Tuesday 9 November 2010

UK Naval Medal and Award Rolls 1793-1972

Another corker from Ancestry:

"This database contains lists of more than 1.5 million officers, enlisted personnel and other individuals entitled to medals and awards commemorating their service with the Royal Navy and Royal Marines between 1793 and 1972. The original medal rolls were compiled by the War Office and are housed at the National Archives of the UK in Kew, Surrey. The rolls include medals awarded for British campaigns and service in Europe, India, Africa, Asia, the Middle East, and elsewhere during the height of the British Empire and into the 20th century. This database also includes medal rolls from the First and Second World Wars.

"While medal rolls do not provide very detailed information, the records can include the name, date, and location of a campaign or service, the recipient’s name, and the regiment or unit name and regimental number. Most rolls were arranged by campaign (or battle), then ship or regiment, rank and surname.

"The records in this collection can be searched by name, medal or award, campaign or service, service date, ship name, and service number. Volumes may also be browsed by medal and medal roll.

About the Medals

Medals were instituted by the British Army in the early 19th century for officers and other ranks for participating in a military campaign, and clasps indicated service in a particular battle. The Waterloo Medal of 1815 was the first campaign medal issued and was awarded to men who took place in the battle (or their next of kin).

Lists were submitted by ship, regiment or unit for persons entitled to receive certain medals or clasps. There are three types of medals in this collection: for campaigns (or battles), for good conduct (or long service) and for gallantry."

UK Military Campaign Medal & Award Rolls 1793-1949

New on Ancestry:

"This database contains lists of more than 2.3 million officers, enlisted personnel and other individuals entitled to medals and awards commemorating their service in campaigns and battles for the British Army between 1793 and 1949. The original medal rolls were compiled by the War Office and are housed at the National Archives of the UK in Kew, Surrey. The rolls include medals awarded for British campaigns in Europe, India, Egypt, Sudan, South Africa, West and Central Africa, China, the Middle East, and elsewhere during the height of the British Empire. The collection does not include WWI or WWII medal and award rolls.

While medal rolls do not provide very detailed information, the records can include the name, date, and location of a campaign or service, the soldier’s name, and the regiment or unit name and regimental number. Most rolls were arranged by campaign (or battle), then regiment, rank and surname.

The records in this collection can be searched by name, campaign, service location and date, and regimental number. Volumes may also be browsed by region, campaign, and regiment or unit."

This is a very nice addition to Ancestry's offering, and of particular benefit to medal researchers.

Wednesday 20 October 2010

Online military searches

If your relative served in the British armed forces there are two websites which must absolutely be at the top of your list: Ancestry and findmypast.co.uk (FMP).

Ancestry has the best WW1 collection: WO 363 (burnt records), WO 364 (pension records) and WO 372 (campaign medal index cards).

Find My Past has the best pre-WW1 collection: a superior Boer War offering, WO 97 (Chelsea Pensioners discharge papers) and WO 96 (militia attestations - due on-line in late spring 2011).

Both Ancestry and findmypast.co.uk feature datasets from the Naval & Military Press stable - Soldiers Died in the Great War (SDGW), Ireland's Memorial Records, WW2 Army Roll of Honour etc - and both sites also have other minor data sets licensed from third parties. For some reason, FMP doesn't include the regimental number field on some of its N&MP datasets - like SDGW for instance - and this can lead to frustrations. On the upside however, FMP's version of SDGW features often features much useful additional information about the unit a man served with. See below as an example.

When it comes to the on-line search experience, Find My Past is way up front, and here's why:

1. Transcription accuracy
Findmypast.co.uk is way ahead of Ancestry when it comes to accuracy of transcription. What's more, if you do spot a mistake you can suggest a correction. Ancestry offers this facility too, BUT, you can only correct limited fields AND there appears to be no system of checking a customer's correction. This is foolhardy because customers get it wrong too. With FMP, you can correct multiple fields and your corrections are checked by a third party before they're accepted for publication. Furthermore, whilst Find My Past strives to improve on accuracy of transcriptions, Ancestry gives the impression of being content to let glaringly obvious transcription errors languish on its database when a simple find-and-replace action by a half-knowledgeable software developer could cure all of that at a stroke.

2. Speed
findmypast.co.uk service records download roughly four times faster than the Ancestry records. So if you're a heavy user, as I am, it means that you can squeeze far more findmypastrecords into a day, than you can Ancestry's. The WO 97 series is a joy: speedy access and full colour scans.

