Research Your Scottish Ancestry

Robert WilbanksBritish Military Records

by Robert M. Wilbanks IV, B.A.
Chief Genealogist & Historian, C.S.A.

In previous articles, this column has discussed military records in general, and United States military records, specifically, in detail. Please review those articles in the Genealogy Archive, second and third articles in 2019. This article will present information specific to military records of the United Kingdom, prior to World War I, in detail.

“Why discuss British military records in a Scottish genealogy column?” A great number of Scots served in the military both in Scotland and England. In 1707, with the unification of the Kingdoms of England and Scotland forming the Kingdom of Great Britain, the Scottish Army was consolidated into the British Military. Therefore, searching British military records is the primary option for locating your Scottish ancestor in military records.

During the course of British history, the military had several different branches of service. These would include the Royal Army, Royal Navy, Royal Marines, the Militia, Fencible, Yeomanry, Territorial Armies, and Coast Guard. There were a lot of possibilities for British military service by your Scottish ancestors.

The National Archives at Kew is the official housing for British military records. They are organized by groups, called “fonds”, with unique department codes, followed by series numbers. Their Research Guide on British Army soldiers up to 1913 helps explain how to search and order records. It also provides information on records that have been digitized and are available online, as well as records not digitized. You can follow, and learn about, The National Archives on Facebook, on YouTube, as well as in many other social media sites.

Unfortunately, there is no all-encompassing or comprehensive index with which to search for a specific individual who may have served in the British Military from earliest times to present. You will need to already have certain pieces of information, or a specific objective, to determine which of many indexes or lists to search. It helps to have a time, or particular war, or specific branch of service, etc., to begin your search.

As always, the FamilySearch Wiki is a great source, with research information, and links to sources available online: British Military Records. They cover the British military history, with a breakdown of records by wars, branch of service, Medals, Awards and Honours, and more. Links to their many digitized records are included, as well as to external records available elsewhere on the internet. Additionally, you can review their Wiki pages on England Military Records or Scotland Military Records for more information and more links to resources online.

FindMyPast, a London based genealogy subscription service, has several collections and indexes, and some digitized original records, for British soldiers in various wars, Medal Rolls, Directories, and more. Other genealogy subscription databases, such as MyHeritage and Ancestry, also may have some of the same, or entirely different, British Military indexes and/or original digitized records.

Meanwhile, Fold3, another subscription based genealogy database, has an extremely extensive collection of online British Military Records, such as Navy Lists, Prisoners of War of World War II, World War I Pension Records, