As Americans, we joined WWI officially in 1917. By that time Britain and their allies had been engaged in battles since 1914. In British history WWI is referred to as the Great War and Britain paid a heavy cost in lives and domestic sacrifices.
Do you have a British ancestor that fought in that war? I was surprised to find that I did. However, he served in the British military early in his life, migrated to the United States and then found himself serving in the United States Army in WWI. The journeys of life are peculiar. This year as we mark the end of that war, let’s look at some records that are available to you online for your British soldier.
Where to start?
Some of the same principles that you’ve used to look for your American ancestor in WWI apply in Britain. Search local. Look at census records, local military history, and local history to understand what was happening your ancestor’s home village. Try searching online too for local records.
Expand your search to see what is available. The Imperial War Museum in Great Britain has developed a website specific to WWI. On this site in addition to the “facts” about a soldier, families can add key information, pictures and stories about their family member. With over 7.6 million stories you can get an understanding of the personal cost of war. I’ve also noticed some Canadian units in the listing—not sure if they include all but if you have Canadian roots, it may be worth the search. Those from the British Dominions and Colonies also participated in the British Army. The museum also has a large collection of artifacts and individual objects on site if you’re fortunate to visit.
Lives of the First World War
Here’s an example of a soldier, Major Charles Alan Smith Morris, who has information added to his name. Imagine what a treasure trove this would be for someone who is related to him.
Magazines and Books
While technically not “online” most provide online resources that you can explore. I’d like to call out the November 2018 issue of “FamilyTree – The Great War Centenary Special” as providing an excellent number of resources. If you’re seriously searching for your British WWI relative, it is worth the purchase. Here are a few ideas:
Medal Index Cards –foundon www.ancestry.co.uk and www.discovery.nationalarchives.gov.uk
There are many more resources but hopefully these will get your started on your journey. Those who have living memories of the war are no longer with us. It is up to us to remember their sacrifices and understand how their story is woven into the fabric of our lives.
“The living owe it to those who no longer can speak to tell their story for them.”
--Laurence Binyon, For The Fallen
With a lifelong passion for genealogy and history, the author enjoys the opportunity to share genealogy tidbits, inspiring others to research and write their family story.