Ancestor Research & Military Genealogy In recent years there has been a significant increase in the number of people researching their family histories and genealogy. There are numerous on-line sources of information but, even so, this can be a complex subject. We offer advice on how to search for Army ancestors and to research into your family history.
The purpose of this brief guide is to indicate to researchers the main sources of information. Please note that details of Officers and the Other Ranks, (that is to say the Warrant Officers, Non-Commissioned Officers and Soldiers), are often recorded differently. It is recommended that once an individual’s regiment or corps has been identified a researcher’s initial approach should be to the appropriate regimental or corps museum, details of which may be obtained from the Museums Search section of this website.
Where reference is made to an Agency or organisation the relevant address will be found at Start Your Research under the section USEFUL ADDRESSES.
Officers The ranks of Second Lieutenant to Field Marshal.
Other ranks The ranks of Private to Warrant Officer (Including Troopers, Gunners, Sappers, Guardsmen, Fusiliers, Riflemen, Lance Corporals, Corporals, Sergeants, Sergeant Majors and Quartermaster Sergeants).
There is no single list of soldiers who have served in the British Army and as most records are kept under regimental titles, the name of the subject’s regiment is a fundamental prerequisite for successful research. If unknown, clues the identity of a soldier’s regiment can often be obtained from family papers/letters, photographs, badges and medals.
Army Lists Army Lists, from 1702 onwards, are the starting point for tracing the service of officers. The National Archives (TNA) has a number of lists ‘on record’ (WO 64-66 and WO 211) and printed copies are available in the Reference Room at the TNA. The National Army Museum has a fairly comprehensive run of Army Lists and regimental and corps Museums usually have a reasonable coverage in their libraries. Also useful in tracing officers who gained commissions before 1727 are Charles Dalton’s books: “English Army Lists and Commission Registers 1661-1714”, Eyre and Spottiswode, 6 volumes, 1892-1904, and “George I’s Army 1714-1727”, Eyre and Spottiswode, 2 volumes, 1910.
Army Service Numbers Service numbers are allocated to members of the military, and can be useful important in tracing a soldier’s records. A useful reference resource for regimental numbers used in the British Army 1881-1918 can be found at armyservicenumbers.blogspot.co.uk/
Regimental & corps museums In 2002 The Ministry of Defence distributed their regimental and unit attestation books to various military museums; these generally cover the period c1919-1945 and are particularly useful given the restrictions on access to service papers held at Glasgow. The entries are arranged by army number (each volume has an A-Z index by first letter) and include all men still serving c.1920 (including some men who served during the First World War and earlier) as well as re-enlistments and new enlistments. Early entries are quite detailed but the quantity of information generally falls away rapidly after about 1925 and by 1940 only the number full name and date of transfer or demob and new unit are usually given. Similar indexed volumes may exist for men ‘transferred-in’ from other regiments.
Brigade of Guards The Regiments of Foot Guards are an exception to the general rule and they have traditionally retained all their own soldiers’ records. The appropriate regimental headquarters holds records from the early nineteenth century to the present date. Postal enquiries only should be addressed to: Regimental Headquarters – Grenadier / Coldstream / Scots / Irish / Welsh Guards, Wellington Barracks, Birdcage Walk, London SW1E 6HQ.
Chelsea Pensioners Hold records for 1) In-Pensioners who lived in the Royal Hospital Chelsea, and in return surrendered their pensions; and 2) Out-Pensioners who lived at home, their Army pensions being paid initially by attendance at the Royal Hospital but later locally. Both categories were referred to as “Chelsea Pensioner” (or similar) on official documents such as Census returns or Death Certificates.
The archives of the Royal Hospital Chelsea include some but not all records of the In-Pensioners from 1871 to the present date. Records that are pre-1871 are held by The National Archives. Earlier records are limited to name, number, rank, regiment, date admitted to the Royal Hospital Chelsea, date of death and, in most cases, place of burial. From 1984 onwards, more comprehensive records may be available.
For a small charge the Royal Hospital may be able to provide copies of those records that are pertinent to relatives of In-Pensioners, but be advised that requests for photographs of Pensioners pre-1990 usually go unfulfilled due to a lack of identifiable images. Requests, with a stamped addressed envelope and a cheque for £5 made payable to Chelsea Pensioner (RH) Ltd. Address found in USEFUL ADDRESSES.
Commonwealth War Graves Commission The Commonwealth War Graves Commission (CWGC) holds information about the location of graves and memorials around the world. The Commission has details of all Service personnel who died between 4 August 1914 and 31 August 1921 and from 3 September 1939 to 31 December 1947. A fee may be charged for enquiries but there is a website containing the computerised database at www.cwgc.org/find-war-dead.aspx
Military Academy Records Records of cadets who trained at the Royal Military Academy (1790-1939) and the Royal Military College (1806-1946) are held at the Royal Military Academy Sandhurst where research enquiries should be addressed to firstname.lastname@example.org
Armed Forces Memorial – Roll of Honour The Armed Forces Memorial at the National Arboretum, Alrewas, Staffordshire contains the names of 16,000 servicemen and women killed on duty or as a result of terrorist action since 1 January 1948. Access to the Roll of Honour and a facility to print a certificate is available at www.veterans-uk.info/afm2/index.php
Scottish Horse The regimental records photographic archive of The Scottish Horse are held by The Chapter House Museum in Dunkeld Cathedral. They include significant material relating to the Regiment’s involvement in The Boer War and The Great War with particular reference to Gallipoli.
Succession titles The titles of the regiments of the British Army have changed considerable and frequently over the years. Regional affiliations, connections with Royalty, amalgamations and disbandment have had all left their mark and tracing the historic names of famous regiments can be a frustrating and time consuming task. This section of the website aims to reduce these problems by providing a simple table which shows the progression in title of the 31 Cavalry and 115 Infantry Regiments of 1881 through a series of changes to the 10 Cavalry Regiments and 29 battalions of Infantry that have resulted from the most recent changes in 2006/2007. In time, this table will be extended to include the historic titles of the supporting Arms and Services of the British Army. Titles that existed earlier than 1881 can be found in the Museums Search section under Historic Names and they are also listed with the entries for individual museums.
AMOT_succession of titles_cavalry – View succession of titles by INFANTRY