ID: 148

KIMBELL, Caroline


After 10 years as an academic publisher, Caroline Kimbell joined the National Archives of England and Wales in 2006 and is responsible for digital and book publishing. She runs the Licensed Internet Associateship scheme, lectures and advises widely on business development for archives and the development of historical research through digital media.


Digitising the 1939 National Register: commercial partnership and access to data

Brief summary:

The 1939 National Register is the closest thing to a census in the UK between 1921 and 51. It therefore has huge  commercial appeal to the genealogy sector. The Service Concession contract award took 12 months to let, enabling private investment to cover the otherwise unaffordable cost of creating a fully transcribed, redacted record for digital accession.


The 1939 Register was taken at the outbreak of World War II as a means of allocating ration cards, managing military service eligibility and went on to be used as the basis of the National Health Service registration scheme. It has iconic value as a data set, being the only surviving census-type record for the UK between 1921 and 1951.

The paper will describe the challenges of creating a digital record containing information about living individuals using a commercial licensee. These issues include:

secure off-shore transcription of personal data

redaction of images to protect living individuals in a record set which inclued babies born in 1939 and

management of sensitive information such as adoption codes which require lengthy closure periods

To allow the open information form the Register to be published, a project team of digitisation, FOI, statistial, commercial, Data Protection and legal experts ran a 12 month competition process which attracted 30 expressions of interest, and 12 ITT submissions before awarding the contract to Scottish company DC Thomson Family History. Production will be underway at the time of the conference, with publication planned for September 2015. 

Scientific contribution:

Creation of a digital record as a public record

Protection of sensitiv and personal data

Off-shore transcription using "thin-client" technology to preclude the risk of data-loss

Matching data against external death records to open the maximum possible percentage of records from a collection which would remain closed in paper form until 2039


Commercial partnership, digitisation, redaction, data protection, access