What can British Army military records tell me about my ancestors?

These British record collections provide rich information about your ancestors to a level that is difficult to find elsewhere. It's common to find several pages of records per soldier – some soldiers have hundreds of pages of records!

The British Army kept description books before the days of photography. The army had to have a means of recognizing soldiers, not least in the case of desertion or to prevent pension fraud. Description books provided detailed physical descriptions of each solider and details of birthplace, trade service and enlistment.

The information listed varies, but the records tend to be very detailed and will usually include a combination of the following:

Biographical information
*Name
*Date and place of birth
*Age
*Occupation
*Name and address of next of kin
*Marriage details
*Children's names and dates of birth

Appearance
*Height and chest size
*Complexion
*Hair and eye color
*Distinguishing features, including tattoos and scars

Service history
*Date of attestation
*Regiment
*Rank, including a record of any promotions
*Where stationed
*Campaigns fought in
*Medals awarded
*Date of discharge and reason for it

Medical history
*Conduct and character observations

WO 96 - Militia service records 1806-1915

Many of our ancestors will have served in the Militia, often as a precursor to serving in the British Army, so these records provide a useful addition to findmypast's British Army service records.

A Militia is a voluntary part-time force for home defense. The Militia Act of 1757 established Militia regiments in all counties of England and Wales. The yeomanry cavalry (see below) and the volunteers were introduced later. In 1907, the yeomanry and the volunteers combined as the Territorial Force, and in 1908 the Militia was revived as the "Special Reserve."

All pre-20th century men were obliged to serve in the Militia, so you are likely to find information about your ancestors in this sweeping family history collection. It's also possible to find details about the men's employment, often recorded in the British Militia records, that service men performed as regular work during their service.

In these military records collection you can search around 500,000 Militia service records for the period of 1806-1915, organized as WO96 in the National Records.

WO 97 – Chelsea: pensioners British Army service records 1760-1913

These records were collected and recorded to determine a person’s eligibility for a pension from the Royal Chelsea Hospital. They recorded an individual’s rank and regiment, service number, birth place, occupation, attestation date and service history. Some will include a statement about the person’s character and proceedings of the regimental board.

The Royal Chelsea Hospital first opened in 1682 for retired soldiers. A pensioner is either an ‘in-pensioner’, meaning that he or she resides at Royal Chelsea Hospital, or an ‘out-pensioner’ if he or she lives in a private residence. Women were first admitted to the Royal Chelsea Hospital in 2009. In-pensioners must surrender their pension to the hospital, be aged 65 or older (this was raised from 55), be able to live independently, and not have any dependents such as a spouse or children.