Wednesday 9 December 2009

New focus - Army Ancestry Ltd

I'm changing the focus of this site to concentrate on making it an information resource for people interested in finding out more about their British military ancestor/s.

More and more information is now available on-line these days, and the pattern looks set to continue. That has to be good news for everybody. On the main site then, you'll find links to free resources and to paid ones (although a lot of the paid resources can be accessed on a 14 day FREE trial basis).

If, at the end of the day though, you are still looking for a researcher, we recommend Mike Shingleton at Researching the Past. Click on the link to read more.

Saturday 14 November 2009

WW1 Records from Ancestry

Good to see that Ancestry has rectified its search function and that the records for soldiers in the WO 363 series can now be interrogated properly.

Ancestry has also published De Ruvigny's Roll of Honour on-line. This contains the biographies of over 26,000 Great War casualties and includes 7,000 photographs.

Finally, Ancestry has also made available, Ireland, Casualties of World War 1, 1914-1918 which provides "information on over 49,000 Irish men and women who died in the Great War."

Search for all of these records by visiting

Thursday 5 November 2009

WW1 Service Records

Ancestry has uploaded the remaining service records from the WO363 series on its website.

After an initial hiccup, the search function for this series now appears to be working better than it was, although it is still far from perfect. I just hope that Ancestry rectifies this soon. I find it amazing that such a large company can release such an important product without any apparent quality control checks.

Wednesday 28 October 2009

1911 Census - 20% discount

This has a tenuous army ancestry connection I suppose, but it's worth reminding visitors that Find My Past is currently offering a 20 per cent discount on 1911 Census searches. The offer expires on 31st October (that's Saturday), so you'll need to be quick.

Thursday 15 October 2009

Families in British India Society - FIBIS

If your relative lived or worked in India between 1600 and 1947, he or she may just feature on the FIBIS database. I checked for some of my own relatives and was pleasantly surprised to find them listed.

Check the FIBIS site HERE.

Tuesday 13 October 2009

National Archives - October 2099

From the National Archives:

"This month sees the 100th anniversary of the Security Service, the UK's national security intelligence agency. Known for keeping personal files on a great range of individuals, the Security Service has released over 4,000 of these files to The National Archives since 1997.
The Security Service files cover a period up to the late 1950s and are open to the public. You can view many of them on our website, including those of Sidney Reilly, the spy thought to have inspired James Bond. Our new security history research signpost provides a good overview of the files, and offers some tips on searching them."

Do also note that the NA has revised its opening times and that from 4th January 2010, the NA will be closed on Mondays. Alright for some.

Friday 25 September 2009

Unit war diaries of the First World War

Ninety four years ago today, allied forces attacked the German lines at Loos and in diversionary attacks further north. By the end of the day, nearly ten thousand British troops lay dead.

There's an increasing appetite for all things WW1; an appetite that will surely continue to increase as we approach the 100th anniversary of the outbreak of war, the 100th anniversary of Mons, of Festubert, Neuve Chapelle etc.

The majority of our work is concerned with First World War soldiers and even though, thanks to a 1940 bombing raid on London's docklands, the majority of service records for Other Ranks no longer survive, it's still possible in many cases to make assumptions about a soldier's service based on his medal index card (if he has one) and the war diary of the unit to which he belonged.

War diaries often provide a treasure trove of information and are really the primary sources of information (along with Brigade and Divisional diaries) when it comes to the day to day routines of a particular battalion or battery or other army unit.

So if your ancestor's service records went up in flames in 1940, don't despair. Get in touch with us and who knows, you may find him mentioned in a war diary.

Friday 18 September 2009

Old Harrovians in the Great War

I get sent so many links one way or the other and I forget that not everybody may be aware of the treasure trove of information available on-line. This link will take you to biographies of Old Harrovians who died during the Great War:

Harrow School - Fallen in WW1

The period covered in this volume is 23rd August 1914 to 20th March 1915.

