If you have ancestors who served in the British Army, you may be able to use Army records to help fill in some of the missing areas in your family tree. These records can also provide details about your ancestor's life, such as where and when he served, any illnesses or injuries he sustained, and the beneficiaries of his pension. There are several resources for looking up these records.
Resources for Finding British Army Service Records
British Army service records can include muster rolls, medals, diaries and journals, pension records, court martials and desertions, and more. There are also records for British Army nurses and women who served in other capacities. Finding these records for free is a challenge; however, you can access many of these documents from paid services.
Ministry of Defense
If your ancestor served after 1920, you can request a copy of his record for free from the Ministry of Defense. If you are next-of-kin to the person you're researching, you will have access to that individual's complete file. However, you can still request a service record for someone to whom you aren't closely related. In that case, you will receive information that is public and does not include personal data.
To receive a copy of these records, submit a request for information to the Ministry of Defense. You'll need to include your full name, email address or postal address, and a list of the information you'd like to learn. You can email your request to firstname.lastname@example.org. After the Ministry of Defense receives your request, it will take about three to four weeks for them to process it. The first copy is free of charge.
The National Archives
The National Archives of the United Kingdom are a great resource for older service records, including muster rolls dating as far back as 1730. Muster rolls were the official service records for soldiers and officers prior to 1913. They included information about pay, where soldiers were stationed, their enlistment date, birthplace, date of death or discharge, and more. These records are not available online; however, there are three ways you can access them:
- You can visit the National Archives in person at Kew. You don't need an appointment, and you can conduct your research free of charge.
- You can hire a researcher from the National Archives to conduct your search for a fee. They will need very specific information about your ancestor, and they charge by the search. You'll pay 80 British pounds for the first name they search and 60 British pounds for each subsequent search.
- If you already know your ancestor's regiment, you can search the muster rolls yourself to find out the record reference you need. Then you can order a copy for a fee, which will vary depending on the complexity. You can get an estimate by completing the order form.
National Register of Archives
You can also search local archives through the National Register of Archives. This is a good way to find personal papers, such as letters and diaries from your ancestor's period of service. You can search by your ancestor's full name, his family name, and the location where your family lived. This will tell you if there are any personal papers related to your ancestor, and then you can request a copy from the archive where the papers are stored.
The British genealogy site, FindMyPast, has a good collection of records that are searchable online. These include military service records from 1806 through 1915 and pensioners' documents from the Royal Hospital Chelsea. This site provides you with the complete record.
In order to use this site, you'll need to subscribe. There are several packages available, including a pay-as-you-go option that starts at about seven British pounds. A six-month subscription costs about 70 pounds.
Genealogy site Ancestry.com also has lots of British Army service records in their database. In fact, British Army World War I service records are free to search, so you don't even need a subscription if your ancestor served in the first world war. All other records, such as campaign medal and award rolls, pension records, casualty lists, and more are subscription-based.
- If you live in the UK, you can subscribe to Ancestry.co.uk. It costs about 13 British pounds per month.
- If you live outside the UK, you'll need Ancestry's World Explorer subscription. This costs about $35 per month.
Create a Realistic Picture of Your Ancestor
Whether you use a government site or a paid service, finding British Army service records can help illuminate some of the mystery areas about your ancestor's past. In addition to vital records, newspaper archives, and other great information sources, military service records can help you create a realistic picture of your ancestor to go along with names and dates on your family tree.