Researching your ancestors? Look in here

Discussion in 'Military History and Militaria' started by AlienFTM, Nov 28, 2008.

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  1. AlienFTM

    AlienFTM LE Book Reviewer

    We regularly get people in here asking for help researching their ancestors. I have discussed this with PartTimePongo (the mod) and we have agreed that it might be clever to have a sticky thread for people to look at and get the easy questions out of the way before they start with their unusual questions.

    I know I seem to have written one paragraph half a dozen times. (I don't begrudge sharing the information, it just saves repetition). PTP has promised that once the thread gets some meat on the bones, he'll keep it in order.

    Only post tips here. Particular queries can go in new threads, and any info worth repeating can be added here, with a pointer in the new thread to this one. "Reply posted in 'Researching your ancestors? Look in here' sticky" or the like. Keeps this thread on topic.

    So here's my tip.

    If your ancestor served in a county regiment or similar, it's quite possible County Hall Records Office has a microfilm copy of one or more battalion's war diaries. For example, this DLI war diary was opened in June 1944 as the battalion was camped on the outskirts of Southampton (and I pass the site every day - how spooky is that for a Co Durham lad?) camped waiting to embark for D-Day and went on (I only scratched the surface because it wasn't what I had gone looking for) presumably until the battalion disbanded or returned to the UK.
  2. Thanks for getting this started Alien. I know we have some top rate researchers banging about the place who can supply tips. So , don't be shy, share the secrets of researching your ancestors here :D
  3. Before the top rate researchers turn up, here are some links to get things started:

    National Archives / Public Records Office British Army Research Guide: here

    Intermittently available: here

    Commonwealth War Graves Commission: here

    Museums - Ogilby Trust: here
    Reiterating AlienFTM's advice, some museums have moved their documentary records to the County Record Offices/Archives. Some of the latter have online catalogues (e.g. the Durham Record office).
  4. Thanks Walton, and some good places to start :)

    I'd also be interested in seeing some anecdotal posts from those of you who have had some success in researching ancestors?

    Many thanks

  5. Campaign for War Graves Commemorations: here
    Perhaps not anecdotal, but some very detailed examples of how far you can go.
  6. I originally posted this on another military history forum, so might as well share it here...

    A little guide on how to find a particular British Army war diary at the National Archives.

    1. The vital piece of information you need to know is what theatre the unit was in at a particular time or under whose command. The war diaries are arranged by command, following the Order of Battle.

    For example if you were searching for the war diary of the 225 Field Company RE in May 1940, you need to search the index for the British Expeditionary Force as they were at Dunkirk at the time.

    Here is the list of commands with their associated TNA reference series number:

    War Office Directorates - WO 165

    Home Forces - WO 166

    British Expeditionary Force - WO 167

    North-West Expeditionary Force - WO 168

    Middle East Forces - WO 169

    Central Mediterranean Forces - WO 170

    North-West Europe - WO 171

    South-East Asia Command - WO 172

    West Africa Forces - WO 173

    Madagascar - WO 174

    British North Africa Forces - WO 175

    Various smaller theatres - WO 176

    Medical services - WO 177

    Military Missions - WO 178

    Dominion Forces WO 179

    GHQ Liaison Regiment* - WO 215

    Special Services - WO 218

    Ships Signals Sections* - WO 257

    Royal Marine Commandos - DEFE 2

    * These series include associated papers

    For the 225 Field Company RE war diary for May 1940, you need to search in WO 167 – British Expeditionary Force.

    2. So visit TNA online catalogue here:

    3. In the box for “Department or Series Code” enter the reference series number you found above, e.g. WO 167

    4. In the box for “Word or Phrase” you can try a number of things. If you tried “225 Field Company” you’re not going to find anything because abbreviations are used in the index.

    In this particular case I’d try the search phrase “225”.

    If the unit/company number is low then try something like “Royal Engineers” to find the subdivision in the listing and then use the “Browse from here” button to scan through the entries from the start of that subdivision, as all the Royal Engineer units will be grouped together. The same for Royal Artillery, etc.

    5. Hit the search button!

    In this example the reference returned for the 225 Fd. Coy. is WO 167/979. That is the file reference number to use to order the document at Kew.
  7. I used the above websites to do my research on a member of my family .
    these other websites may also be of intrest to you .

    In my experience i also had to do some research and find the full name of the person i was looking for , D.O.B. ,Address , Other members of the family .Miltary number if possible ,When they was killed in action . Army records if possible and medal adwards etc .
    Also be prepared to find out details that was never spoke about in your family if you look up your ancestors details .
  8. seaweed

    seaweed LE Book Reviewer

    To use you need to pay a sub. However your local public library may have a subscription to which carries the same information, but you don't have to pay to use it - however it is only available in the library, not on the library's online service, so you can't get into it from home. Ancestry carries all the UK census data.

    For births, marriages and deaths in England and Wales go to

    To search the National Archives (was Public Record Office) in Kew go to

    To find out what's in county and other archives, try
  9. maninblack

    maninblack LE Book Reviewer

    It is always worth a google search if the regiment was a county one. I traced a fair bit or information on my great uncle via a tribute site about his regiment.

    The site I found is HERE and is a good example of resources that are already partially researched.
  10. oldbaldy

    oldbaldy LE Moderator Good Egg (charities)
    1. Battlefield Tours

  11. oldbaldy

    oldbaldy LE Moderator Good Egg (charities)
    1. Battlefield Tours

    For an extract of the census of Wensleydale and Swaledale:
    Dales Genealogy
  12. oldbaldy

    oldbaldy LE Moderator Good Egg (charities)
    1. Battlefield Tours

    Another one:
    1/4 Battalion The Yorkshire Regiment

    There are a number of people who research specific war memorials, here is an example that includes my ancestor:
    The Northallerton Memorial Project
  13. seaweed

    seaweed LE Book Reviewer

    If your forebear served in India with his family (or died out there) and was CofE, the CofE baptisms, marriages and burials can be found in the Oriental and India Studies section of the British Library. There are separate sets for the Bengal, Madras and Bombay CofE sees. There are also some RC records. Beyond that, this is the place to go for any British India-related research.
  14. oldbaldy

    oldbaldy LE Moderator Good Egg (charities)
    1. Battlefield Tours

    A number of people ask why someone can have two or more numbers in WW1, this explains why:
    1917 renumbering