Saturday, 21 February 2015

The Iron Duke's men - Researching Waterloo

OK, here are some tips for tracing Waterloo veterans from your home town.  You're going to need access to Findmypast to do this so take out a free two week trial or find a local library that has already subscribed.

You're going to be using two collections on Findmypast: The Waterloo Medal Roll and British Army Service Records 1760-1913.  The Waterloo Medal Roll is a licensed dataset from Naval & Military Press which gives basic details of Waterloo Medal recipients. The British Army Service Records' collection is actually several collections, some of which contain details - usually basic - of men who served at Waterloo. Unfortunately, it is not possible to use a Waterloo keyword search on this collection and so we're going to need to do a bit of detective work. I'm going to show you the approach I take.

Step 1 - Open up the British Army Service Records' collection
Log into Findmypast and open up British Army Service Records 1760-1913.  You'll find it by going to the search bar at the top of the screen on the Home Page, then select A-Z of record sets, then start typing British Army...

Step 2 - Determine your search criteria
I live in Chelmsford in Essex and so I'm interested in men who came from Chelmsford. I can narrow the search down by birth parish or birth town, and in this example I'm going to select birth town. This is a browseable field and so when you start typing in Chelmsf... you'll need to wait until this word appears

As you can see from the screenshot above, Chelmsford appears, along with some dubious names which are almost certainly transcription errors. To be on the safe side I'm going to select the dubious names as well. The fact that these transcription errors appear in the drop-down list tells me that these values exist in records. Select all the names that apply and wait for the lozenges to appear:
At this point in time, were we to run a search, we'd get men who were joining the army at any point between 1760 and 1913. We need to narrow the results down, and unfortunately, typing "Waterloo" into the keyword search box is not going to help because when the records were indexed, details of battles and engagements were not recorded.
Step 3 - Narrow down the age of your soldier
On the assumption that men who fought at Waterloo would have been at least 18 years old (and probably a good deal older in most cases), we can look for likely candidates by narrowing down their year of birth. For Waterloo men, I search for men who were born in 1787, plus or minus 10 years. This will return results for all men born in Chelmsford, Chelmsfrd, Chemlsf... etc between 1777 and 1797:
We're not going to narrow the search down by regiment, and in 1815, soldiers did not have regimental numbers.  We're good to go.
Step 4 - Analysing the results
Don't be disheartened if your results look like this. It doesn't mean that there were no men who fought at Waterloo who were born at Chelmsford. It just means that again, in these cases, the birth town has not been indexed.  Edit the results to remove the birth town and enter birth parish instead:
Step 5 - Analysing the results (part 2)
This time. the search has worked fine. I have 28 results and the first three are shown below, organised alphabetically by surname as a default although you can organise by other fields.
Now, it's simply a case of going through each of the records to identify Waterloo men. Click on the camera icon to view the images. In actual fact, none of the three men listed above were at Waterloo but there are others in this list of 28 who were there. For instance, Thomas Creaton, born in Chelmsford in 1794, fought with the Grenadier Guards and his service is very clearly noted:
Elsewhere in his papers we see that Thomas was a gardener by trade and was receiving a pension as late as 1857 (which means we should also find him in the 1841 and 1851 census returns with a bit of luck).  We also see him in the Waterloo Medal Roll:
With a bit of perseverance and lateral thinking, it should be possible to find men from your neighbourhood who fought at Waterloo, and with a bit of luck to trace them in other records as well. What better way to commemorate the events of 200 years ago by bringing the men who were there, back to life.
Note that the British Army Service Records collections on Findmypast contain records for NCOs and other ranks only. You'll find Waterloo officers in other collections.

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