Sunday 13 September 2009

Updates - week ending 12th September 2009

It's been stop-start at the Commonwealth War Graves Commission this week. First there was a new search facility on its on-line Debt of Honour and then, in the blink of an eye, it reverted to the old one again. Meanwhile though, work at the Fromelles burial site ended this week. The BBC news website carries a number of articles on the work at Fromelles and if you have a relative buried there, the BBC website is a good first port of call.

Some interesting commissions this week involving soldiers who fought in the Crimea, South Africa and Egypt. I have a separate project covering British Army Medals and I've already touched on the Egypt Medal. In time, these pages will be updated to include details of the British Regiments which served in each campaign.

A friend of mine has sent me a link to some WW1 Regimental histories which are available on-line and can be downloaded. All you need is sufficient space on your hard drive!

Finally, I know that many enquiries for army military history research are coming via my Army Service Numbers blog. Work on the database continues apace and the data I publish on the blog is just a small sample of a far bigger work. There is limited data available elsewhere on-line but the Duke of Cornwall's Light Infantry is one of those regiments which is comprehensively covered. If you have a relative who served with the 46th (South Devonshire) Regiment of Foot or the DCLI, then THIS SITE is for you.

Drop me a line if you'd like us to quote on your military history project.

Thursday 10 September 2009

CWGC update

From the website of the Commonwealth War Graves Commission:

"Following extensive consultation with users of the popular CWGC website, we have made several changes to the “Search Our Records” section , which will make it easier for people to search our database of 1.7m Commonwealth casualties. However, a technical problem has affected these changes, which has required the temporary reinstatement of the previous search tool.

"It is our intention to adopt the improved system, once the technical problem has been resolved. As well as providing a more intuitive system, the changes to the records search facility allow for greater security of our database but regular users may wish to note that one of the likely results of the security upgrade is that external websites will be unable to take advantage of the links to individual casualty details which are currently available.

"We are confident that these changes to the search facility represent a significant improvement on the previous system and that users will find the changes useful."

It's a shame that external sites will not be able to link to individual casualty details but presumably CWGC has its reasons for including this restriction.

Wednesday 9 September 2009

National Archives - update

New from the National Archives:

"To celebrate the 70th anniversary of the Second World War, we have created a series of six videocasts entitled 'War on Film'. These describe key events that inspired popular war films, using extracts from real government records and archive footage.

Discover the real stories behind films such as 'The Dam Busters' and 'The Longest Day', as retold by our military records specialist William Spencer.

The first videocast looks at the Blitz and the evacuation of children from large cities, as shown in the film 'Hope and Glory'. Watch it now."

Having reported yesterday on the new-look CWGC Debt of Honour website, I see that today it has reverted to the old-look.

Tuesday 8 September 2009

A makeover for

It's a pity that the Commonwealth War Graves Commission has missed an opportunity to make its on-line Debt of Honour Register more user friendly.

The new-look Register appears today but its only so much old wine in new bottles and could have offered a lot more. I've always found the search function frustrating. The CWGC holds a lot of information about the men and women it commemorates but only allows the visitor to search on basic terms. The old look-look site allowed visitors to search on surname and initial and then war, year of death, service (ie army, navy etc) and force (ie British, Australian, Canadian etc). The new-look site allows visitors exactly the same options albeit you now have to make one extra click to bring up the "advanced" [sic] search options of war, year of death, service, and force if you discover that typing in "Smith" and "J" is simply going to present you with too many possibilities.

They've changed the font and the point size and also laid out the information in a different order but the search engine still falls woefully short. Why for instance can we not search on the person's full name, or actual date of death, or army number, or regiment, or battalion? Why can we not search on keywords contained in the additional information? The CWGC contains all of that data and it therefore surely can't be such an onerous or difficult task to include these as search options.

In its favour, there are more search options once the results have been returned. I see that there are 1001 results for J Smith (that's the equivalent of a WW1 battalion of men named J Smith) and once the results are returned it is then possible to sort the information by surname, rank, service number, date of death, age, regiment/service, force, memorial/grave ref, and cemetery/memorial name. All of this is an improvement and proves that it is possible to manipulate all of the data fields. So why then can we not search on all of these?

