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18 September 2014
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Tracing Military Records

By Peter Craddick-Adams
Getting started

Detail from a soldier's service book from the Boer War
A soldier's service book from the Boer War 
Researching the military service of a member of your family is easier now than ever before. Even if you have only a name and nothing else, it is normally possible to track down enough relevant information to be able to piece together your relative's life.

The best place to start your search is The National Archives (TNA) previously known as the Public Records Office (PRO). This is housed just off London's South Circular, at Kew, in a modern building with a cafeteria and reading room in which to study.

Continuous paper evidence starts from about 1750. If you know your ancestor was a soldier or sailor from an earlier era, then TNA holds medical records and discharge papers that may tell you when your relative joined his ship or regiment, where he served, when he was discharged or how he died in service.

If you're lucky, unit war diaries or a ship's log may mention your relative by name. But, in any case, TNA staff are very helpful in guiding you towards the records you will need. They also hold all records relating to the award of gallantry and campaign medals.

Published: 2004-09-14

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