Together with The National Archives, Findmypast is excited to present its Prisoners of War 1715-1945 collection. The records are diverse and varied. The size and the scope of these records make them a fascinating resource for genealogists. The records not only include military personnel, but also civilians, diplomats, missionaries and merchant seamen. We recommend you begin your search with a last name and then narrow your search if necessary. Many of the Prisoners of War records only recorded last names and not all would have included regiments or ranks. Use the keyword search to search the records by Nationality (American, French, Russian etc), Birth place (Baltimore, Sussex, Cherbourg etc) or the names of vessels.

In association with The National Archives, Findmypast has digitised and transcribed this collection. For each record you can view an image of the original document and a transcription of the information found in the document.

The amount of information in each record can vary depending on the type of document and the amount of detail recorded at the time of the event. You may or may not find some of the following information:

Transcript

  • Name
  • Many only include surnames. We recommend that you start your search with only a surname.
  • Residence
  • Year
  • Birth place
  • Nationality
  • Rank
  • Regiment
  • Name of ship or camp received from - This can represent the ship that carried the prisoner to the prison or the ship the prisoner was taken from
  • Ship name
  • Prison camp or ship
  • Conflict
  • Archive reference
  • Document details

Image

The nature of these records varies greatly. In some, you will find lists of the names of prisoners; in others you will find detailed records of daily life of the prisoners including physical descriptions of your ancestors.

By viewing the original document you can reveal even more about your ancestor. The image will also help you to put the information into a wider context and understand why your ancestor’s name was recorded. Because of the diversity of the documents, you may find more than one record for an ancestor.

Use the arrows to the right and the left of the screen to browse through the rest of the document and discover more. There are several different types of records included in this collection.

Discover more about these records

In the records, you will find lists of those captured by the British during the Napoleonic Wars, including Danish, French, Prussian and American prisoners. For a full list of The National Archives records included in this collection go to the The National Archives POW Archival Reference List.

By viewing the image you will discover when and where they were captured and from what ship. Other records include full physical descriptions of the prisoners such as their hair and eye colour, whether they were a stout man or middle build, their complexion and any distinguishing marks. Records were kept of their provisions and the supplies they received, for example blankets, clothing, beds etc. Many of the records note the name of the Prize, which is the name of the vessel captured during the conflict. During the Napoleonic Wars, opposing sides would capture the enemy’s ship and then sail it and its cargo back to their native country to be sold or auctioned. Seamen could earn handsome rewards for the vessels they captured.

Throughout history we often find that at times of war housing prisoners quickly becomes a problem for all sides. It did not take long for the English prisons and hulks to fill up with enemy captives. The already cramped spaces became overcrowded, leading to issues of sanitation and the spread of disease. The conditions in the hulks could become unbearable with cold and wet conditions compounded by little or no ventilation. The English built special prisons such as the infamous Dartmoor or Alresford.

One of the reasons prisons and hulks became overcrowded was the limited prisoner exchanges. The wars lasted for years, therefore, the prisoners were held for years. It was beneficial for a belligerent nation to detain skilled and abled seamen who through years of experience learned their trade. Seamen were more difficult to replace during this time of conflict.

Prisoner of war camps were not as restrictive as an average criminal prison. The detainees experienced more freedoms. In some areas French prisoners earned extra money by drawing or teaching French classes. There were even drama troupes and performances. There are plenty of stories of French soldiers socialising with the local British gentry and even attending parties.

Napoleonic Wars

The Napoleonic wars lasted from 1799 until Napoleon’s defeat at Waterloo in 1815. The wars were a series of conflicts between various European coalitions and the French Emperor Napoleon I. Napoleon Bonaparte seized power in 1799 after the French revolution. He was a dynamic and ambitious military leader who wanted to create a French empire across Europe. The war was not limited to Europe; it extended to St Lucia, the Cape of Good Hope, Argentina and West Indian territories. Throughout the years of conflict, Britain was a continual adversary to the French. The French were able to achieve their European conquests because they had the superior ground forces; however, Britain had a superior navy which continuously defeated the French at sea. The British defeat of the French and Spanish fleets at Trafalgar in 1805 prevented a French invasion of the British Isles.

By 1810, Napoleon’s empire was vast and over reaching; it included parts of Italy and Germany, territories in Spain and Portugal. The success of the French started to turn after a disastrous invasion of Russia, which had been at one time an ally, in 1812. The Spanish king was forced to abdicate the throne and Napoleon replaced him with his own brother, Joseph Bonaparte. Spain rebelled against French rule in 1809 and, supported by British forces, turned the war. This conflict on the Iberian Peninsula is referred to as the Peninsular War.

Relations between the United States and Britain continued to strain due to trading restrictions placed on the neutral country. America declared war on the British in 1812, resulting in the War of 1812 (or the Anglo American War). The records show thousands of American prisoners in British camps. During the conflict, African American soldiers fought on both sides. Many of those who fought with the British did so because of the promise of freedom from slavery.

In 1813, the French were defeated at the Battle of Leipzig by Prussian, Russian, Swedish and Austrian forces. This defeat led to the Treaty of Chaumont. The treaty, which was overseen by Robert Stewart, Viscount Castlereagh, ordered that Napoleon would be expelled to Elba. Napoleon escaped Elba for his final campaign and subsequent defeat by the British at the Battle of Waterloo.

The cost to all nations was immense. The Napoleonic wars cost Britain about £1,650,000,000 and furthermore the immeasurable cost of human life. From the beginning of the conflicts, the British army was expanded six-fold. Volunteer civilian defences were recruited to be vigilant in Britain in case of a French invasion. The map of Europe was permanently altered. The Holy Roman Empire fell. America was expanded to twice its size after the Louisiana Purchase of 1803.