The CWGC has also missed an opportunity to link in with The War Graves Photographic Project and include details of individuals for whom a war grave or memorial photo exists. This is both surprising and disappointing, particularly as TWGPP works as a joint venture with CWGC.

If I was a teacher, marking this latest piece of 'homework' from CWGC I'd be writing "could do better" in the margin. Let's hope that the next upgrade, whenever it comes, makes the site even more user friendly.

Saturday 5 September 2009

Updates - week ending 5th September 2009

I've started another blog; this time commemorating the dead of WW2.

The Second World War has never held the fascination for me that the First World War does. Maybe that has something to do with the fact that my relatives were mostly Great War era veterans rather than Second War. My childhood was peppered with anecdotes of the horrors of the trenches rather than atrocities in Burma, or heroism at Dunkirk. But this week has marked the seventieth anniversary of the outbreak of World War Two and so on 3rd September 2009, 70 years to the day that Britain went to war against Germany for the second time that century, I started a WW2 Remembrance blog and like the WW1 Remembrance blog I'll be updating that daily.

I've also started a site for military books, an attempt to draw together publishers under one roof, and again highlighting British military involvement in conflict since 1800. The Military History Bookshop is HERE.

And whilst on the subject of books, I recently picked up a number of medal reference works which make great companions for the various medal rolls that I hold and which I've used on the British Army Medals site. Medal collecting is an area I've dabbled in, albeit not as much as I would have liked to. That's one hobby that requires deep, deep pockets.

Finally, it's been a busy week again on the military research front; mostly WW1 era but with some interesting Victorian projects spanning the Indian Mutiny and Boer War. Get in touch if you'd like us to help with your own project.

The photo shows a very sodden Kirkee War Cemetery, Pune. I took around four hundred photos there for The War Graves Photographic project a few years ago.

Thursday 3 September 2009

How burnt is burnt?

I was adding a WW1 Remembrance post for a man who died on this day in 1914 and I thought it might be an idea to say a few words about the documents held in the WO 363 series at the National Archives. Commonly referred to as the burnt documents, these are the papers that were damaged when the Germans bombed the War Office Record Store at Arnside Street, in London's docklands in September 1940.

The majority of papers stored at Arnside Street were completely destroyed and many of those that survive bear the scars of flame or water from the firemen's hoses. What that means for today's researcher is that if your ancestor's papers haven't been turned to ashes or even singed, the water may have obliterated the content.

Nonetheless, the WO 363 series does contain records of servicemen who died, unlike the WO 364 series which, as a series for pensions awarded to WW1 servicemen is not supposed to. That at least is the theory, but having personally found records for soldiers who died in the WO 364 series, I would suggest that it is always worth checking.

Saturday 29 August 2009

Updates - week ending 29th August 2009

It's been another busy week with enquiries ranging from British military campaigns in India in the mid 1800s, to the Second World War. All fascinating stuff and we're always happy to quote on your research projects.

As I indicated a couple of days ago, Ancestry has now published records on WW2 prisoners of war and a WW2 Roll of Honour. CLICK HERE to go direct to the Ancestry site.

As I mentioned, the WW2 Roll of Honour is not a complete record of service of those who lost their lives whilst in the service of their country. My own relative, Charles Stanley Bothwell, lost his life in January 1941 after being knocked down by a car during the blackout. He was in uniform, serving with the Royal Pioneer Corps, and was buried under a Commonwealth War Graves Commission (CWGC) headstone. However, his name does not appear on the WW2 Roll of Honour. The WW2 Roll is a useful addition to the WW2 archive but use it in conjunction with the CWGC roll of honour. Search the CWGC database HERE.

Whilst on the subject of Word War Two, it's worth repeating that WW2 service records are not yet accessible to the general public. These are still held by the Ministry of Defence and, if you're a relative, you would be best advised writing to the MoD in the first instance. We can help you with operational records - war diaries and the like - but the personnel files are currently off limits.