3. Search
There are far more search options on findmypast.co.uk than there are on Ancestry. Ancestry's WO 364 records do not allow you to search on regiment, a catastrophic failing that beats understanding. Thankfully they got it right by the time the WO 363 records came on line and on this record set you can now search on:

first name
last name
estimated birth year
residence location
birth county
regiment name
regiment number

The findmypast.co.uk search would be perfect if it gave the option of a keyword search. It doesn't, and so it doesn't get ten out of ten. It does however offer the following search options:

first name
middle name
last name
country of birth
county of birth
year of birth
town of birth
parish of birth
regiment [drop down list]
year served from
records to search [presumably for when the WO 96 series is added]

What's more, you can sort the records by name or year of birth AND you have the ability to include variants in the search. So, search for Simon Smith, tick the variants box and you'll also get Simeon Smith and Sime Smith.

4. Wildcard searching
It's always been a frustration for me with the Ancestry searches that you can't conduct a wildcard search on less than three characters. It's not so bad with name searching, but for number searching - which I use a lot - it can be a right royal pain in the backside. So to give an example, if you're looking for a man with a number beginning with 3, you can't just type in 3*. And if you just type in the number 3, you'll get every number under the sun that contains that number (even though you've ticked the "exact matches only" box). On Find My Past it's a doddle. Wildcard search on one, two or twenty twenty-two numbers (and remember, on Ancestry, if you're just searching on numbers you can ONLY do a wildcard search on numbers of three digits, nothing more, nothing less.

and finally...

5. Results' screen
Call up an original image on Ancestry and it opens in the same window. Call up an image with FMP and it opens in a new window. What's more, even if you've called up the 38th image in a set and have forgotten the name of the man you've been looking for, there he is, transcribed in a handy summary at the top of the page. Want to open a new record? Easy, just go back to the original search screen and find somebody else. With Ancestry, it can be a laborious process getting back to that original screen.

So all in all, FMP wins the search wars as far as I'm concerned AND it's MY great great uncle Bertrand Elam who features in FMP's latest campaigns. See HERE to read more about him. Now if only FMP carried more WW1 records...

Friday 1 October 2010

Five new datasets from FMP

The folk over at findmypast.co.uk have been busy this week. The UK-based genealogy company has launched five new military datasets and completed the uploading of the WO 97 Chelsea Penisoner records. Ancestry.co.uk subscribers will be familiar with some of these new arrivals which in turn have come from the Naval and Military Press stable. Nevertheless, there are subtle differences between both Ancestry's and FMP's offerings which I list below. Furthermore, FMP's Boer War data set, licensed from Casus Belli, is by far superior - both in volume, scope and content - than Ancestry's offering which was published earlier in the year.

DCM citations 1914-1919
More than 25,000 citations to other ranks who were awarded the coveted DCM. Second only to the Victoria Cross in terms of prestige, this award was prized as much by the soldiers of the time, as it is by medal collectors today. The database was originally published in book format by Naval & Military Press and comprised four sections:

Section 1: DCMs won by members of the Royal Flying Corps and Royal Air Force; the Foot Guards; and the Yeomanry and Cavalry.
Section 2: Line Regiments.
Section 3: The Territorial Army Regiments including the RGLI/RNVR/RMLI and RMA; the Royal Engineers and the Royal Artillery.
Section 4: The Corps and the overseas forces of the Crown in alphabetical order: Australia; the British West Indies Regiment; Canada; India; Newfoundland; New Zealand; Rhodesia; South and East Africa

Henry Smith, a patient at Chailey, won the DCM during his brief time in France. You can read about him HERE. His DCM citiation reads:

For conspicuous gallantry in action, and for his devotion to duty in finally assisting at the end of the engagement in carrying a wounded officer from the firing line, although wounded himself.

Private Frank Richards of Old Soldiers Never Die fame is also here. His citation reads:

For conspicuous gallantry. During a successful attack, Privates Richards and Barrett took their telephone over the parapet, established and maintained communication. They lay in the open for three hours, and repaired the wire whenever it was cut.

There are some real gems here and this data series is NOT available on Ancestry.

Ireland's Memorial Records of The Great War
Ancestry has had this one for a while. The difference here though, is that on Find My Past you can search by the man's number, on Ancestry you can't. There are 49,000 records here, not to mention some beautiful and touching illustrations.

Naval Casualties 1914-1919
Another Naval & Military Press publication and another data set that can't be found on the Ancestry site. Another of my Chailey men - 16 year old Cecil Langridge - is here, along with nearly 45,000 other sailors who lost their lives during the war to end all wars.

