Saturday, 18 June 2016

FindmyPast misled public on 1939 register claims

The UK's Advertising Standards Authority has upheld two complaints made against FindmyPast ( concerning advertising of its 1939 National Identity Register collection for England and Wales.

The complainant challenged two of the company's claims on the following basis:

1. "The most comprehensive record set ever released" and "The 1939 Register is the most comprehensive record set ever released" because they understood that the 1911 census was more comprehensive; and

2. "Every member of a household", because they understood that the register did not include serving members of the armed forces or people born within the last 100 years.

The following were the findings:

1. Upheld

The ASA considered that consumers would understand the “most comprehensive” claims to mean that the 1939 Register contained more data than any other comparable record sets, and in particular that, compared to such record sets, there were more records available and/or more information available within each record. We considered consumers were likely to understand the “most comprehensive” claims to relate to the actual data pertaining to each individual, and/or the totality of such data, rather than as relating to items such as the maps, news articles and photographs to which Findmypast referred, or the rigour with which it was carried out.

Findmypast did not provide full details of what was included in each record set. However, we understood that, although the 1939 Register did include some information that was not recorded in the 1911 census, the 1911 census also included some information that was not available in the 1939 Register, such as birthplace, nationality, and the individual's relationship to the ‘head’ of the household. We also understood that there were more than five million more records available to view in the 1911 census than the 1939 Register. In addition, although the complainant had specifically referred to the 1911 census, we considered that the claim was a comparison against all such record sets, and we had not seen evidence on any comparable sets other than the 1911 census.

For those reasons, we did not consider that Findmypast had substantiated the claims that the 1939 Register was the most comprehensive record set ever released, and therefore concluded that they were misleading.

On that point, the ad breached CAP Code (Edition 12) rules 3.1 (Misleading advertising) and 3.7 (Substantiation).

2. Upheld

We considered that the claim "Every member of a household" was likely to be interpreted by consumers to mean that no members would be missing from data relating to particular households. However, we understood that there were exceptions, such as members of the armed forces, and those born less than 100 years ago (unless proof of death was verified). We considered that including that information elsewhere on the website was not sufficient to remove the impression that data on all household members would be included, and that, in any case, that information contradicted the claim. We concluded that the claim was misleading.

On that point, the ad breached CAP Code (Edition 12) rules 3.1 (Misleading advertising) and 3.7 (Substantiation).

The ASA has decreed the following to FindmyPast:

The ad must not appear again in its current form. We told Findmypast Ltd not to claim that records were the most comprehensive, unless they held evidence to substantiate the claim, or that they included every member of a household if that was not the case.
The full case is outlined at

UPDATE: Apparently this is the fourth time FindmyPast has fallen fould of the Advertising Standards Authority - see

(With thanks to Margaret Hirst for the link)


For details on my genealogy guide books, including A Decade of Irish Centenaries: Researching Ireland 1912-1923Discover Scottish Church Records (2nd edition), Discover Irish Land Records and Down and Out in Scotland: Researching Ancestral Crisis, please visit

1 comment:

  1. The judgment is nearly misleading itself, as any members of the Forces at home on leave would indeed be enumerated with their household. The "every member" claim though, is sufficiently daft and pointless to merit the judgment. I still believe that the inherent issue is that Communications teams are so scared of detail as to be a liability.