digitised for use of the NHS - the information in the registers is still used today. The press release does not mention that cheques should be made payable to the General Register Office for Scotland.

    I also have information on the Northern Irish situation which I'll be posting on my blog shortly, but 'dont get your hopes up' is the summary!


  4. These posts keep getting better and better!This is an excellent resource!

  5. Who Do You Think You Are? Magazine covered this story a few days ago. You can see it here:

    The two Freedom of Information requests referred to in the article relate to those by Guy Etchells and Steven Smyrl (who is a member of the Council of Irish Genealogical Organisations) -

  6. Thanks for your valuable information.Your blog seems to be very interesting.
    genealogy services

  7. I thought I had found the only way to prove my Grandmothers date of birth, through the 1939 National Identity Cards which says that if I pay £42 I will be given this information as the records show the DOB! now your site is saying it only shows the age! which does not help me! Also I have two address's she definately would have been living but I think you can only give one? Can anyone help please.

  8. Joan,

    Since I wrote this post I have made two requests for information from the Scottish National Identity Register and in both cases a full date of birth was shown.

    However, I haven't tried making a request for similar information from England & Wales and the process for requesting information is different.

    From the details given at it appears that you should get a date of birth. I am not sure about the problem with the two addresses, maybe someone else can help?


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  10. I have secured information from an address in St. Albans, though did so just prior to the introduction of the £42 system, by use of a Freedom of Information request. I requested information on my grandfather's cousin, Reverend William Paton, and supplied the address. I received details of himself, his wife, two children, two boarders (one of whom I believe may have been a German evacuee). In each case I was given the date of birth.

    I have also secured information from the Scottish equivalent, and that for Northern Ireland - again, in all entries date of birth has been supplied. Details from the Scottish record are at - details from Northern Ireland at

    The following note from my blog is worth considering when making an application in England, as the records available go beyond the actual 'census' date - but only if you ask for it specifically. See


  11. Joan

    I have used the service just once (due to the high cost) for my own grandparents in Yorkshire; my mother couldn't remember the address as she was only 4 years old. Their two daughters were not listed. The details I gave were their names and dates of birth and the response that came back included National Registration No, Address Name, Gender, DOB, marital status and occupation. Very useful as the place burnt down and the family all were lifted out by firemen. I came to conclusion when no-one is around to tell the tale then the price was worth the information. Great for extra information after the 1911 census if you are not near to the trade directories or electoral rolls.