There are a vast amount of World War One records available online. Use this quick guide to WWI records for genealogy to ensure you’ve completed a comprehensive search for your military ancestor. Save (or pin to Pinterest) the below infographic.
WWI Records at a Glance: Infographic by Natalie Pithers, Genealogy Stories, please credit with URL www.genealogystories.co.uk if sharing.
Here’s my quick tips to help you uncover your World War One soldier ancestors:
1. Always Check the Card Catalogue
Both genealogy website giants, Ancestry and Find My Past have an extensive card catalogue. Make sure to search it by title or keyword. Not all the records available show up in the general ‘World War One’ search function. For example, the invaluable Silver Medal Badge records on Ancestry can only be searched by directly selecting the record set from the Card Catalogue.
2. Mix up your search criteria
If an initial search of your ancestors name doesn’t yield any results than try changing tactics. Some records (pensions, soldiers’ effects) may contain details of next of kin. Try searching using the names of your solider’s spouse, parents or children.
Depending on the record type you may also be able to search using regiment name or number. But don’t presume your ancestor was enlisted in the regiment associated with their residence.
If none of your searches are yielding results than ditch the search engine and browse original records where possible.
3. Cross Reference
Non-military records can still provide valuable clues about an ancestors service. Electoral Rolls indicated my Great-Grandfather was absent from voting during World War One. Despite an unusual surname (Pithers), I couldn’t find his service record and their were multiple Pithers receiving medals.
Railway employment records (available on Ancestry) told me my Pithers had volunteered for service in 1914, and spent to war with the Depot Middlesex Regiment.
Further Electoral Rolls and the 1939 National Register confirmed that he’d survived the war. This meant I could narrow down my search to Pension and Silver Badge Medal records. It also helped me to confirm I had the right ‘Pithers’.
4. Specific Record Sets
There are a whole host of records that are relevant to very specific groups of soliders. For example, registers specific to locations, jobs or unions – such as the British Trade Union Members, Services and Casualties or the London Volunteer Solider records.
If you’ve checked the bigger data sets, spend some time scrolling through the smaller record collections. Many of these are available on Find My Past.
Newspapers are an invaluable research for the genealogist. Lists of the missing, wounded or killed in action were published throughout the war. There were also news stories featuring letters home and even photographs.
Don’t just search papers by name. Try addresses, regiments, regiment numbers, next of kin, work places.
6. War Diaries
If you know the regiment, battalion and unit that your ancestor served in, than make sure you check out the relevant war diary.
You probably won’t find your ancestor named, but you will find out what his service entailed. You’ll get an account of life within that unit written by someone who was there.
The National Archives has a comprehensive guide to War Diaries.
- Guide to using newspapers for World War One research at British Newspaper Archives Blog.
- British Newspaper Archive
- Newspapers at National Library of Wales
- Find My Past
- The Genealogist
- Common War Graves Commision (CWGC)
- Red Cross ICRC
- The National Archives (TNA)
- TNA Guide to War Diaries
- The Long Long Trail