Researching Your British Army Ancestors

by David Whitehouse (Assistant Curator)

Where to Start

  • Anecdotes
  • Badges and Uniform
  • Official Documents
  • Medals and Trophies
  • Photographs
  • Letters and Postcards
  • Souvenirs and Memorabilia


  • Oral history
  • Written notes
  • Family legend

Badges and Uniform

  • Cap badges
  • Shoulder titles
  • Buttons
  • Formation badges
  • Rank Badges
  • Qualifications
  • Medal Ribbons
  • Lanyards
  • Labels

Official Documents

  • Call-up Papers
  • Pay Book
  • Casualty notification
  • Discharge certificate

Medals and Trophies

  • Campaign medals
  • Gallantry medals
  • Commemorative medals
  • Competition trophies


Can provide clues to:
  • Unit
  • Role
  • Theatre of operations
  • Training venues
  • Times

Letter and Postcards

Can provide clues to:
  • Unit
  • Places
  • Times
  • Activities

Souvenirs and Memorabilia

Can provide clues to:
  • Theatre of operations
  • Places visited
  • Activities

Research Sources

  • Medal Rolls and Cards
  • Service Records
  • Citations
  • Gazette
  • Army Lists
  • War Diaries
  • Census records
  • War Graves and Memorials
  • Military Museums
  • Open Sources

Medal Rolls and Cards

  • Held at National Archives at Kew
  • Digital copies available on-line

Service Records

  • Surviving Boer War and WW1 records held at National Archives
  • WW1 records digitised and available on-line
  • WW2 records held by Ministry of Defence
Contacting MOD


  • Held at National Archives at Kew
  • Digital copies available on-line


  • Editions in London, Belfast and Edinburgh
  • Official journals of record of the British government, in which certain statutory notices are required to be published
  • Available on-line
  • Publishes postings and commissions

Army Lists

  • Lists of serving regular, militia or territorial British Army officers (since 1702)
  • Available at some military museums
  • Digital copies available on-line

War Diaries

  • Describe day to day activities of individual units
  • Held at the National Archive
  • Some available on-line

Census Records

  • Held at National Archives
  • Digital copies available on-line

War Graves and Memorials

  • Commonwealth War Graves Commission
  • Details available on-line

Military Museums

  • Imperial War Museum
  • National Army Museum
  • Army Museums Ogilvy Trust (AMOT)
  • KSY Museum

Open Sources

  • Published regimental histories
  • Regimental journals
  • Newspapers
  • Internet - quick win – Google!

Case Study

Subject: 2nd Lieutenant George Edward Heriot

Would it be possible to search your archives for the above?  He was killed 13/12/1915 in or near Cairo, Egypt.  He is commemorated on our Great Dalby War Memorial having resided at Sanham House.

Son of Robert Heriot, of 108, St. George's Square, London; husband of Celia Maud Heriot, of Sanham, Melton Mowbray.

National Archives


National Archives

1/3 CLY War Diary
3 Nov 1915
Arrived in MUDROS BAY soon after daybreak. Went ashore in lighters on the western side of the BAY at 8am. Marched at 10.30 to the rest camp 4 miles inland. Found a reinforcement from Egypt consisting of Capt HARE, Lieut ANSON and 63 NCOs and men, also 6 officers from ENGLAND, Major BURNABY, Capt ROBINSON and 2/Lieuts STEDALL, HERIOT, MERCER and MORISON.


  • Search term – Lt GE Heriot
  • Liecester War Memorials
  • Donisthorpe Factory, Bath
  • To honour the memory of / officers and men of / Donisthorpe & Company Ltd / who gave their lives in the / Great War 1914 - 1918 / Name Regiment Where Killed / [names] / 1939-1945 / [names]
  • Lieut GE Heriot Middlesex Yeo Died in Cairo Hospital (Director D & Co Ltd)

Genealogy website

  • UK, Army Registers of Soldiers’ Effects 1901-1929
  • GE Heriot
  • Death date: 11 Dec 1915
  • Death place: Dardanelles


  • Where to start – exploit what you already have or know
  • Sources – lots of resources
  • Case Study