How I Connected With My British Heritage Through an Indexing Project
by Emily Oldroyd
I know there are many people who, like myself, have a full family tree. The branches, leaves, and twigs have been filled in by my devoted grandparents, great-grandparents, aunts, uncles, and parents with ancestors pushing back several generations. It can be difficult to know where to start in these full trees. We assume there is nothing more to do, but there is!
One of my favorite collections I ever indexed on FamilySearch was the “UK World War I Service Records, 1914–1920.” These records contain what remains of the service file for British men who fought in World War I. Many of the original records were burned or stored in buildings that were bombed during World War II, but many survived. I thought I didn’t have any ancestors in this collection and that most of my ancestors had immigrated to America by then, but I was determined to find at least one ancestor in this collection. I started searching the British lines in my family tree looking for holes, missing life information, or discrepancies.
I soon found the Edward and Emma Bingham family who lived in Roade, Northampton, England. They had ten children, six of which were boys. We had the children’s names, birth dates, and birthplaces but nothing else—no death dates, spouses, or children. So I started with this family. Most of the sons in this family were the right age to have enlisted in World War I when it began in 1914. I started searching the WWI Service Records collection and quickly found the service file for George Bingham, the seventh child. There were 25 pages in his file full of information that was not included in the index and not found in other places. With the help of this file and some of the British censuses on FamilySearch, I found out more details about his family.
I learned that George enlisted in the army in 1909 at age 17. The file gave interesting details about his physical appearance, things you generally find only in military records. He had grey eyes, light brown hair, and a scar on the left side of his mouth. He was 5’9" and weighed 143 pounds. The records indicate that he was single and fatherless, though it listed his parents’ names and their home address in Roade, Northampton. His next of kin was listed as his brother William.
George initially joined the third battalion of the Northamptonshire Regiment, and after spending his first two years in the army in England, he was sent to Malta for three years. Then he spent a year in Egypt, went back to England for a short stint, and then was deployed to France in 1914. The file states that he was part of an “expeditionary force” to France in November of 1914. A few months later, in January 1915, he was wounded in action. It must not have been too serious because he was back on the battlefield within a few months, but unfortunately, he was killed in action on March 28, 1915.
The records state that his father, Edward, was notified of George’s death by telegram on April 7, 1915. The 1911 census sadly showed that his mother, Emma, had died, because his father was listed as a widower. Another document in George’s file said that his personal belongings and medals were sent home to his father. Despite such a short time in the war, George received several medals for his service. He was awarded the 1914 Star medal, the British War medal, the Victory medal, and the Life Saving Society’s medallion.
I also found that George was buried in the Rue-Petillon Military Cemetery in the small village of Fleurbaix in the Pas-de-Calais region of Northern France, far from his family in England. I’m sure the memory and story of this young man who never had any descendants of his own was cherished in the hearts of his siblings and father. Maybe his story was passed down to his nieces and nephews, but it most likely died there, and he became forgotten as generations moved on. Finding him in these records helped to bring back the forgotten story of his life.
The added bonus of looking for George and his brothers in the World War I service records was that I found other men whose names were similar and who were from the same town in Northampton. Confused by this, I started searching the records again and was able to piece together a large extended family that George and his family had in Roade, some living on the same street. These cousins grew up together and some even fought with George in the same regiment in France. Most of this extended family was not even in my family tree and so with the help of a few simple record searches, I was able to add several families to my family tree that, like George, had been forgotten over time. Now their branch was added back to our family tree.
Searchable historic records like these are made available on FamilySearch.org through the help of thousands of volunteers from around the world. These volunteers transcribe (index) information from digital copies of handwritten records to make them easily searchable online. More volunteers are always needed to keep pace with the large number of digital images being published online at FamilySearch.org. Learn more about volunteering to help provide free access to the world’s historic genealogical records online at FamilySearch.org/indexing.