WW2 Prisoners of War
This is a database of PoWs in Europe. Ancestry does have this N&MP data set but you can't search on the man's number. On FMP you can.

Anglo-Boer War Records 1899-1902
This is a stunning database of men and women men and women who served in the British Imperial Forces during the war in southern Africa: soldiers, sailors, nurses and civilians. The database comprises quarter of a million records including a corrected roll of 59,000 casualties. Ancestry published a roll of 54,000 UK casualties earlier in the year but the FMP offering is five times larger and a good deal more detailed.

So all in all, some fantastic records that have been added to FMP's military stable, and it's worth pointing out too that the speed with which images download on the FMP site is infintely faster than those which are available on the Ancestry servers. A back of the matchbox calculation by your truly reckons that the FMP downloads are between three and four times faster than those on the Ancestry site.

Monday 12 July 2010

Boer War records on line

Ancestry has recently added a new data set: Casualties of the Boer War 1899-1902 In Ancestry's words: This data collection contains the following information on over 65,000 soldiers who either died or were wounded during the Boer War: Force Regiment Battalion Battery/Corps Rank Name Casualty type, date, and place For example: South Africa Field Source, Staff, 3rd Brigade, Major-Genl. MacDonald H., C.B., D.S.O. wounded in Paardeberg on 18/02/1902. The data, which is taken from official casualty rolls, is sortable on First Name, Last Name, Place of casualty / Year of casualty, Regiment and Keywords but unfortunately is only available as part of Ancestry's premium or worldwide membership schemes. 

Another useful source for Second South African War information is The Boer War Register which presents "over 258,700 entries... [including] a fully revised and corrected casualty roll of over 59,000 records." Also see The Anglo Boer War and The National Archives's page on the South African War. Finally, it's always worth running a keyword search at the Internet Archive for military archive material. Type in Royal Fusiliers and you get a number of very useful lists including this listing of recipients of the Queen's South Africa Medal. The image on this post shows British casualties at Spion Kop in January 1900.

Friday 26 March 2010

More on WO 97

The screen above shows the search screen that users are presented with if they wish to search the British Army Service Records 1760-1913 on Find My Past.

Searching this category is NOT AVAILABLE as part of the trumpeted FREE Trial. So if you were hoping to have a fortnight's freebie (as I was) forget it.

At first glance there doesn't appear to be the facility to search by regiment. However, it is there, it's lurking behind the advanced search tab (above). Click on the regiment and you're presented with drop-down options. Some regiments though, are missing. Where, for instance is the South Yorkshire Regiment, the predecessor of the King's Own Yorkshire Light Infantry?

I ran a search on men who'd joined the The Scots Guards in 1882. The results (below) are useful in that they show where the men were born - and therefore give some indication (for the most part) where men were recruited. However, the omission of the man's number is a serious flaw. I'm a number cruncher. I like army numbers - see my Army Service Numbers blog - and not being able to see these here makes it unlikely that I'll use the service.

Also, as far as value for money is concerned, Ancestry wins hands down. Find my Past will sell you a bundle of 60 credits for seven pounds. That will buy you access to a measly ten records or so. That's probably enough for an occasional researcher but a serious military historian is going to have to cough up 150 quid for a year's subscription (or ninety-five pounds for six months).

Nevertheless, WO 97 is a fantastic military resource, and a real feather in the FMP cap.

Monday 22 March 2010

WO 97 on-line

Find My Past has just released the first batch of pension records from the WO 97 series at the National Archives. The series contains approximately 700,000 records of soldiers who were discharged to pension between 1760 and 1913 and is a major collection.

The first 250,000 records have been released and others are currently being scanned. Here are the details:

Date range

1883-1900: 270,334 records available now
1901-1913: 303,000 available by May 2010
1873-1882: 64,000 records available by June 2010
1855-1872: 65,000 records available by July 2010
1760-1854: 184,000 records available by April 2011

Also known as the Chelsea Pensioners' records, don't let the title confuse you. The pensions were administered through the Royal Hospital at Chelsea and the pensioners themselves were not necessarily in-pensioners at the Royal Hospital. Click on the link below to start searching the database.

Saturday 6 March 2010

Daddy, what did YOU do in the Great War?

Find out by visiting Ancestry.co.uk. FREE 14 DAY TRIAL. Tens of thousands of service records from the 1850s through to the 1920s.

Saturday 16 January 2010

Naval & Military Press - 20% off everything

There's another one of those handy 20% off everything sales at The Naval & Military Press this weekend. Click the image above. Sale now extended until 25th January.