Wednesday, 4 June 2014

Searching WO 363 & WO 364 on findmypast

Findmypast's release of First World War service records from the WO 363 and WO 364 series held on microfilm at The National Archives is a MAJOR boon for anyone wishing to search these important documents. Due to the poor state of WO 363 in particular, searching these records on Ancestry has never been particularly easy, but findmypast's indexing is, I believe, far superior. For a start, you can search records across WO 363 and WO 364 simultaneously. On Ancestry, you need to conduct two separate searches. Furthermore nearly 600,000 records never previously indexed by Ancestry are now available on findmypast for the first time.  Here are some simple tips to help you get the best out of the search engine.

First, above all else, let wildcard search do the work. My particular interest is in regimental numbers and so typically I'm looking for particular number ranges for specific regiments.  My first tip would be, don't try to type in the full regiment name. Use fragments and the asterisk wildcard to get the maximum results.  In the example below, I was looking for men who served with the North Somerset Yeomanry and so this is what I typed in the regiment field:

I also wanted to find men who had numbers in the 600 range and so this is what I typed in the service number field:
This gave me 23 results, some of which (click on the images to enlarge) are shown below:
As you can see, it is now very easy to identify numbers in the 600 range and to discount those which are either too high - like 642961 - or too low.
Results with a either a birth year or a birth county against them will generally yield full results: service or pension papers or similar. Those with nothing showing in these fields are generally (but not always) men who appear on lists - often lists of casualty returns, transfers to hospitals or convalescent depots, or transfers to other regiments. This is certainly the case with 638 Dickinson, above, whose entry (at the bottom) appears like this:

These lists of men form the vast majority of those additional 600,000 names which findmypast has captured, and in the majority of cases this may be the only reference to a particular soldier which survives.  In order to see the context in which this document appears, findmypast also identifies the original source document, or originating record. To view this record, click on the "view transcription" button whilst you are looking at the image above:

In Corporal Dickinson's case this is what we see:
So we now know that this single page, identifying Corporal Dickinson as having been transferred to a hospital ship with a shrapnel wound to his right shoulder, appears within the service record for R/13933 George William Neve of the Grenadier Guards. (In actual fact, as any regimental numbers expert will tell you, R/13933 is not a Grenadier Guards number. Neve originally served with the KRRC, later transferring to the Guards. But these are often tough records to index - heavily edited documents at the time the man was serving which have not been helped by subsequent fire and water damage).

Nevertheless, if you wanted to see why Dickinson appears in Neve's papers, you are able to call up Neve's record. I did so and could find no earthly connection between this hospital return - which does not include Neve's name - and Neve's record; a prime example of a piece of paper slipped, accidentally perhaps, into another man's service record. But I guess that's by the by. Use wildcard searching and you won't go far wrong.


  1. I'd picked up that FMP had wild-carding on the number - an infinite advance on whatever Ancestry - but not that such a complex wild carding on the regiment would work. So thanks for that.

    However, it is important to note that you don't get that useful output showing the service numbers in the summary *unless* you go and find the input form for the specific dataset "British Army Service Records 1914-1920" (accessed from the A-Z list, say). Using the ordinary search menu doesn't get you close enough, even from the "First World War in Military, armed forces & conflict" input screen

  2. Thanks for commenting, Adrian. Yes and No. For that deeper drilling down you need to go to either the individual data collection in the A-Z list or the "search all military" option, where you can still select on regiment and number. Searching by data collection gives you the regimental numbers in the results' screen. Searching across all the military databases gives you the same total results but you lose the regimental number when the results are displayed, in favour of the record set information.

    The "search all records" doesn't come close because you only have the option to search on name and date and location; not appropriate for someone who want to do some digging on regimental numbers.

    Incidentally, in my example above if I were looking for North Somerset Yeomanry and, being lazy, typed in Som* Yeo* instead of Nor* Som* Yeo* I'd get zero results. I'd need to type the full Nor* Som* Yeo* or * Som Yeo* which would give me results for both North Somerset Yeomanry & West Somerset Yeomanry

  3. Ah - glad you told me about Som* Yeo*! I would absolutely have done that!