Ministry of Defence
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Military Family History Research

This section is not definitive but is designed to aid those of you researching family history. There are several sources of information and pamphlets from the Government Departments which should help. The Imperial War Museum also has some useful leaflets (

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Resources used on this site have included:

There are many other resources available on CD which can be found on ebay. Naval and Military Press have thousands of books on offer covering Regimental Histories, Wars, Maps, etc. The CGWC is freely available and the CDROM's are quite often available for use in large public libraries. The databases are available on a pay-per-view basis from Naval and Military Press sister site

de Ruvigny's Roll of Honour is selective and contains details mainly of those who died in 1914-1916.

The National Roll of the Great War was produced in 14 volumes plus an index and covrs those who died and those who served. It is widely thought to be an unreliable publication. It was compiled on a subscription basis, which means that it is far from comprehensive. Listings were often written by family members, who may not have given correct details at the time of compilation. The publishers began to compile the volumes in 1920, but had gone into liquidation by 1922, having produced only 14 volumes. The National Roll is therefore considered to be a helpful source, but not one that should be relied upon above other sources. The volumes available are:

  • Section I -London
  • Section II - London
  • Section III - London
  • Section IV - Southampton
  • Section V - Luton
  • Section VI - Birmingham
  • Section VII - London
  • Section VIII - Leeds
  • Section IX - Bradford
  • Section X - Portsmouth
  • Section XI - Manchester
  • Section XII - Bedford & Northampton
  • Section XIII - London
  • Section XIV - Salford

The National Archives contains the Medal Rolls and the War Office records (WO reference) which can be searched but payment made for the actual documents. The First World War Medal Roll allows instant payment for a .pdf copy of the medal card.

Database Search Sites

Most database search sites require you to sign up for membership before you can access the records required. Some times your local library has free access to some of these sites so it is well worth checking with them. These are a few of the searchable record sets available, there are mny more.

The following document is supplied by the Imperial War Museum.

Tracing Army Ancestry

The purpose of this information sheet is to provide guidance on tracing Army personnel.  More detailed information can be found in our publication Tracing your Family History: Army – this can be purchased from the Imperial War Museum for £5.50.  The Museum does not hold any personal service records or official documentation, but can help the enquirer as long as some basic facts are known.  The Department of Printed Books welcomes visitors by appointment and is able to provide useful reading material and advice for finding out more about those who served.  Other reference departments in the Museum  - Art, Documents, Exhibits and Firearms, Film and Photograph Archives, and the Sound Archive - may also be able to assist.

Department of Printed Books, Imperial War Museum, Lambeth Road, London SE1 6HZ
Tel: (+44) 020 7416 5342
Fax: (+44) 020 7416 5246

Where to Find Army Service Records

The most important piece of information is the unit that an individual served with (it is a sad fact that those who died during the World Wars will be easier to trace than those who survived, and this information is readily obtainable from the Commonwealth War Graves Commission).  The personal service record should be the starting point, but not all of these records for the First World War survived Second World War bombing. Records are located according to an individual’s date of discharge. 

The Imperial War Museum only covers the period from the First World War onwards.  Military history from 1485 to date is covered by the National Army Museum, Royal Hospital Road, Chelsea, London SW3 4HT (Tel: 020 7730 0717; Website:  Pre-1914 service records are held at The National Archives, Ruskin Avenue, Kew, Richmond, Surrey TW9 4DU (Tel: 020 8392 5200; Website:  The National Archives (TNA), formerly Public Record Office, also holds all surviving First World War service records for officers who left the Army before 1922.  Surviving First World War service records for other ranks who ceased service before 1920 are now held at the TNA where they can be consulted on microfilm (unfortunately large numbers of these were destroyed by bombing in the Second World War).  The publication Army Service Records of the First World War by William Spencer, 3rd edition, (Richmond, Surrey: PRO, 2001) is essential reading for those interested in First World War records, and Army Records for Family Historians by Simon Fowler and William Spencer, 2nd edition, (Richmond, Surrey: PRO, 1998) will also prove helpful.

The records of any First World War soldier who saw service after these cut-off dates or who rejoined the Army are held by the Ministry of Defence.  These can be applied for by post from Army Personnel Centre, Historical Disclosures, Mailpoint 400, Kentigern House, 65 Brown Street, Glasgow G2 8EX.  Initial contact with the Army Personnel Centre (APC) can be made by telephone (0141 224 3030) or e-mail – please include your postal addressRecords will be released to proven next of kin for a £25 fee, but there may be a lengthy wait for this service.

