Military Service in the British Army in World Wars I and II

Sources of information for tracing your military ancestors

Carol Futers

Obituary published in the Hertfordshire Mercury, 7 August 1915

Many family historians will be tracing ancestors who served in the armed forces during the two world wars, not necessarily with a direct Hertfordshire connection. Personal and regimental records held at TNA provide the main source of genealogical material for military ancestors during the 20th century. However, the following sources of information which are held at HALS will complement and may simplify research:  

Absent Voters’ Registers

An invaluable source for locating military ancestors, the 1918 ‘Representation of the People’ Act made provision for members of the armed forces, as well as British Red Cross, St John Ambulance Brigade and anyone whose work was officially recognised as being of national importance, to obtain a vote in their home constituency by post or by proxy. The register can give useful information including rank, service number and regiment for soldiers of voting age (19 and over).  

The absent voters registers were first published in autumn 1918 and then twice yearly between 1919 and 1926, and then annually between 1927 and 1931. A complete series is held at HALS with the exception of Hitchin in 1923 and St Albans in autumn 1923.

Army, Navy and Air Force Lists

These are annual published lists of every officer serving with the armed forces, including those in receipt of retired pay. They give details of unit, promotions and sometimes brief details of campaigns in which the officers fought. Copies are held at HALS for the following periods:

  • Army Lists – July 1842 (ref 16907) 1914, 1967 to date. Officers in receipt of retired pay 1968-98
  • Navy Lists – containing lists of ships, establishments and officers of the fleet 1967 to date. Appendix containing rates of pay etc 1967-1981. Retired officers 1967-95
  • Air force Lists – 1967 to date. Retired list 1973-96

Rolls of Honour (Hertfordshire)

Some parish rolls of honour were printed following each war and are held at HALS, and a few examples of these are on the open shelves; copies may also be available at local libraries. Schools also often published rolls of honour naming past pupils who had died on active service. A diocesan roll of honour for Hertfordshire (WWI) is also available. In recent years there has been renewed interest in the subject, which has led to local publications and websites giving details of the individuals named on town and village memorials.

Rolls of Honour (national)

Volumes on the open shelves in the library. Copies of the following CD-Roms are available for consultation at HALS:

  • Soldiers Died in the Great War, 1914-1918 – originally published in 81 volumes arranged by regiment and battalion, this huge work is available in a searchable form on CD-Rom. It gives regiment, rank and service number, and limited information on next of kin and place of origin. Volumes 2 (Royal horse and Royal Field Artillery), 3 (Royal Garrison Artillery), 75 (Machine Gun corps, Tank Corps), 77 (includes Hertfordshire Regiment), and 79 (Royal Army Medical corps) are also available in printed form on the open shelves.  
  • Army Roll of Honour 1935-45, Soldiers died in The Second World War – searches can be executed for Regiment or branch of Army at 1 September 1939, Regiment or branch of Army at death, surnames, christian name(s), initial(s), born (county), place of domicile (county), army number, rank, theatre or country where fatal wound was sustained or death occurred, decorations, and by date.

Local newspapers

These often carry reports on the circumstances of local individuals who may have been wounded, killed in action, promoted, mentioned in dispatches or made prisoners of war. Sometimes their photographs are included. A number of these have been indexed and can be found in the Newspapers and Magazines index at Hertfordshire Names Online ( Otherwise, if the date of the event is known, it is worth looking at the editions of the newspaper for the weeks following.


There are several guides on how to trace military ancestors in the Local Studies Library, some of which give advice on how to identify uniforms, medals and badges.

This page was added on 30/10/2010.

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