How Do I Research My Military Genealogy In Britain?

Military genealogy and family history is exciting and you will find that as soon as you start researching you just can’t quit. Thank goodness there are loads of places where you can easily get help with finding out about forefathers from British army regiments. The easiest place to start off is in fact at home by gathering as much information as possible from your own family.

Your relations may hold key details that has been handed down through the generations. Ask them to recall as much as possible and to check in lofts and scrapbooks for any further evidence.

Just finding out a name can easily set you on the right path but to have a photograph or medals can bring your relative ever closer. You may discover old postcards, newspaper cuttings, parish magazine cuttings, pay books, drawings, maps, military cap badges, buttons from uniforms or battle souvenirs such as brass shell cases. If you are lucky you may possibly find some ‘trench art’ – battle souvenirs etched with pictures. Medals from 1914-18 are helpful finds as all servicemen had their name, rank and number inscribed on them.

Your relatives might also be able to point you to graves that contain data about your relative.

When you have as much information from your family as possible, it is a good plan to make The National Archives in London your next port of call. They have continuous paper records from 1750 but also medical records and discharge papers from earlier dates. You may find unit war diaries mentioning your relative, or records of gallantry and campaign medals which will give further insights into your relative’s military life.

Through the 1914-18 period, casualty lists were published every day in national papers and will also be recorded in local papers, therefore a trip to the library to view the microfilms is a good idea.

The Commonwealth War Graves Commission keeps details on the 1.7 million service personnel who died on operations since 1914 so are worth looking up if your relative died during one of the world wars.

Try a search of the Ceremonial and Heritage section of the Ministry of Defence website for helpful facts of all the country’s regimental and military museums.

Visiting an army museum can make everything a bit more real for you and allow you to have abetter understanding regarding military life at the time of your ancestor.

Arranging an appointment at The Imperial War Museum, London, will allow you to look at the extensive collection of diaries, memoirs and letters held in the Department of Documents. You can find out about your relative’s unit and what their life would have been like. They also have images and paintings that may be of interest and they have a comprehensive selection of army lists.

The National Army Museum, Chelsea, has a significant range of artefacts, and is especially good on uniforms so could be worth popping in on if you are in London.

Regimental museums are a goldmine of useful information and most regiments have got one. Over the last few centuries, many regiments have been disbanded or amalgamated and new ones have been created. However, a list of army museums can be found on the website of the Army Museums Ogilby Trust who are based in Salisbury.

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