The Brigade of Guards form an exception to this as records for other ranks (officers’ records are held by TNA/APC) are held by the Regimental Headquarters Grenadier/Coldstream/Scots/Irish/Welsh Guards, Wellington Barracks, Birdcage Walk, London SW1E 6HQ.  Household Cavalry records are held at TNA but are also accessible on microfiche at the Household Cavalry Museum, Combermere Barracks, Windsor, Berkshire SL4 3DN (Website:

The careers of Army officers can be traced using the regular official publication the Army List, and the Department of Printed Books holds an almost complete set of these from 1914 to date. 

Casualty Records

The Commonwealth War Graves Commission, 2 Marlow Road, Maidenhead, Berkshire SL6 7DX (Tel: 01628 507200) has details of all service personnel who died between the dates 4 August 1914-31 August 1921 and 3 September 1939-31 December 1947.  The Commonwealth War Graves Commission (CWGC) may charge a fee for postal enquiries, but the website containing their computerised database, Debt of Honour can be consulted at

Details about the burial places of soldiers who died outside the dates covered by the CWGC are held by the Ministry of Defence, PS4 (A) (Cas/Comp), Building 43, Trenchard Lines, Upavon, Pewsey, Wiltshire SN9 6BE.  They also have some details relating to soldiers’ wives or children who may have died outside the UK.

Sources held by the Department of Printed Books (DPB) include a complete set of the CWGC’s memorial and cemetery registers and the 80 volume Soldiers Died in the Great War, 1914-19 these are also available on many of the subscribable, seachable, sites.  This was originally published in 1921 by HMSO but was republished by J.B. Hayward in 1989.  It is also now available on a CD-ROM produced by Naval and Military Press.  Officers Died in the Great War, 1914-19 is less detailed and has probably been superseded by Officers Who Died in the Service of British, Indian and East African Regiments and Corps, 1914-1919 by S.D. and D.B. Jarvis (Reading: Roberts Medals, 1993).

A CD-ROM for Army personnel who died in the Second World War has also been produced by Naval and Military Press, and can be consulted in our Reading Room.  Rolls of honour for other later conflicts are also held, and in addition the DPB has a large collection of published rolls of honour for localities, schools, institutions, etc.  Regimental histories and journals often contain rolls of honour. 

The soldiers’ own home area should not be forgotten when researching an individual’s service - there may be local war memorial records, a local account of war service may have been published, and contemporary local newspapers can prove very helpful.  It is also possible that school, church or workplace records may still exist.

Medal Records

Campaign medals are those given to soldiers who are eligible for them because they were in a particular theatre of war within given dates.  The First World War Medal Roll which provides a listing of all those who qualified for the 1914 Star, 1914/15 Star, British War Medal, Victory Medal, Territorial Force War Medal and/or the Silver War Badge is held at TNA.  If a First World War record was destroyed some basic information about a soldier’s service may be found in this.

Gallantry medals are those medals awarded for an especially heroic deed or action.  Records for these are held at TNA, but may not be very detailed.  Notifications and citations (if published, which was not the case for awards such as the Military Medal and Mentions in Despatches) appeared in the official journal London Gazette.  A complete set of this, and the all important indexes, is held at TNA.  The London Gazette Online Archive at provides access to First and Second World War entries.  The DPB has some published listings of medal awards for decorations such as the Victoria Cross and Distinguished Conduct Medal.  Usually you will need to go either to the official unit war diary (held at TNA) or to a published unit history to see whether you can find out more about the action for which the decoration was awarded.

Regimental Histories

The DPB has an excellent collection of Regimental histories.  For those unable to visit our Reading Room (open 10am-5pm, Monday to Saturday), A Bibliography of Regimental Histories of the British Army compiled by Arthur S. White (London: London Stamp Exchange, 1988) provides details of published histories that may be available through your local library’s inter-library loan scheme.  Regimental journals and forces newspapers should not be overlooked.

A useful title for locating Regimental museums (although these are unlikely to hold information about individuals) is A Guide to Military Museums: and Other Places of Military Interest by Terence and Shirley Wise (Knighton, Powys: Terence Wise, 2001).

