Researching your ancestors? Look in here


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.
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
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).
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

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.
WaltOnTheMildSide said:
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).
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 .


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


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.


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


maninblack said:
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.
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


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.


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




When researching a invaluable of source of information is GENUKI.
It includes information not only about people but about places,
GENUKI UK & Ireland Genealogy

Also the Mormons have large databases. One to use is The IGI index. It is not guaranteed to be 100% as most of the information is contributed and therefore may contain errors but does give pointers for births marriages and deaths.
International Genealogical Index
WO97 Service records 1760-1913

Service Records
Or Soldiers documents

WO97 records are attestation and discharge papers, often referred to as soldiers' documents, in series which covers the period between 1760 and 1913. Some papers between 1785 and 1813 are in WO 121. They are described in more detail in a Research Guide British Army: Soldiers' Discharge Papers, 1760-1913 at the NA
They are almost always referred to as 'service' records. But as the medals expert John Sly reminds us: 'They are not, they are pension records, specifically Royal Hospital, Chelsea, pension records.
They are copies of documents that were given to a largely illiterate soldiery, specifying the man's name, trade and place of birth, as well as his physical description, forming a proof of his identity and entitlement to draw his pension if he could not sign his own name.

Once this is appreciated it immediately becomes obvious why so few individual records survive: only a relatively small proportion of soldiers were pensioned, either for disability or long service. In particular if a soldier died in service, or deserted and so did not complete his term of enlistment, it is unlikely that there will be a record for him. Researchers should not forget the records for the Royal Hospital in Dublin, Kilmainham, which was operating in tandem with Chelsea at this time, and it was not specifically an institution for Irishmen or soldiers from 'Irish' regiments. It is probably because the Kilmainham records are not filed or indexed in the same way as the Chelsea records that they are so often ignored.

Before 1883 these service records are normally only for men who were discharged and received a pension. From 1883 to 1913 the series also includes soldiers who were discharged for other reasons, such as termination of limited engagements or discharge by purchase.

The types of document that have most commonly survived are, although it is unusual to find them all in a single file:

• discharge forms, which were issued when a soldier left the regiment. The purpose, initially at least, seems to have been to have been proof for the
poor law authorities that the individual was not a vagrant as he passed through the area on his way home or in search of work.

• attestation forms, which are the documents signed by the new recruit.They will tell you how old he was at enlistement, where he enlisted and his
trade before he joined up. There may also be details of next of kin.

• The proceedings of a regimental board and record of service, which was a more detailed record of discharge.

• Supporting correspondence. Occasionally there might be scribbled notes on the application itself.

• Questionnaires of past service, which an applicant for a pension completed if others documents had not survived.

• Affidavits, which out-pensioners outside London made every quarter to state that they were not drawing on other public funds.

Except for the earliest documents, where the level of detail is limited, the documents give information about age, physical appearance, birthplace and trade or occupation on enlistment in the Army. They also include a record of service, including any decorations awarded, promotions and reductions in rank, crimes and punishments, and the reason for the discharge to pension. In some cases, the place of residence after discharge and date of death are also given.

These documents are arranged by discharge date and then by regiment or by surname. The order within individual piece numbers is roughly alphabetical. If you can't find your man then it is also worth looking though the misfiled records to see if he appears there.

With the exception of some records between 1883 and 1913, the records have been microfilmed and are available in the Microfilm Reading Room at Kew. The documents fall into four series:

1760-1854 These documents are arranged alphabetically by name within regiments. Fortunately there is a comprehensive index which is available on TNA's online catalogue (just type in the name of the person you are researching). This index also includes records found in WO 121. There seem to be relatively few for men who enlisted before 1792.

1855—1872 These are again arranged alphabetically by name within a regiment, and it is vital to know the regiment in which a man served.

1873-1882 These are arranged alphabetically by name of soldier by cavalry, artillery, infantry and miscellaneous corps.

1883-1913 The documents are arranged in surname order. Details of next of kin, wife and children are given.

Additional series of service records
If you can't find your man in WO 97 and think that he survived to receive a pension, there are several other places for you to look.