Finally, this is the last weekend of the Naval & Military Press summer sale which ends on Monday. We've taken advantage of some great discounts on previously difficult-to-find titles and have added to our library. Click on the link below to search the extensive catalogue.

The image on this post comes from the National Army Museum's archive and dates from 1858. It shows an elephant pulling a field gun in India during the Indian Mutiny. I was at the NAM last week - well worth a visit if you happen to be in London.

Thursday 27 August 2009

WW2 - New releases from Ancestry

Ancestry has announced that it has published the following two data sets for the Second World War: WW2 PoW Records and a WW2 Roll of Honour. Details as follows:

1. WW2 PoW Records
Contains over 100,000 British Army Personnel PoW records. If your ancestors were held as prisoners of war in Germany up until 30th March 1945, you can now discover where and when they were captured and where they were held.

2. WW2 Roll of Honour records
The roll covers 349,000 people who died between 1st September 1939 and 31st December 1946, detailing those killed in action, those who died of wounds or diseases and those whose deaths were from natural causes. You can also find out where these events took place and if wounded, where they were sent.

These are important additions to the Ancestry catalogue but the WW2 Roll is incomplete and should be used in conjunction with the Commonwealth War Graves Commission website.

To find out more, search the Ancestry catalogues or Get in touch with us if you'd like Army Ancestry Ltd to search for you.

The Hulton-Deutsch photo above shows British Prisoners of War being liberated by soldiers of the 9th Army at a PoW camp in Brunswick, Germany in 1945.

Saturday 22 August 2009

Updates - week ending 22nd August 2009

I was looking at the Dix Noonan website earlier in the week and noticed that the company offers a FREE facility to search various medal rolls.

The rolls on offer are:

Military General Service 1793-1814
Naval General Service 1793-1840
Army of India 1799-1826
Indian Mutiny 1857-1859

Click HERE to search the Dix Noonan medal rolls.

If the campaigns above do not cover your own ancestor's military service, don't despair. We have a number of Victorian medal rolls in our archive (including the Indian Mutiny roll above) and we can conduct searches of others held at the National Archives. Get in touch with your details.

More enquiries this week regarding First World War and Boer War veterans. There have also been enquiries regarding men who were serving after 1921. Whilst we can certainly assist with campaigns up to 1920, there is a limit to how much assistance we'll be able to provide after this date. Service records beyond this date are not currently in the public domain and your best bet - if you're a relative - will be to contact the Ministry of Defence. See our Post 1920 page for details.

We've added a British Military Bookshop link to this blog (see left) and will repeat this on the main Army Ancestry site. We also feature the Naval & Military Press which, in our opinion, offers the widest range of military history titles including many fabulous reference works which will be must-haves for serious enthusiasts and collectors alike. N&M Press is currently having a sale of stock which means that there is 20 per cent off ALL titles. Grab yourself a bargain!

Saturday 15 August 2009

Updates - week ending Saturday 15th August 2009

More enquiries this week from Ireland, Australia and of course, the UK; the majority of these concerning First World War soldiers.

It's a frustrating fact of WW1 research that service records for the majority of Great War Other Ranks were destroyed in a bombing raid by Hitler's Luftwaffe in 1940. Those that weren't destroyed by fire were often badly damaged by water from the firemen's hoses. These documents, collectively known as the Burnt Documents, are archived in the WO 363 series at The National Archives. A second series of (undamaged) pension records exists in WO 364 and there are also First World War records in various PIN series. PIN 26 is for men wounded and receiving a pension, PIN 71 is men invalided to pension and PIN 82 is the series for men who died as a result of war service and whose widows subsequently claimed a pension. If your WW1 ancestor was an officer, you stand a good chance of finding him in WO 374 and WO 339.

But if your ancestor's service record has been destroyed, DON'T DESPAIR! It's likely that we can still glean some information about when he joined up and possibly when he was discharged and where he would have served.

First World War medal index cards exist for men who were awarded medals or a silver war badge and we'll check any army service numbers against our extensive database of British Army numbers which extends from 1881 through to 1918. This, as far as we are aware, is a unique and invaluable reference resource which can provide vital clues about your ancestor's service.