We can also advise on the addresses of Old Comrades Associations.  The internet has made it easier to establish contact with people who may have served in the Forces, or who may be conducting research similar to your own.  The British Legion website at is a good place to start.  An excellent site for First World War Orders of Battle and Army information is  Other websites of interest include The Western Front Association at and The National Archives - Army Regiments




Research Guides

The National Archives

The National Archives holds a lot of material which may help you find out more about your ancestors serving in the military. Soldiers records, medal rolls, officers' commissions etc. You will find a list of The National Archives research guides on their website. The research guides include detailed information on how the records are organised and how to access them.

Many First World War service records were destroyed in a fire caused by enemy action in the Second World War, the surviving service records are known as the "burnt documents".


Tracing your Army Ancestors by Simon Fowler - ISBN 1844154106

Whether you are interested in the career of an individual officer, researching medals awarded to a soldier or just want to know more about a particular battle or campaign, this book will point you in the right direction. Assuming that the reader has no prior knowledge of the British army, its history or organization, family historian Simon Fowler explains which records survive, where they can be found and how they can help you in your research.

Tracing Your Royal Marine Ancestors: A Guide for Family Historians - ISBN 1844158691

Whether you are interested in the career of an individual Royal Marine or just want to know more about the part played by the Marines in a particular battle or campaign, this book will point you in the right direction. Assuming that the reader has no prior knowledge of the Royal Marines, their history or organization, Richard Brooks and Matthew Little explain which records survive, where they can be found and how they can help you in your research. They also describe in vivid detail the evolution of the Royal Marines, from the tentative beginnings of the service in the seventeenth century to their present position as a key part of the British armed forces.

Tracing Your Air Force Ancestors - ISBN 1844155730

Whether you are interested in the career of an individual air-man or woman, researching medals awarded to a pilot or crew member or just want to know more about a particular squadron or operation, this book will point you in the right direction. Assuming that the reader has no prior knowledge of the air force, its history or organization, Phil Tomaselli explains which records survive, where they can be found and how they can help you in your research. He also recommends resources available online as well as books and memoirs. Each era in air force history is described, from the pioneering days of early aviation and the formation of the Royal Flying Corps in the First World War to the creation of the Royal Air Force, its operations during the Second World War and its postwar development. The author explains the evolving organization of the air force in each period. He also provides pointers and examples which should help researchers find the records of units and bases that individuals served in.

Tracing Your Naval Ancestors (Readers Guides) - ISBN 1903365376

A guide for family and historians, archivists, librarians and medal collectors. It explains the range of records and secondary sources which can be used to trace genealogical and career information in relation to men and women who have served in the Royal Navy and the naval reserve and auxillary forces formed to assist it from 1660 to modern times. The guide aims to help researchers identify key and overlooked sources vital to tracing naval ancestors. It includes sections on recently released Royal Naval Reserve, Royal Naval Air Service, Royal Naval Volunteer Reserve, Royal Naval Division, Queen Alexandra's Naval Nursing Services, and Women's Royal Naval Service First World War service records.

Tracing Your First World War Ancestors - ISBN 1846741300

A comprehensive guide for those researching their ancestors in all three armed services - the Army, the Royal Navy and the Royal Flying Corps.

Tracing Your Second World War Ancestors - ISBN 1853069361

This is a comprehensive guide for those researching their ancestors in all three armed services - the Army, the Royal Navy, and the Royal Air Force.

War Memorials in Britain - ISBN 0747806268

War memorials are a feature of Britain's landscape, often taken for granted, and part of the fabric of its history as a nation. The Imperial War Museum's National Inventory has sixty thousand war memorials spanning two millennia. They include works of art and the artless, the sacred and the secular, vernacular and abstract forms, all redolent with symbolism ancient and modern. The examples shown here are an eclectic mix with, perhaps, a few surprises. They are intended as a tribute to the victims of war and as tangible reminders of significant events, deserving remembrance and necessitating their conservation as part of the national heritage.

Military Museums in the UK - ISBN 1903942616

The latest edition of the guidebook, "Military Museums in the UK", published in association with the Army Museum Ogilby Trust, includes comprehensive region-by-region details on over 140 Regimental and service-related museums throughout England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland. In addition to clearly presented information on collections, facilities, opening hours and directions, there is a separate section covering the principal Service Museums and prestigious national collections, as well as a guide to the succession of Regimental titles. This spiral bound paperback folds flat for easy reference and is the essential guide for museum visitors and anyone interested in military history.

Naval & Military Press Military History Books

Last updated 31 October, 2022

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