WO116 and WO117 are pension books which contain similar information, but are split into disability and long-service respectively, and are indexed chronologically by date of admission to Chelsea pension. WO120 contains pension books arranged regimentally by order of precedence, then chronologically by date of admission to Chelsea pension.

WO118 and WO119 are records for Kilmainham Hospital in Dublin, WO118 being arranged chronologically by date of admission to pension, giving a numerical key to WO119, which is the equivalent of WO97, but in bound book form rather than loose in boxes. This can be a long process if you do not know the date of admission to pension, and you may need to use the muster books (WO12) to get a date, but it is very rewarding if you find the man you want.
General registers of discharges from 1871 to 1884 are in WO121/223-238. Registers of men discharged without pension between 1884 and 1887 are in WO 121/239-257. Certificates of service of soldiers awarded deferred pensions, 1838-1896, are in WO131.

Two series of returns of service of NCOs and men survive from the early nineteenth century. The first series contains statements of periods of service and of liability to service abroad on 24 June 1806 and are in WO25/871-1120. The second series contains returns of NCOs and men, not known to be dead or totally disqualified for military service, who had been discharged between 1783 and 1810 (WO25/1121-1131). Both series are arranged by regiment and then alphabetically by surname.

Records of service of soldiers in the Royal Horse Artillery between 1803 and 1863 are in WO69. They include attestation papers and show name, age, description, place of birth, trade, and dates of service, of promotions, of marriage and of discharge or death. These records are arranged under the unit in which the individual last served, which can be ascertained from indexes and posting books in WO69/779-782, 801-839.
There is also an incomplete series of registers of deceased, discharged or deserted men in the Royal Artillery (1772-1774, 1816-1873) in WO69/583-597, 644—647, arranged by artillery regiment. A number of miscellaneous pay lists and other records of the Royal Artillery, 1692-1876, are in WO54/672-755.

All of the info is copyright to The National Archives Kew.
Tel +44(0)20 8876 3444
British PoWs 1914-1918

First World War, 1914-1918
Establishing if an individual was a PoW
The National Archives does not hold a comprehensive list of all British and Commonwealth PoWs. Consequently, it can be difficult to establish whether an individual was actually taken prisoner and, more particularly, in which camps they were held.

Establishing whether an Officer was a PoW is relatively straightforward and researchers should look for the book List of British Officers taken prisoner in the various Theatres of War between August 1914 and November 1918 compiled in 1919 by the military agents Cox and Co.

This is arranged by theatre of war, and then by regiment. It includes an index of regiments at the start of the book, and a name index at the back. The list covers the British Army, Royal Air Force, the Royal Naval Air Service and the Royal Naval Division, and gives the name and rank of the officer, the date when he went missing, where and when he was interned (but not the specific camp/s), and the date of his repatriation. If the officer died while a prisoner, the list gives the date and place of death. In addition, Officers were required to provide a report concerning the circumstances behind their capture. These, if they survive, will be found in the individual service records.

Other Ranks
There are no known official or published sources to help determine whether an ordinary serviceman or Non-Commissioned Officer (NCO) was a PoW. Theoretically, it is should be recorded on their service record, although this information is usually minimal, merely giving dates of capture and/or release, or is sometimes indicated on the WW I Medal Rolls WO329. Alternatively, the Internationai Committee of the Red Cross in Geneva & keeps an incomplete list of known PoWs and internees of all nationalities for both World Wars. Searches are only made in response to written enquiries, and an hourly fee is charged. The address to write to is:

International Council of the Red Cross, Archives Division, 19 Avenue de la Paix, CH-1202, Geneva, Switzerland.

Searching for an Individual at the NA

Ask at the Research Enquiries Desk for the guide 'Researching British & Commonwealth Prisoners of War: World War One'. This not only indicates which of The National Archives sources are most likely to provide personal details but includes:

*Copies of nominal indexes of British, Irish, Colonial and Indian PoWs extracted from WO161/101.

*The National Archives' references to identified nominal lists of Military and Merchant Navy PoWs.

*List of PoW camps in Germany and enemy territory.

*Indexed map of the main PoW camps in Germany and Austria.

