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Military records identify individuals who served or were eligible to serve in the armed forces. From 1660 to 1922, the Irish were part of the British armed services. Consequently, pre-1922 records for Irish military personnel are mostly British. See the England Military Records Wiki article for a more detailed explanation of British military records.
The regular army and the navy constituted the major branches of the British military. Militia (part-time units for local defense), fencibles (full-time units for local defense), yeomanry (volunteer calvary units), territorial armies (units raised outside the British Isles for foreign service), coast guard (units that patrol British shores), and royal marines (troop units on ships) were also armed forces. Each of these services kept its own records.
Military officers were typically from the upper classes and soldiers were from among the poor. Compulsory draft was seldom used, except by the militia. The officers of each parish decided who would serve in the militia.
You may find evidence that your ancestor served in the military in family records, biographies, censuses, probates, civil registrations, or church records.
Military records are potentially of great genealogical value. But they are difficult to use because few are indexed and many are only available at the Public Record Office, Kew at http://www.nationalarchives.gov.uk/. Civil registration, census, or church records, if available, are easier records to use. Still, military records sometimes provide information that is not found in any other source. Search the easier records first; they will often provide information that will then help you search military records.
The Family History Library has many military records, but these are only a small part of the military records available. You may want to hire a researcher to search military records that are not available at the Family History Library.
Pre-1914 military records are kept in the Public Record Office, Kew and are divided into army and navy records.
Army Records. The army began as a permanent organization in 1660. Earlier armies were raised as needed, usually as county militia units directed by the county's lord lieutenant. For information on pre-1660 military records, see the handbooks described below.
Pre-1847 British army service was generally for life. Some soldiers were discharged early for disability (liberally defined) or age (often by age 40).
Army records before 1872 are organized by regiment. Records from 1872 through 1882 are arranged alphabetically by type of troop (calvary, infantry, etc.). Post-1882 records are arranged in a single alphabetical series.
Navy Records. The earliest surviving navy records are from 1617. Ships' logs survive from 1673, but usually only give information on ship location, weather, sightings of other ships, and shipboard events. While descriptions of shipboard events often include individual names, no indexes exist to help locate these names.
Until 1853, naval enlistment was informal and lasted for the ship's commission, usually three years. Seamen often alternated between the navy and the merchant marines. After 1853, seamen enlisted for the duration of their careers.
Before 1853, individual seamen (called ratings) were not mentioned in navy records other than musters, description books, or pay lists unless they deserted, misbehaved, or earned a medal.
Individual military units (regiments for the army, ships for the navy) kept records on their own personnel.
Twentieth Century Records
Post-1913 army records are at the following address:
Army Records Centre
Hayes, Middlesex UB3 1RF
Irish soldiers killed in World War I are listed in:
Irish National War Memorial Committee. Ireland's Memorial Records, 1914-1918. 8 vols. Dublin, Ireland: Maunsel and Roberts, 1923. (Family History Library film 1279333 items 5-12.)
For more information on twentieth-century army records, see:
Holding, Norman H. World War I Army Ancestry. 2d ed. Birmingham, England: Federation of Family History Societies, 1991. (Family History Library book Ref 942 M2hoL 1991.)
Holding, Norman H. More Sources of World War I Ancestry. 2d ed. Birmingham, England: Federation of Family History Societies, 1991. (Family History Library book Ref 942 M24hn 1991.)
Post-1913 navy records are at the following address:
Ministry of Defense
Main Building, Whitehall SW1A 2HB
Types of Military Records
Before you can use navy records or pre-1872 army records, you must determine the specific ship or regiment in which your ancestor served. "Strategies for Using Army and Navy Records" below will help you accomplish that. Once you know your ancestor's ship or regiment, several types of military records may help you learn about your ancestor's age, birthplace, and military career. A few of these record types are described below. Others are described in the England Military Records Wiki article. As you search these records, be cautious in accepting the accuracy of the information you find. To enlist, underage boys may have lied about their name, age, and sometimes birthplace.
Muster Rolls. Muster rolls usually list individuals assigned to a ship or regiment on a given day, their ages (on joining), the date and place they joined, and possibly other information, such as their birthplaces (in sea musters since 1770) and dependents (in later army musters). Army musters exist for the years 1760-1878, navy musters for 1667-1878. Musters are held at the Public Record Office, Kew at http://www.nationalarchives.gov.uk/default.htm.
