How do you find out what your family did in WW1?

Open navigator

Please turn on JavaScript. Media requires JavaScript to play.

1. Starting your search

World War One is full of stories of sadness, heroism and sacrifice, many of which are still waiting to be told. Nearly 17 million men from across the globe took part in the war – someone in your family may have been one of them.

To start off, ask your older relatives if they know and if they have any family mementos. Even if they don't, just a name and an approximate date and place of birth will be your starting point.

2. Delving into the past

Click on the items below to find out how a soldier's medals, his photos or cap badge can help you investigate what he did in World War One.

This content uses functionality that is not supported by your current browser. Consider upgrading your browser.

Items provided courtesy of Herts at War

3. Looking in the archives

A few basic facts about your relative, such as their name, approximate date of birth, service number or the regiment they served in, can help you narrow down your search.

Search online

The National Archives and ancestry websites have published many records online, such as soldiers' medal cards and service records. The London Gazette, one of the official journals of the British government, has citations of every gallantry award soldiers received in the war. Local newspapers have started digitising their archives and putting them online. You can search them for mentions of your relative or the regiment they belonged to.

Find links to these and other resources at the end of this guide.

Go to the archives

You can also visit local and regimental archives in person. Regimental museums have copies of their battalions’ war diaries. If possible, examine their catalogue online in advance to see what their archive holds. Check whether you will need to bring identification to gain access and to see if they will allow you to copy documents.

Talk to the archivists

When you arrive talk to the archivists. They can be very helpful and explain the best ways to delve into their collections. Don’t set your expectations too high if you are looking for details of an individual. Good investigation takes time and patience and is much more likely to pay off for you if don’t try to rush it.

4. Understanding a medal card

Men, and women, who served overseas in WW1 were issued a medal card showing the medals they were entitled to. Click on the labels on Tommy Baker’s card to find out what it tells us.

This content uses functionality that is not supported by your current browser. Consider upgrading your browser.

Image provided courtesy of Ancestry.co.uk and The Western Front Association's Medal Index Card Archive

5. What Matt found out

Matt Baker took a walk in his great-granddad Tommy's shoes, literally, to find out what it must have been like to transport ammunition and supplies to the front line.

6. What others found

Find out what other famous names have discovered about their ancestors.

David Tennant

You selected

David Tennant

David's great-grandfather William was with the Royal Army Medical Corps. He saw his friends and comrades shot dead at the Battle of the Somme in 1916.

Stephen Fry

You selected

Stephen Fry

Stephen's grandfather Martin was just 18 when he volunteered. He won a medal on the Eastern Front in the battle for Romania.

Fiona Bruce

You selected

Fiona Bruce

Fiona's great-grandfather Frederick was sent home for nine months with shell shock. When he returned to Ypres he was killed just three weeks later.