How to Research a WW1 Soldier

The order in which you perform these searches depends on what you already know, what you find, and whether the man died in the war. You may need to revisit earlier searches as you find new information.

Interviews and Heirlooms

  1. Interview family members.
  2. Examine any evidence the family may have at home. You may find medals (the names are often engraved around the rim), service papers, birth, marriage and death certificates, letters, postcards, and much more.

Family Tree

  1. Build a mini family tree: mother, father, siblings, spouse, children. Confirm these relationships using census data from a genealogy website. Popular sites are Ancestry, Find My Past, and The Genealogist.

Birth Marriage and Death

  1. Search for a birth certificate on the GRO Index. Ideally purchase the certificate (£9.25). Search also for any parish or non-conformist baptism records.
  2. Search for a marriage registration record on a genealogy website. Ideally purchase the certificate. Search also for any parish or non-conformist marriage records.
  3. Search for a death certificate on the GRO Index. Ideally purchase the certificate (£9.25).
  4. To find children born to a soldier, search the GRO Regimental Birth Indices Supplement (1761 to 1924) available on Find My Past.
  5. Search for the soldier’s will on the Government Probate website.

Burial Records

  1. Search the page “Find War Dead” on the Commonwealth War Graves Commission website.
  2. If you find that your name was buried in the field and later moved to another site, you can use trench map coordinates to find the original burial location.
  3. Check on Find a Grave.
  4. Graves (if buried in England). Visit sites or refer to Burial Registers or Memorial Inscription lists.
  5. May be mentioned on parents’ or siblings’ graves.

Overseas Soldiers

Emigration was not unusual for young men in the years before the war, and many such men signed up in their new country of residence.

  1. Search for emmigration and immigration records.
  2. Search the records of the overseas forces, such as Canada and New Zealand.
  3. Search overseas newspaper archives, e.g Trove in Australia.

Service Records

Check on genealogy websites and also at The National Archives website.

  1. ‘Soldiers Died in the Great War’
  2. De Ruvigny’s (mainly upper class soldiers at the beginning of the war)
  3. Service papers – unfortunately only about one third of WW1 service papers survive, due to bombing during WW2.
  4. Army Lists
  5. Casualty Lists, available from The Genealogist and some military archives, including the website of The Rifles Berkshire and Wiltshire Archive also known as the Wardrobe.
  6. Medal Index Cards and summary Rolls. There is a useful guide to abbreviations on these cards at The National Archives website.
  7. Citations for military medals
  8. Soldiers Effects
  9. Regimental War Diaries. The Wiltshire Regiment’s diaries are available at the website of The Rifles Berkshire and Wiltshire Archive also known as the Wardrobe.
  10. Regimental Archives
  11. Pension documents
  12. The Long Long Trail is a useful site for finding the history of battalions, battles and more.
  13. Army Service Numbers can reveal when a soldier enlisted.
  14. Check the Red Cross prisoner of war records. Your man may have been imprisoned, and later released or died. Relatives may have enquired about a missing man.

Commemoration

  1. War Memorials at the soldier’s home town
  2. Local School Rolls of Honour (e.g. Marlborough, Dauntseys)
  3. Memorials at places where his family lived after the war.
  4. Church Rolls of Honour
  5. Employer or organisation memorials (e.g. Sports Clubs, Great Western Railway, Scouts, Banks, Oddfellows)
  6. Officers especially Yeomanry, may have belonged to a Hunt, e.g. the Beaufort Hunt.

Publications

Searching newspaper indexes can be challenging, due to OCR methods used and details recorded. Try different combinations of first and last name, rank (e.g. Private or Pte), Army Registration Number, Regiment, etc.

  1. British Newspaper Archive
  2. Newspaper archives in local studies libraries and county archive collections.
  3. The Gazette
  4. The Times
  5. Trade or organisational magazines

Search Engines

  1. Don’t forget to conduct internet searches including, “All” and “Images”
  2. Search Google Books and the Internet Archive. Both are very useful for finding accounts of actions in which soldiers died.
  3. Check whether anyone else has researched your man on local websites and on the Imperial War Museum’s site: Lives of the First World War.