Early military records


Family historians will often find themselves searching records relating to the Great War, and there’s a good reason for this. Such a large part of the population was involved, and so many were killed, that its effect was felt by every family in the country. We provide an excellent collection of records covering British forces. However, for those with the military in their blood – people whose ancestors were soldiers going back into the 19th century – we also have a number of other records relating to Britain’s colonial period.

The first Boer War in 1880-81 saw descendents of Dutch settlers in South Africa fighting for their independence, with fewer than 500 men killed on both sides. Things were a great deal more serious when hostilities commenced again between 1899 and 1901. The bloody conflict, in which the Boers used guerrilla tactics and the British set up concentration camps and interned civilians, stirred many to volunteer to fight.
The British force alone – which included men from British India, Australia and volunteers from Canada and New Zealand – suffered over 54,000 casualties. This number includes those killed, wounded or inflicted with disease. Using our records you can search for ancestors in UK, Casualties of the Boer War, 1899-1902. The trick to finding a record is to enter your ancestor’s surname and their first initial. If you’re looking for a Donald Mackie, enter D Mackie and you’ll see that a D R Mackie was killed at Boschbult on 31 March 1901 and he was part of the Royal Horse Artillery.

Waterloo & Indian Conflicts

Britain’s colonial pretensions in Africa were modest compared with the commitment to the Indian Empire and a large force was kept in the sub-continent. We offer a 1912 instalment of the Indian Army Quarterly list, which is a good snapshot of the country’s pre-WWI professional Army. Again, you should use initials for searching and you’ll discover your man’s rank, regiment, location, and sometimes other details like their date of birth or the date they were commissioned.

It was Napoleon Bonaparte’s colonial pretensions that were laid to rest nearly a century earlier when, in 1815, Wellington’s men defeated the French at Waterloo. The Waterloo Medal Roll effectively lists everyone who served as, for the first time in British history, everyone who fought was given a medal. Details recorded include the soldier’s rank, regiment and sometimes their fate, such as ‘Died of wounds received in action 18 June, on 25 July in General Hospital at Brussels’.

Naval Records

For those with maritime roots, particularly if your ancestor was high ranking, two further collections might be of use. The British Naval Biographical Dictionary of 1849 includes over 1,400 biographies – covering every naval officer serving at the time. Substantial detail is given, including the date the officer received their commission, ships they served on and where they were stationed, accounts of naval engagements with enemy vessels and even the tonnage of certain vessels. If the officer married, it records the maiden name of his spouse and her father’s name.
You can pursue further research in the collection Sea Officers of the Royal Navy 1660-1815. Read the abbreviations document before consulting the actual records as merely searching for a name can produce cryptic results. However, you can find out when someone served, their rank and when they either retired or died.

Useful links

Casualties of the Boer War, 1899-1902

Indian Army Quarterly List for 1 January 1912

Waterloo Medal Roll, 1815 

British Naval Biographical Dictionary, 1849

Commissioned Sea Officers of the Royal Navy, 1660-1815