The primary source for personal information are the reports made by repatriated, escaped or interned Officers, Medical Officers, Other Ranks, and occasionally Merchant Seamen and Civilians, held in WO 161/95 to WO 161/100 and indexed by WO161/101 . As well as a narrative of variable length, these reports usually include details of unit, home address, when and where captured, wounds suffered, transfer between camps, comments on treatment and conditions in camps and escape attempts.

A copy of the entire W0161/101 index is available in the Research Enquiry Room at Kew and can also be downloaded from DocumentsOnline at:

Alternatively, the 1914-1918 British Prisoners of War database, an externally compiled database to WO 161/101 searchable by name or regiment, is available:

The following key in the WO 161 series is used to distinguish who made a report: O = Officers; MO = Medical Officers; no prefix = Other Ranks. Researchers should note it is the page number/s next to the name in the index that is important. The table below shows which file should be consulted.
Sub-Series of WO 161 Reports

1. W0 161/95 Officers: Pages 1-538
2. W0161/96 Officers: Pages 539-1169
3. W0161/97 Medical Officers: Pages 1-398
4. W0161/98 Other ranks: Pages 1 -821
5. WO 161/99 Other ranks: Pages 1576-2402
6. WO161/100 Other ranks: Pages 2403-4177

There is a gap between pages 822-1575 in the 'Other ranks' records. However, some of these and duplicates of other WO161 reports can be found in FO 383 (see below). The files WO 161/95-100 (and the index W0161/101 ) can be downloaded from DocumentsOnline at:

Secondly, PoWs can be searched for by name within the Catalogue as a result of improved catalogue entries to F0383 This series of records contains the files of the Prisoners of War and Aliens Department, which was established in 1915 to deal with all matters relating to conditions for prisoners, repatriation and general policy. Search within the FO383 series, and if any references are produced, click on the blue description text to open the expanded indexing. If you scroll down the page, any matches will be highlighted in yellow. There is also a card index to Foreign Office Correspondence located in the Open Reading Room at The National Archives. Between 1915-1918 each year includes a dedicated PoW section arranged by country and subject. While in most instances the card index entries will point to a FO383 reference, they can lead to other FO series that hold documents concerning PoWs.

Other relevant Merchant Navy records are contained in MT 9 (code 106), which includes some files indexed by individual name and/or ship*. For the Royal Navy, Royal Naval Air Service (RNAS), Royal Navy Reserve (RNR) and the Royal Navy Volunteer Reserve (RNVR), try searching the ADM 12 registers, while for the Royal Air Force (RAF), Royal Flying Corps (RFC) and RNAS, try the Air History Branch indexes to AIR 1 located in the Open Reading Room.

Deaths of Prisoners of War 1914-1918
Deaths of PoWs and internees occurring in military and non-military hospitals and in enemy and occupied territory were notified to British authorities by foreign embassies, legations, registration authorities and American authorities in charge of British internees. The record series RG 35/45 to RG 35/69 contains an incomplete collection of these certificates. It should be noted, however, that the majority of this information is in French.

Other sources
Records concerning PoW camps and related subjects are mostly found in two record classes. Once again the most comprehensive are the reports held in W0 161/95 to W0 161/100 accessed by searching the places and subject indexes in WO 161/101 . Inspection reports on individual camps can also be searched for by name using FO383 and the card index to Foreign Office Correspondence referred to above. Further records relating to PoW camps, administration and policy, are found in WO32 and CO693 , with registers relating to the latter in C0754 and CO755 . The records of the Committee on the Treatment by the Enemy of British PoWs (1914-1919) are in H045/10763/270829, and HO45/10764/270829, with additional material in W0162.
Various PoW-related reports are located within the Parliamentary Papers preserved on microfiche in the Open Reading Room at The National Archives. The easiest way in to these is via the CD-Rom kept behind the enquiry desk of The National Archives Library.

British Library,Imperial War Museum, Various Regimental Museums.

Contact Details
British Library Newspapers
Colindale Avenue
Tel: 020 7412 7353

Imperial War Museum
Department of Documents
Lambeth Rd
London SE1 6HZ
Tel: 020 7416 5221

The National Archives, Kew, Richmond, Surrey, TW9 4DU
Tel: +44 (0)20 8876 3444 Fax: +44 (0)20 8392 5286
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