1918-2008: Ninety Years of Remembrance

How to research your WW1 family history

If you want to find out more about the role your relatives played in the Great War, there are a number of online sources you can visit that will help you.

Here are a few tips on how to get started in this fascinating journey into your family's past.

Search criteria

For the most simple search, all you need is a name. If your relative has more than one name, include these in your search, since this will help reduce the number of entries in your return. But it will help your research if you have a few more details - i.e., regiment and regiment number.


Where to begin

Medals Index Cards. This is one of the best areas to begin with because medal cards were held for every active serviceman sent abroad. You can search for these online at The National Archives website. Searching the records is free but to view a card you'll have to pay a fee.


Other Resources

Killed in Action. If you think your relative might have been killed in action you can search online at the Commonwealth War Graves Commission.

Click on "Search our records" and follow the easy step-by-step process. This will tell you the theatre of war and location of burial or memorial. Sometimes extra detail is provide like place of origin, rank, and age.

Medal Awards. The London Gazette which lists medal awards for outstanding soldiery is also online - You may need to try variations in your search here - in some cases just first initials followed by surname, theatres of war and date.

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Next steps

Unfortunately not all WW1 records are complete. If you find that the records you are looking for no longer exist, you can cross reference the information you find on Medals Index Cards, the Commonwealth War Graves Commission, and the Gazette, to consolidate a reliable record of your own.

If you cannot find a precise register of your relative's active service and wish to follow them through the war, there is another resource that can provide you with a general overview - the regimental war diary. This may not mention your relative directly, but it will convey something of their experience as part of the regiment as a whole. Some regimental diaries have been digitised and are available on line, but you may have to visit the regimental museum or The National Archives, where many of these diaries are now stored.

It's real detective work. You'd be amazed at the trail that opens up when you start looking. And once you start piecing the details together it tells a real story.

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