Friday 16 September 2011

Military records on Ancestry - TNA podcast

A useful tip to pass on from William Spencer's recent excellent National Archives podcast on British military records from 1800-1920, which I finally listened to last night.

I had previously heard that when you arrived at First World War military service records on Ancestry (, occasionally there may be a page or two before the first record you arrive at that relates to your record, rather than all the documents following immediately after. After last night's experience I will now ALWAYS be checking for earlier documents!

In this case, my great uncle William Paton's record was stated by Ancestry's index to have been 7 pages long. William was born in Belgium to Scottish parents, the eldest of four. His father managed two shoe shops for a Glasgow firm in Brussels, and stayed in the city when war was declared. Only William left to return to Scotland. I knew he joined the Royal Army Medical Corps and that he saw action at Gallipoli. Ancestry had a service record for him, for which I was grateful, as only a third of them have survived from the period. Ancestry's description stated that it was seven pages long, and sure enough, when I clicked to view there were seven pages from the "landing page", with only three or four actually having any info; the rest being blank pages.

After listening to the podcast I had another look last night, and checked the page before William Paton's landing page. And then the page before, and the page before, and the page before. After fifteen minutes, William's seven page service record ended up 45 pages long! The reason I hadn't pursued it before was because Ancestry's index stated seven pages, and I had found seven pages, and so assumed I had the lot.

But Ancestry, as William states, is not actually at fault. It is the collection itself which after a hundred years of use has been occasionally mishandled, meaning some pages have been replaced in the wrong order. Ancestry obviously batch digitised and indexed in the order they were presented, as would be expected, and would not be expected to know which order badly filed documents should be held in. But the moral of the story is that it is worth checking the pages before as well as after the landing page.

I was also interested to note William's comment about pre-1914 records appearing in the First World War collections. I have direct experience of that - my great great uncle Charles MacFarlane has a service record in the WW1 collections running from 1899-1914, which stops just before the war! He did actually see action in the war as he re-enlisted, but that part of his career, i.e. his WW1 service, is bizarrely not in the WW1 records, when his pre-WW1 service is! So, as William also says, always check WW1 records for details of earlier service.


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