Medal index cards refer to the actual medal rolls and if you don't know the battalion in which your ancestor served, these are certainly worth checking. Similarly, the Silver War Badge medal rolls will often give the date and place of birth of the recipient.

Armed with information from the medal index card, the medal rolls and our army service numbers database, we can then think about checking the war diaries. It's unlikely that your relative will be mentioned by name (unless he's an officer or - as an outside chance - a senior NCO) but the diaries are still worth checking. Some battalions buck the trend and mention Other Ranks by name, and in our experience you're more likely to find the name of your ancestor in the early pages of a war diary than for those written later in the war.

So, DON'T GIVE UP! We'll always advise you on our recommended approach and we'll access the relevant files for you. Drop us a line via our GET IN TOUCH page or leave a comment on any of these update posts.

The soldier pictured at the top of this post is Charles Sabourin of the East Surrey Regiment. Charles is a good example of a man with a badly damaged service record in WO 363 (see above) and also an Other Rank who is mentioned by name in the 1st East Surrey war diary. Charles, wounded on 23rd August 1914, is one of several men noted in the war diary as being missing in action. In fact he had been captured by the Germans and, minus his right leg, would be repatriated to England in February 1915. You can read more about Charles Sabourin on the Chailey 1914-1918 website.

Monday 10 August 2009

Updates - week ending Saturday 8th August 2009

It's been another busy week with enquiries covering men whose service spanned the years 1880 to 1918 and who served with the Militia, the Volunteers, the Territorial Force and the regular army, both pre and post Cardwell reforms. We've also supplied information on a couple of Royal Navy men - service records plus details of the ships, with photographs, on which they served.

Talking of Cardwell, there's a good chapter in Edward M Spiers's book, The Late Victorian Army 1868-1902 and it's available to read on line via Google books. HERE'S THE LINK.

Enquiries this week have come from throughout the UK and overseas. We always aim to respond to enquiries within 48 hours and, when given the go-ahead, to complete the work within two weeks - and usually a good deal sooner than that. We'll also always give you an outline quote so that you know exactly how much you're going to be spending.

I used the photograph above on one of my WW1 Remembrance posts. It shows the Thiepval Memorial on the Somme, under construction in 1930. Two years later it would be unveiled, it's vast columns recording the names of over 72,000 men who died on the Somme battlefields and have no known grave. The photograph appears on the Australians on the Western Front 1914-1918 website.

If you'd like to find out more about your military ancestor, don't be shy; do drop us a line. We look forward to hearing from you.

Saturday 1 August 2009

Updates - week ending Saturday 1st August 2009

A flood of enquiries this week, but first an appeal to DAVE BIRD, enquiring about your relative killed in action at Ypres. Dave, please re-submit your enquiry as your e-mail address was incomplete.

Queries into the Army Ancestry mailbox this week have mostly been WW1 related, although we have some potentially interesting Boer war era work and we are also checking the availability of surviving (and publicly accessible) documents relating to a WW2 Lt Colonel killed in action with an Indian regiment in 1941.

Enquiries this week have come from Australia, Canada, Britain and the Republic of Ireland.

The image on this post appears on the Hampstead Pals website and shows the Arras Memorial to the Missing. One of our projects this week was for a man whose name appears on the Arras War Memorial.

Army Ancestry - welcome

This is the section of the Army Ancestry website where I'll provide news about on-going Army Ancestry projects as well as general developments in army ancestry and military history research which I hope our clients and visitors will find helpful.

Get in touch with us either by visiting leaving a message here, on this Army Ancestry blog, or by filling out the form on the Get in Touch section of our website. You should always expect to hear from us within 48 hours. If you don't, it means that the e-mail address you've supplied is incorrect or incomplete, or that our response back to you has not been delivered. These things happen occasionally so re-submit your enquiry if you've fallen victim to e-mail gremlins.

Thanks for visiting.

Paul Nixon
Army Ancestry