Thursday, 15 May 2014

Ancestry's 'Canadian' British Regimental Registers of Service collection

Ancestry ( is one of those websites that we know we couldn't live without in genealogical research terms, but from time to time it occasionally incorrectly lists collections when they are launched, for which a quick request often sees a change from the powers that be in Utah (where its parent body is based). Last night I was alerted to a military resource on Ancestry that resolved a very long standing brick wall - and the reason why I was not able to do so prior to now was the fact that the resource in question is actually not listed for what it actually is.

Here was my research problem - my four times great grandfather William Halliday served with the 2nd Battalion of the 1st Regiment of Foot, aka the Royal Regiment or the Royal Scots. I had previously been to the National Archives at Kew on two occasions (in 2011 and last year) to work out his service details, by ploughing through the muster rolls for his battalion. I learned that he had signed up for service on December 3rd 1819, but did not join the battalion in India until September 1820, and served on many campaigns in India until his eventual death in 1831, on board a vessel sailing for Scotland from India. In India he married and had two children, a son and a daughter, with the son my three times great grandfather. (The story I've uncovered on them is briefly mentioned in Emma Jolly's book Tracing your British Indian Ancestors, from Pen and Sword).

In tracing back to William's first muster roll entry, however, it simply noted that he had "transferred from Europe" - and there was some further confusion with payments commencing for 7 years service and 14 years service which implied that he may have actually signed up earlier in 1814 and 1817, and not 1819. Not knowing from where he had transferred, and potentially which other regiment (if he had signed up earlier than 1819) put me off one other fairly obvious possibility in hindsight, that he may have been directly recruited by the 1st Foot themselves.

Step forward Edinburgh based genealogist Kirsty Wilkinson... At the Scottish Genealogy Network CD event last Saturday, Kirsty gave a great talk on a project she was working on concerning Edinburgh military attestation records held at Edinburgh City Archives. As the Royals Scots was the regiment to which William joined, I asked Kirsty if she had found any entries in the collection for a William Halliday, to which she replied she had not. However, last night, she very kindly sent me a note from a collection she had been using on Ancestry, entitled Canada, British Regimental Registers of Service, 1756-1900. There was a William Halliday listed there, a private who had attested in December 1819, but with the 1st Battalion - might this have been him?

At first, the page did not indicate what had become of this person, but it did give me a description of him, an age (born 1797), and birthplace, Enniskillen, Co. Fermanagh, Ireland, not Scotland. The collection is fully searchable by name, but only lands hits on the pages where the soldiers' names are noted - in this case, however, the description was actually carried across two pages. When I stepped through to the following page, lo and behold, there it was - a note to say that this William in the 1st Battalion had transferred to the 2nd Battalion in March 1820. Having been through the muster rolls for the 2nd Battalion at this point, there is only one William Halliday - so this is almost certainly my four times great grandfather, an Irishman rather than a Scot.

So what are these records? Well one thing is for certain, they are not Canadian! These are British Army regimental depot description books held at the National Archives at Kew ( under WO25, offering a description of soldiers upon attestation, but often worth consulting to see what became of a soldier many years later. They have been digitised and presented as a collection of British Army records for soldiers who saw service in Canada - but they are depot books for British regiments that served across the whole of the British Empire, with many soldiers named within them having never set foot in Canada. OK, I can see that they are available to Canadians via their Ancestry platform as an important record set for research, but they are equally useful back here in the country which created them in the first place!

As currently presented, they are accessible via the basic subscription of the Canadian based Ancestry site - - but not as a standard military resource through the UK site. To access them here you need to have a worldwide subscription for the site. I have emailed Ancestry to ask if they might consider renaming them, or at least granting British users of Ancestry access via the basic subscription, as with other military resources. The person I have emailed is away until the 22nd, so I'll bring an update in due course (or if I hear sooner!).  I just wanted to alert you all that a fundamentally brilliant UK military resource is there online - but in disguise, and at the moment, out of reach for many.

(With thank to Kirsty Wilkinson, @genealogygirl on Twitter)


Now available for UK research is the new second edition of the best selling Tracing Your Family History on the Internet: A Guide for Family Historians, whilst my new book British and Irish Newspapers is also now out. And FindmyPast - please reinstate the original Scottish census citations on your new site.


  1. A genealogy problem shared is a genealogy problem... err... made even more complicated in this case ;) But glad to have helped you to find a few more clues to William Halliday's identity.

  2. My *suspicion* is that this is not the full collection of WO25 but it selects only those regiments that had *a* battalion that served in Canada (however *that* is defined) at some point in its history - possibly years before or after the page you're looking at.