Thursday, 7 January 2010

1939 Scottish national registration census records to be released

MAJOR news for all you wonderful, wonderful family historians out there!

I've just received word from the Registrar General for Scotland, Duncan Macniven, that the GROS will now honour requests to view entries from the 1939 census for national registration purposes carried out at the start of the Second World War. This follows a Freedom of Information request in Scotland similar to that recently carried out by Guy Etchells in England for the equivalent records held down south (see my report

As with the ruling down south, information for those deceased will only be released. The following is the press release that Duncan has just kindly sent to me:

Family historians have been given access for the first time to information from the National Identity Register drawn up at the outbreak of the Second World War.

In 1939, the National Registration Act ordered a register of everybody living in the UK – for the purpose of issuing identity cards, ration books and call-up papers. The register was compiled by the Registrar General of the time, James Kyd, and his successor still preserves the original register. It records personal information of great interest to family historians – name, address in 1939, marital status, age and occupation.

The register has been kept secret because the 1939 Act prohibited publication of the information but thanks to an application under the Freedom of Information (Scotland) Act 2002, that restriction has been reviewed and details about people who have since died are now being made available.

Welcoming the new release of information, Jim Mather MSP, Minister for Energy, Enterprise and Tourism in the Scottish Government said:-

“Scotland has an unrivalled reputation for making information available to family historians. This release of information from the 1939 register will give a starting point for people who do not have a record of their recent family history. It is a good example of the way that the Scottish freedom of information legislation is unlocking records which have up to now been secret.”

So how do you make an application? Simple - send a request to the following address:

Extract Services
General Register Office for Scotland
New Register House
3 West Register Street

You will need to enclose a fee of £13 (cheque payable to the General Register Office of Scotland) and evidence of the death of the person who is the subject of the enquiry. For those who have died in Britain, a simple date of death will suffice as the GROS can easily corroborate that from its records, but if it is for a Scot who has died overseas, you should enclose proof of death from overseas. In return, an official extract from the register with the GROS seal will be despatched, including all the details on that individual as recorded in 1939.

It should be noted that this was not an official census, but a register drawn up for the purpose of issuing identity cards. Therefore a record supplied by the GROS will not show a household, just information for the individual in question.

Major credit to whoever the applicant was in Scotland!

(Many thanks to Duncan Macniven)

UPDATE: I've just received a mocked up sample cert from the GROS, and can confirm that the following details will likely be on the extracts - address, surname and other names, male or female, birth (day, month and year), single, married widowed or divorced, personal occupation:

(Image used with kind permission from the Registrar General for Scotland)

Professional genealogical problem solving and research


The Professional Descendant said...


Am I correct in thinking that you have to specify the address of the person who is the subject of the enquiry? Presumably you cannot request the details of everyone at a specific address (unless you can also supply all their names and dates of death).

So if you already know a person's full name, address in 1939 and date of death, chances are you probably also know the other details recorded on the form.

Although I can certainly think of situations where the information from the 1939 national registration could be useful, in many cases wouldn't you simply be paying £13 to be told what you already know?


Chris Paton said...


I am unclear on the address issue, and have made two applications, one with a known address, one without. My understanding at present is that the GROS can identify the person concerned simply by date of death, and I know that Guy Etchells has received a response to one of his requests down south without an address specified.

With regard to your second point, in many cases you may well be right. However, in my own situation for example, I know that my great grandmother was moved from Glasgow to Inverness by her eldest son at some stage around the start of the war (he feared a German invasion, and she had already lived in occupied Brussells throughout WW1, lost her husband whilst there and had her son removed and interned), but I don't know when exactly, so a 1939 entry will considerably help on that point. There is also a marital status recorded, and I believe from the English and Welsh entries that occupation includes whether serving with the armed forces at that point. As WW2 records are difficult to source, this could also be extremely welcome. With the nation at war at that point, and many people enlisted, I suspect this will also be extremely useful.

I suppose when the 1931 Scottish census is released (which exists unlike the southern equivalent lost in a fire) you could argue the same point about knowing the info anyway, from other records such as electoral registers and directories, but as with any record, this is just another snapshot of life at another moment, so I personally view this as significant as any other records release.


Chris Paton said...

Just to clarify - the entry comes from the national register, which continued well into the early 1950s, before being replaced by another system which continued to use the same info. Hence why date of death is included as entries were updated long after 1939. The records were actually digitised for use of the NHS, and continue to be used by the NHS, hence why details on the living are not included, for privacy reasons.


Chris Paton said...

Not included in the release, I mean!

The Professional Descendant said...

I will be very interested to hear how you get on with your requests.

I have a grandmother who I believe may have moved during the early part of the war, prior to her marriage in 1941. It would be great to discover when she moved as this might suggest what the motivation was. However, as her address at marriage may have been a temporary one I wasn't sure I had enough information to submit a request.

I agree that this is an exciting release and am sure the 1939 national registration contains a lot of useful information for family historians. My concern was that we may not be able to access it unless we already know the details!

Thanks for the useful info as always!

Chris Paton said...

Date of death is all you need, not an address. I received confirmation from Edinburgh yesterday.


P Radcliffe said...

I am looking for information about a child who lived at my grandparents house in Stirling in 1938/1939 who came as part of the kindertransport scheme I believe. I have an address and first name but do not know if she is still alive or not. Am I right in thinking that I will have no luck getting information from the National registration census records? The Association of Jewish Refugees were unable to help without a surname. Many thanks. Polly Radcliffe

Chris Paton said...

Hi Polly,

I think it would be difficult to obtain such information, as the searches here in Scotland are based on individuals, not households, and I think without a surname or date of death you may not be fortunate. In England, the information would indeed be given out for the household, but you would only receive information on the child if he or she was now dead - if still alive, the information would simply be omitted from the return to your request.

My suggestion would be, however, to just write to the GROS with your request to test its flexibility - nothing ventured, nothing gained! The absolute worst they could say would be 'no' to your request.

Best of luck!