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Over 140 Military Museums in the UK

1920  This is a key date for locating service records.

The National Archives at Kew  The National Archives at Kew is the principal source of existing pre-1920 official records. However, it should be noted that they are far from complete as more than two thirds of the records covering the period 1914-1920 were damaged or destroyed by enemy action during World War 2. The main military source material, which can be helpful in identifying a soldier’s regiment, can be found in the record classes[link doc]. For soldiers discharged to pension[link doc]. For soldiers NOT killed in service[link doc]. Corresponding records for soldiers killed in service no longer exist.

Additional material for research into officers’ records:

  • Returns of Service were first compiled by the War Office in the early 19th century, apparently on information supplied by the officers themselves. These records are at WO 25, 54 and 76 and are further categorised by date, Arm or Service and status, i.e. full/half pay, retired.
  • Commander-in-Chief’s Memoranda Papers were concerned with the appointment, promotion and resignation of officers. See WO 31.
  • Widows’ pensions and pensions to wounded officers Some provision was made for the widows and dependents of officers killed on active service. The available records are split between War Office records WO 23-25 and those of the Paymaster General at PMG 9-11.

Other than the official service records, other relevant records held by TNA include:

  • Civil Registrations Registrations of births, marriages and deaths after 1837 (England and Wales) or 1855 (Scotland) sometimes indicate the name of the person or parent concerned.
  • Census Returns It is possible to find reference to service careers in the census returns taken every ten years from 1841.
  • Regimental Registers and Chaplains Returns A number of “non-statutory” returns exist. The Regimental Registers record births, baptisms, marriages and burials of soldiers or members of their families and cover the period 1761-1924. Further information may be available in the Army Chaplains’ Department records of baptisms, marriages and burials at overseas stations.