The fifth episode of this season’s WDYTYA? featured Hugh Dennis.
Focusing on Hugh’s ancestors in WWI, this was thought provoking.
The Hugh Dennis episode of Who Do You Think You Are? will be available on BBC iplayer for the next month.
Has this episode inspired you to make a start on your own family history?
This post is the fifth in a series for beginner family historians researching their English ancestors. I have already covered first steps in family history, obtaining birth, marriage and death certificates, using the census, and parish registers.
Not long ago researching your military ancestors usually meant a trip to The National Archives (TNA) in Kew, however in recent years TNA has formed partnerships with commercial providers such as Ancestry and Findmypast to digitise key records and make them available online.
World War One records can be found at Ancestry, with older records being found at Findmypast. Some records can be downloaded from TNA, such as war diaries, medal index cards (also on Ancestry) and recommendations for medals.
Task 1 – Search for a WWI service record on Ancestry
WWI service records are available on Ancestry as two record sets described as “Service Records” and “Pension Records”, it is best to search both, they both contain the same types of record. Unfortunately over half the personnel records from WWI no-longer survive, so your search may not be successful.
If you know the regiment that your ancestor served with, or his service number, these will help you locate the correct record.
Task 2 – Search for WWI medal index cards
If an exhaustive search on Ancestry fails to turn up a service record, then look for a medal index card next as these can help you reconstruct a man’s service history. The medal index cards are the most complete record of those who served in WWI.
The medal index cards are available online both on Ancestry and from TNA’s Online Collections (at a cost of £3.36).
I prefer the Ancestry copies as they are in colour and also because the backs of the cards were also photographed and sometimes additional information can be found there.
Task 3- search the London Gazette
The majority of medals issued in WWI are campaign medals for service between particular dates, but some men were also given gallantry awards for acts of courage and these were always included in the London Gazette, including the lowest form of gallantry award a “mention in dispatches”.
The London Gazette site is totally free, so it is well worth a search, of course it will be easier to locate your ancestors if they have an unusual name.
Task 4 – CWGC
The Commonwealth War Graves Commission have a fantastic site which lists all war deaths, including civilians. An entry in their database will usually supply the date of death, place of burial, rank, regiment, and service number. The site is completely free to use and you can use your findings to help you in the search for other records.
The National Archives have a long list of excellent research guides to military records.
If the new series of Who Do You Think You Are? has inspired you to start researching your family history, I would love to hear how you are getting on!
Locating your ancestors in parish registers can be difficult, sometimes taking years of research rather than hours. If you have any problems or questions please get in touch.