Chaplain's Returns and Regimental Registers. Chaplain's returns (1760-1971) list the baptisms, marriages, and burials of soldiers and their family members performed abroad by military chaplains. Regimental registers (1790-1924) contain birth, marriage, and death records by regiment for families of officers and enlisted men. Birth and baptism records are indexed. Chaplain's returns and regimental registers are available only by correspondence with the General Register Office.
'Lists of Officers. Published annually, lists of officers provide an officer's name, rank, regiment or ship, and date of commission. For the army, the published version of these records is:'
The published list of naval officers is:
Great Britain, Admirality. Navy List. London, England: various publishers. 1814-. (Family History Librarybook 942 M25gba; film 918928-41 and 990323-26.) The fully indexed Navy List names all commissioned officers, including masters, pursers, surgeons, chaplains, yard officers, coast guardsmen, and reservists who have served in the navy from 1814 to the present.
Continuous Service Engagement Books. Continuous service engagement books record the continuous service numbers assigned to navy ratings (seamen) since 1853. The records give the name, birth date, birthplace, physical description, and ship of service of each rating. Brief career details were later included as well. From 1872 to 1892, merchant seamen were also listed in these records.
Other Records. Other military records include description books; returns of service; and records of pensions, payrolls, promotions, medals, casualties, court martials, service, and desertions. These and other types of military records are explained in the handbooks at the end of this section.
Records of military service are at the Public Record Office, Kew. Some of the Public Record Office's military records as well as military records of various other repositories throughout Ireland and England are listed in:
Hayes, Richard J. Manuscript Sources for the History of Irish Civilization. (Family History Library book Ref 941.5 A5h.) Look under the subject index headings "Army," "Navy," "Military," and "Militia." Additional military documents may be found in private collections.
For more information on military records at the Public Record Office, see the Bevan and Duncan or Kew Lists handbooks listed at the end of this section.
It is difficult to locate information about your ancestor in military records without knowing the unit (ship or regiment) in which your ancestor served. If you do not know the ship or regiment already, you may find that information in other records, such as census, church, or family records.
You might find the following strategies helpful for finding your ancestor's ship or regiment:
Soldiers. If your ancestor was a soldier and he married, died, or had children after 1760 while in the army, he and the regiment to which he belonged may be listed in chaplain's returns or regimental registers. If you cannot identify your ancestor's regiment through these records, the sources you should search to determine his regiment will depend on what you know about your ancestor. If you know:
- The place and approximate date (1) of a campaign or battle in which your ancestor fought, (2) of one of his stations, or (3) that his wife gave birth while he was in the service, use:
John M. Kitzmiller II, "In Search of the Forlorn Hope," 2 vols. (Salt Lake City, Utah: Manuscript Publishing Foundation, 1988; Family History Library book Ref 942 M2kj) to determine the regiment(s) that were stationed in that place at that time.
- The area where your ancestor lived during his late teens, use the handbooks below or regimental histories to determine which regiments were recruited in that area. Regimental histories available at the Family History Library are listed in the Place Search of the catalog under:
GREAT BRITAIN - MILITARY HISTORY
For the place he died after receiving an army pension, search the district pension returns for that area.
If your ancestor was in the army in 1806, you may wish to search the return of all men (except commissioned officers) in army service as of 24 June 1806. While the 1806 return is indexed only by regiment, it is more complete and easier to search than other army records.
Army Officers. You can usually find records for army officers in the Army List. If your ancestor does not appear in the Army List for the right time period, consult the card index to officers which is available only at the Public Record Office, Kew. You may write the Public Record Office, Kew with the information you do know to obtain information from this card index.
If your officer ancestor was living during 1828 or 1829, check the indexed returns of service (see the England Military Records Wiki article).
Generally, there are separate records for staff officers, medical officers (surgeons), Commissariat officers, chaplains, Board of Ordnance officers (artillerymen, engineers, sappers, miners, artificers, and others), and other officers. Board of Ordnance officers may be included in the Army List, even though they kept their own records until 1855. All these officer records are held at the Public Record Office, Kew.
If you cannot find an officer's record for your ancestor after consulting the sources mentioned, follow the search strategies for soldiers.
If you think you have found the regiment in which your ancestor served, military histories may help confirm your findings. Most regiments have published histories that record the places where they served and the battles they fought. You can compare the information you know about your ancestor with the history of the regiment to determine whether your ancestor could have served in that regiment. A bibliography of regimental histories is:
White, Arthur S., comp. A Bibliography of Regimental Histories of the British Army. Dallington, East Sussex, England: Naval and Military Press Ltd., 1992. (Family History Library book 942 M23was.)
