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Army - Service Records - Officers before 1914 (Military)

Nature of Source

Regimental returns containing information on officers and arranged by regiment. No records of service of the commissioned officers who were appointed before 1793 have survived.

Another potential source of regular army officer information can be found in the Graduation Lists which run from 1901 to 1914 which are available in the open reading room at The National Archives. These lists are similar in scope to the Army Lists.

The key starting point for most army research is to determine which regiment the officer served with. A possible starting point for officer research pre-WWI is to consult the alphabetical card index of officers compiled by staff at The National Archives in the 1970s. The information was extracted from series WO 25 and WO 26 but unfortunately is not complete. WO 25 is also available as part of the Digital Microfilm project. Officer commissions, promotions and discharges have also been published in the London Gazette since the early 18th century.

Birth Marriage and Death certificates for officers and their families as well as wills can be found in series WO 42. This series also includes some information on retired officers and details of officer marriages from 1830-1882. For Also consult Charles Dalton's English Army Lists, 1661-1714 and George I's Army, 1714-1727. The records of some militia officers can be founds amongst series WO 76 and WO 25.

An officer's name can also be found amongst the surviving documents found in series WO 27 covering the years from 1750 to 1914. The series contains regimental inspection returns and amongst other things shows the names of officers present providing his name, age and nationality. Another possibility for finding details of an officer (cavalry and infantry officers only) is to search the Service Returns found in series WO 25. These records consists of surveys of retired officers on full or half pay and were taken for various years from 1809 to 1873. Service returns for Engineers officers can be found in series WO 25 and WO 54 and for Artillery officers in series WO 54 and WO 76 (Records within WO 76 are available to download free of charge as part of the Digital Microfilm project). The Royal Artillery and Royal Engineers published their own lists of officers and these are available at The National Archives and other local and reference libraries.

Service records for all ranks who served after 1920 remain with the Ministry of Defence with each military service maintaining its own record office. The Veterans UK web site provides contact details of where to apply for service records for each of the services.

Where Found

The National Archives (WO 76, War Office: Records of Officers' Services, 1764-1961. The records give the different ranks held by the officer and his services, together with certain personal particulars. An alphabetic name index appears at the front of each volume; WO 25, Commissions and other appointments, records of service and other service matters)

Records within WO 76 are available to download free of charge as part of the Digital Microfilm project or online at Findmypast.

Regimental Museums (Some regimental museums may hold officer service records such as appointments, commissions and promotions. These records may deal with officer service before the War Office assumed responsibility for keeping and maintaining officer records towards the end of the 19th century)

Period Covered

1764 - 1913

Genealogical Value

Name, rank, date and place of birth of officer; Date of appointment, age at the time of appointment, country of origin and date of first commission; His medal awards and foreign service; Marriage details and the names and birth dates of his children.

Further References

Beckett, James Deuchar (ed). The Beckett Soldiers Index, A-C: Jade Publishing, 2003

Beckett, James Deuchar (ed). The Beckett Soldiers Index, D-G Jade Publishing, 2009

Beckett, James Deuchar (ed). The Beckett Soldiers Index, H-K: Jade Publishing, 2009
(Listing of soldiers from 1793 to about 1854 extracted from TNA series WO 120 and WO 116 and other sources such as marriage registers and medal awards. Arranged alphabetically by surname, forename and regiment including whether discharged at either Chelsea or Kilmainham Hospital. These published editions cover more ground than the Beckett Soldiers' Index available at The National Archives)

Bevan, Amanda. Tracing Your Ancestors in the National Archives: The National Archives, 2006

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Brereton, J.M. A Guide to the Regiments and Corps of the British Army: Bodley Head, 1985

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Blank, Dr. Stuart. Researching British Military History on the Internet: Alwyn Enterprises, 2007

Bridger, Geoff. The Great War Handbook: Pen & Sword, 2009

Cox. Reginald H. W. Military Badges of the British Empire 1914-18: Ernest Benn, 1982

Doyle, Peter. Great War British Tommy Manual: The British Soldier 1914-18 [All Models]-Haynes Owners' Workshop Manuals: Haynes, 2013

Farmer, John, The Regimental Records of the British Army: Grant Richards, 1901 (Free download available at the Internet Archive)

Fowler, Simon. A Guide to Military History on the Internet: Pen & Sword, 2007

Fowler, Simon. Tracing your Army Ancestors: Pen & Sword, 2006

Fowler, Simon. Tracing Your Army Ancestors: A Guide for Family Historians: Pen & Sword Books, 2013

Gaylor, John. Military Badge Collecting: Pen & Sword Books, 2002

Holding, Norman, More Sources of WWI Army Ancestry: FFHS, 1998

Holding, Norman & Swinnerton, Iain. WWI Army Ancestry: FFHS, 4th Edition

James, E.A. British Regiments, 1914-18: Naval and Military Press, 2001

Kitzmiller, John. In Search of the Forlorn Hope: A Comprehensive Guide to Locating British Regiments and Their Records, 1640-WWI: Manuscript Publishing Foundation, 1988

Murphy, Gerry. Where Did That Regiment Go? The Lineage of British Infantry and Cavalry Regiments at a Glance: The History Press, 2009

Pols, Robert. Dating Old Army Photographs: Family History Partnership, 2011

Spencer, William. Family History in the Wars: The National Archives, 2007

Spencer, William. Army Records: A Guide For Family Historians: The National Archives, 2008

Spencer, William. First World War Army Service Records: The National Archives, 2008

