When researching an ancestor that was in the Military there are a few things that will help get you started in finding them:
· Name & Regiment
· Medals (if applicable)
· Date & Area of service (e.g WW1 in France or WW2 in the Somme)
If you don’t know most of these don’t worry. Finding out about your Ancestors has become easier than ever, even if you have a name & nothing else to go with but finding out as much as you can beforehand doesn’t hurt either. Your best starting point to finding out any of these is asking members of your family, which if nothing else should give you a good place to start searching. It is important to help you find Military Records if you can find out whether your Ancestor/s were in the Army, Navy or Air Force (RAF for example). But as far as I’m aware there wasn’t a separate Air Force until March 1918.
Some of the things you may find out online about your Ancestors are:
- Their physical appearance (e.g. through discharge or pension records or photographs).
- Appearing in the Newspaper (e.g. a local paper or in the London Gazette after earning a Medal).
And some of the thing you might come across at home or after visiting relatives or even visiting memorials:
- Cap Badges
- Postcards and/or Letters home
- Stories from Family Members
- Their name on War Memorial or Gravestone
It can often vary on what you will discover about your Ancestors time in the Military as not everything has survived or readily available to the public and sometimes your Ancestor may not have, understandably, wanted to talk about his/her experience during the either of the World Wars. But I’ll explain more on this later on.
An almost Constant stream of paper evidence starts from about 1750 and one of the best, if not the best, places to visit is The National Archives, they hold discharge records & medical records that may very well tell you when/where your Ancestor enlisted and which ship or regiment they enlisted on and/or when they were discharged.
War Diaries exist, mainly from WW1 & WW2, if you’re lucky your Ancestor might be mentioned. But usually Soldiers aren’t mentioned by name and it’s Officers that are mentioned, if anyone is on the Unit/time you are looking at.
If you’re unable to visit The National Archives (http://www.nationalarchives.gov.uk/) then their website could hold clues to help you as they have a Downloads page called DocumentsOnline (http://www.nationalarchives.gov.uk/documentsonline/) which includes, but isn’t limited to WW1 & WW2 Campaign Medals, War Diaries, Victoria Cross Registers, WW1 Airwomen's Records & records for the Royal Hospital Chelsea.
If any of your Ancestors died during either of the World Wars then you may find details on them through the Commonwealth War Graves Commission (http://www.cwgc.org/), since 1914. It hold details over 1.5 million Servicemen & Service women who died during the World Wars and about 60,000 civilian people who died during bombing raids.
Ancestry.co.uk has plenty of online records for you to search through which includes but isn’t limited to: WW1 & WW2 Campaign Medals, Discharge Records, Pension Records, Service Records & records for the Royal Hospital Chelsea.
It will be worth mentioning that there was a street fire when a bombing raid struck the War Office repository in Arnside Street, London in September 1940 and due to fire & water damage, some records haven’t survived – so called the Burnt Records or Burnt Documents but others have survived, some of which can be viewed online, there are an estimated 2.8 million service records that survived or reconstructed from the Ministry of Pensions.
Ancestry.co.uk Military Records - http://search.ancestry.co.uk/search/category.aspx?cat=39
Military Genealogy http://www.military-genealogy.com/
Forces Reunited - http://www.forcesreunited.org.uk/
Commonwealth War Graves Commission - http://www.cwgc.org/
The National Archives DocumentsOnline - http://www.nationalarchives.gov.uk/documentsonline/
The National Archives - (http://www.nationalarchives.gov.uk/