Many military and regimental histories are listed in the Place Search of the catalog under:
GREAT BRITAIN - MILITARY HISTORY
Seamen. Navy records seldom mention individual seamen before 1853. If your ancestor served in the navy after 1853, search the index to continuous service engagement books. If he served before 1853, search the muster rolls, description books, or pay lists of the ship on which he served. If you do not know your ancestor's ship, the source you should search to determine the ship will depend on what you know about your ancestor. If you know:
- A port where your ancestor landed on a specific date, search the list books (Rodger, N. A. M., Naval Records for Genealogists [Family History Library book 942 A5p]), which provide a geographically arranged list of the ports where ships were located on certain dates. These books are available from 1673 on and are held at the Public Records Office, Kew.
- A battle or campaign in which your ancestor was involved, search medal rolls, also held at the Public Record Office, Kew.
- Your ancestor was onboard ship in 1861, search the 1861 Surname Index to Persons on Ships at Sea or in Port (Salt Lake City, Utah: Family History Library of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, 1988; fiche 6025598).
- Your ancestor was onboard ship in 1881, search the Surname Index to the 1881 Census of the Royal Navy (Family History Library fiche 6086362).
- The name of an officer serving with your ancestor, search the Navy List to determine the ship on which that officer served.
Naval Officers. Naval officers who served from 1695 to 1742 are listed in the following work:
Young, D. H. W., comp.Index to Commission and Warrant Books of the Admirality of Great Britain and Ireland, 1695-1742. London, England: Public Record Office, 1958-59; Family History Library film 824516-17.) This index gives the officer's date of commission and a reference to additional information held at the Public Record Office, Kew.
Many officers are listed in published biographies, such as the following:
The Commissioned Sea Officers of the Royal Navy, 1660-1815. 3 vols. Typescript. Reduplication by Great Britain, Admiralty, 1954. (Family History Library book 942 M23cs; film 908026-27.)
For seamen serving as midshipmen (potential officers) between 1799 and 1854, the Midshipmen's Papers list birth dates and places and parents' names.
If your naval ancestor is not listed in any of the above sources, consult:
Rodger, N. A. M., Naval Records for Genealogists. (Family History Library book 942 A5p.) This book provides other records or strategies you may use.
Many sources, list and describe naval ships and give the dates and places they were in service. One example is:
Colledge, James J. Ships of the Royal Navy. Annapolis, Maryland: Naval Institute Press, 1987. (Family History Library book Ref 942 M3c.)
Use sources such as the above to learn more about ships on which you think your ancestor served to determine whether your ancestor could have been on those ships. Other naval histories are listed in the Place Search of the catalog under:
GREAT BRITAIN - MILITARY HISTORY
Records at the Family History Library
The Family History Library's British military record holdings are more fully described in the England Military Records Wiki article. The library's military records are listed in the Place Search of the catalog under combinations of the following localities and subject headings:
MILITARY RECORDS - ARMY
IRELAND, [COUNTY], [PARISH]
MILITARY RECORDS - NAVY
MILITARY HISTORY - ARMY
MILITARY HISTORY - NAVY
Handbooks for Military Records
Bevan, Amanda, and Andrea Duncan.Tracing Your Ancestors in the Public Record Office. 4th ed. London, England: Her Majesty's Stationery Office, 1990. (Family History Library book Ref 942 A5p no. 19 1990.)
England Military Records. Salt Lake City, Utah: Corporation of the President of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, 1991. (Wiki article)
- NOTE: All of the information from the original research outline has been imported into this Wiki site and is being updated here, as time permits.
Fowler, Simon. Army Records for Family Historians. London: Public Record Office Publications, 1992. (Family History Librarybook Ref 942 M27f.)
Great Britain, Public Record Office. Kew Lists. 17 vols. Microfiche ed. Norwich, England: Her Majesty's Stationery Office, 1986-88. (Family History Library book 942 A3gp.)
Rodger, N. A. M. Naval Records for Genealogists. 2d ed. London, England: Her Majesty's Stationery Office, 1988. (Family History Library book Ref 942 A5p no. 22.)
Swinson, Arthur S., ed. A Register of the Regiments and Corps of the British Army. London, England: Archive Press, 1972. (Family History Library book Ref 942 M2am.)