Storey, Neil. Military Photographs and How to Date Them: Countryside Books, 2009

Swinnerton, Iain, An Introduction to the British Army: Its History, Traditions and Records: FFHS, 1996

Swinson, Arthur. A Register of the Regiments and Corps of the British Army: The Archive Press, 1972

Tracing Your Family History, Army: Imperial War Museum, 2006

Usher, George. Dictionary of British Military History: A&C Black Publishers, 2006

Watts, Michael and Watts, Christopher. My Ancestor was in the British Army: Society of Genealogists, 2009

TNA Research Guides

Websites (The Purchase of Officers' Commissions in the British Army, by John Armatys & Robert George Cordery) (TNA Guide: Looking for records of a British Army officer up to 1913) (TNA Guide: Looking for a subject, Military history) (TNA Guide: Looking for a person, Army) (UK Military Family History Online: Links to web sites with online data and information to aid in military family history research) (Guide to Army Lists and published lists available on CD)
(Anglo Boer War: Information on the Anglo Boer War 1899-1902 with a forum for discussion of the conflict. Sections include: Biographical information on people who were involved in the Boer War; Details of the medals awarded for the Boer War and other contemporary and South African campaigns; Information on the Imperial, Colonial, South African and Boer units that participated) (The Second Anglo-Afghan War 1878-1880. Online resource for those interested in the Second Anglo-Afghan War of 1878-1880. It is also the home of the Second Afghan War database project, a collection of names, family histories and stories concerning those who participated in this lesser-known campaign) (British Battles. The site gives you the battles fought by Britain and its Empire forces from the 18th Century to the end of the 19th Century, illustrated and mapped) (Online store selling military records from a variety of suppliers) (Veterans UK) (Ancestor Research & Military Genealogy) (Imperial War Museum, Your History, Family History: Army: Information sheets include Tracing Army Ancestry, Army Service Records, Tracing Army Units and List of Abbreviations) (British Military Records: The Army by Fawne Stratford-Devai) (Military Archive Research, by Dr Stuart C Blank)
(The British and Commonwealth Military Badge Forum
British Cavalry Badges. Forum devoted to those with an interest in military badges and military badge collecting. Sections include British Cavalry Badges, Bibliography of Military Insignia and a Glossary) (GENUKI Military guide with useful links) (British Military Records by Jay Hall) (Guide and links to military museums in the UK) (National Archives of Scotland Research Guide: Military Records)

Online Databases (Military Genealogy Forces War Records: Military records of over two million British Armed Forces personnel cross matched with over 4000 Regiments including Rolls of Honour, Crimean and Boer War Databases, Medal Rolls and Casualties Lists. The site also has a facility to access information on specific units or bases including regiments, ships, airfields) (British Army Service Records 1760-1920: The collection includes a myriad of Army forms including attestation papers, medical forms, discharge documents, pension claims, and proceedings of regimental boards from 11 different series of records from The National Archives. The dataset includes records from series WO 76 which has records of officers' services) (Peninsular War, British Army Officers 1808-1814. Compiled shortly after WW1 by Captain Lionel S. Challis of the Queen’s Westminster Rifles, the Peninsular War, British Army Officers records list over 9,000 officers who fought for control of the Iberian Peninsula during the Napoleonic Wars)
(British Army Officer Promotions, 1800-1815. The dataset lists the details of Wellington’s officers who went on to defeat Napoleon in 1815. Each record comprises a transcript of the promotion which was originally announced in The London Gazette)
(Royal Artillery Officers 1716-1899. Search more than 7,000 names of Royal Artillery Officers from the List of Officers of the Royal Regiment of Artillery published in 1900) (The Cadet and Staff Registers of the Sandhurst Collection: Details for almost every officer cadet at the Royal Military Academy Woolwich, covering 1790-1793, 1799-1805, and 1820-1939 and the Royal Military College Sandhurst, covering 1800-1946. Staff registers are also included, though less informative) (Register of the Second Anglo-Boer War 1899-1902. The records contain over 258,800 names, including a completely revised casualty list of 59,000 casualty records) (Casualties of the Boer War, 1899-1902: The database lists the names, regiments, dates, locations and nature of casualty of all officers and men of the South African Field Force from the outbreak of war. The data is also available at (The Military Archive: The site incorporates three extensive sets of resources: 'Murphy's Register' which has an index of records and photographs of individuals who served in British and Allied Forces from 1880's through to 1935, with a particular emphasis on the Great War: 'The Rolls' which can identify and confirm details from official records with regards to medals awarded: ‘The Library’ is a large, searchable online collection of divisional and regimental histories, and rolls of honour) (Transcribed summary service details of officers and men who served with the 28th North Gloucestershire Regiment during the 19th Century or the Gloucestershire Regiment in WWI. Database courtesy of Mr. J. Devereux) (The Register of the Anglo-Boer War 1899-1902: Database that lists men and women who served in the British Imperial Forces during the Anglo-Boer War. The register includes soldiers, sailors, nurses and civilians as well as a casualty roll. The data is compiled for sources such as Official Casualty Rolls, A Gazetteer of the Second Anglo-Boer War 1899-1902, Medal Rolls, Anglo-Boer War Memorials Project and Winifred Scott's Anglo-Boer War Index. The Register will state whether the person listed has an entry in series WO 97 held at The National Archives. For a full list of sources see the website)

CD Roms

Surrey History Trust (Surrey Recruitment Register, 1908-1933. details of about 85,000 men who signed up for service in Surrey between 1908 and 1933, including volunteers and conscripts in World War I)