Tracing military ancestors using archives
In 1919 the Bedfordshire and Hertfordshire Regiment was formed (regular army) from the Bedfordshire Regiment and its Hertfordshire components. Their regimental records are held at TNA and Bedfordshire and Luton Archives Service , whilst the regimental collection is housed at Luton Museum, Wardown Park, Luton Beds (http://www.wardownparkmuseum.com). It amalgamated with the Essex regiment in 1958 to form the 3rd East Anglian Regiment.
The other army regiment with a Hertfordshire connection was the 49th (Hertfordshire) Regiment of Foot, raised in 1744 and linked with the county in 1782. In 1816 it became known as Princess Charlotte of Wales’s Own, and in 1881 was redesignated the 1st Battalion Princess Charlotte of Wales’s (Berkshire) Regiment. The regimental museum of the Royal Berkshire Regiment is at Salisbury, Wiltshire https://www.thewardrobe.org.uk/.
For those ancestors who were enlisted as regular soldiers, records may be found at The National Archives. It is important to know whether they were officers or ordinary soldiers and sailors as the records are very different. If this is not known the published Army and Navy lists which list all officers can be checked (see below). If the name doesn’t appear, consult records about non-commissioned officers and men. Officers were predominantly from the landed gentry and other ranks came from the poorer classes of society. Other ranks includes privates in the Infantry, troopers in the Cavalry, trumpeters, drummers, gunners and sappers who were serving under corporals and sergeants, who were non-commissioned officers.
It is also useful to have an idea of the army regiment or corps a man served with, or in the case of the navy, which ship. A regiment normally consisted of one or two battalions, with one based in Britain for training and recruiting while the other was stationed overseas. Traditionally other ranks enlisted for 21 years but this was cut to six years in the 1870s in an attempt to attract more recruits.
Officer records held at TNA include
- Army Lists: published annually from 1754 -1879, then 4 times a year until 1950. Also from 1839, Hart’s Army List which also contains biographical information
- Service records: the records give the different ranks held by the officer and his services, together with certain personal particulars.
- Commissions: correspondence about the purchase and sale of commissions between 1793 and 1871. The records are arranged by the date the appointment or promotion was announced in the London Gazette
- Pensions: registers and correspondence about the payment of pensions up to 1921, including some paid to widows and children.
- Medal rolls: for campaigns from the Battle of Waterloo onwards
Records for other ranks include:
- Service records: but only for men who survived to receive a pension. The documents indicate when and where a man served, place and age on enlistment, promotions, disciplinary offences (desertion, drunkenness or failure to obey orders), reason for discharge. Occasionally wives and children are listed. Before 1883 records are arranged by regiment, although a name index to records before 1854 is available online at www.nationalarchives.gov.uk/catalogue. Service records for WW2 are still held with the Ministry of Defence and are not available for the public to view, although they may be released to the next of kin. For further information visit the following websites: Service records for the Army, Service records for the Royal Navy, Service Records for the R.A.F.
- Muster rolls 1732-1898: published monthly, these list every man in a regiment, including officers, and indicate a man’s pay, offences committed that month and the location of the regiment.
- Pension records 1760-1913: for men who left the army after serving their time or as a result of wounds. British army pensioners were entitled to a pension wherever they lived from the Royal Hospital Chelsea, who administered the payments. The great majority of pensioned soldiers were out-pensioners and did not reside at the Hospital itself.
- Medal rolls: as above