FAMILY HISTORY FOR BEGINNERS
Researching Army Ancestors 1 - World War OneIntroduction
All who served in a theatre of war during WW1 were entitled to at least two medals. The Victory Medal and the British War Medal. In addition, those serving at the outbreak of hostilities were entitled to the 1914 Star and those who enlisted before the introduction of conscription were entitled to the 1914-1915 Star. In addition medals were awarded for gallantry. Microfiched copies of record cards recording each soldier’s awards (in name order) are available at the Public Record Office (PRO). The information includes the soldier’s regiment and service number.Soldiers’ Records
Indexes to Soldiers’ Deaths (General Register Office)
The deaths of soldiers who died during hostilities or as a result of their wounds as late as 1921 should be recorded at the General Register Office. Indexes to these (separate volumes for officers and other ranks) are available at the Greater Manchester County Record Office (GMCRO) at Marshall Street. The index will give the regiment and service number. Certificates can be ordered but give little more information, beyond the date of death, than the index.
Commonwealth War Graves Commission (CWGC)
The Commission, at Marlow, Buckinghamshire, has published registers of war graves including personal details of those killed. Copies of these are available at GMCRO but since they are in cemetery order, are difficult to search.The Commission have always responded to written enquiries but more recently have made their registers available on the internet at www.cwgc.org CWCG records will include regiment and service number, age, date of death and cemetery or war memorial. In many cases, details of next of kin will be found.
Access to local newspaper accounts is seldom simple as there are few indexes and searches over long periods can be tedious. If, however, a date of death or award of a gallantry medal is known, this may narrow the search sufficiently to help you find an account. Local newspapers are usually available on microfilm at local studies units.
Although many museums do not have much information about individual soldiers, particularly “other ranks”, it is nevertheless worth making an approach. The Museum of the Manchesters at Ashton-under-Lyne, for example, has a database of soldiers for this period.
War memorials were established both by local authorities and public/private organisations. They will seldom contain much information but can identify the regiment in which an ancestor served. There is no national index and a visit to the area is usually necessary (though some lists have been published on the internet).
Beginners to researching WW1 ancestors may find it useful to do some preparatory reading. The following titles may be helpful:My Ancestor was in the British Army (M. J. & C. T. Watts) Society of Genealogists Publications
Sources for WW1 Ancestry (Norman Holding) - possibly out of printMore Sources for WW1 Ancestry (Norman Holding) *
Army Service Records of the First World War (Simon Fowler) Public Record Office *Identifying your WW1 Soldier from Badges & Photographs (Iain Swinnerton) *
The National Archives publish a number of useful reader guides which can be obtained either from TNA at Kew or from their web site* Available from the Manchester & Lancashire FHS Online Bookshop
Amended 3 January 2011 - John Marsden