If you have British ancestry, there is a probability that you do have an ancestor that was in the military. The question then becomes, “How do I find out if this is true?” The main source is you, meaning the clues that you have yourself, passed down by ancestors, or have been told.
Family memorabilia is the first and many times the best place one must look to confirm this suspicion. Most commonly there is an oral tradition of such service, passed down from others. Many times this is difficult to prove, but keep digging. One such story was in my family, but I could not prove it directly. A letter to the alleged military ancestor quoted army service, but nothing directly was known–until the envelope was found years later and stated the following:
O.H.M.S. C Sergt George Munro
G Company 93 Highlanders
Toronto, Kingston, UC
The above information was enough to trace his army career, but this is somewhat unusual!
Many family members have badges and medals of their ancestors, or they think belong to their ancestors. How would one determine if they were from an unknown ancestor? First, badges are unique and there are books that can define when and where they were given. Medals are very collectible. The ribbon colors vary, the clasps (bars) on the ribbon usually mention the action or battle the recipients fought in. These can be identified in books, online, and various museums in Britain – especially the National Army Museum. Now turn the medal and look at the rim–the soldier’s name and/or number are usually inscribed there.
Photos are important, since they show the medals, uniforms, and so on. Uniforms have specific patterns, and many uniform books are available online and in libraries and archives.
Even rarer are soldier’s trunks, which contained all of their gear and many times had the name of the soldier, the regimental number, and sometimes the regiment’s name either painted or engraved on it.
For information on the British military and available records, see the British Military Records article in the FamilySearch Research Wiki.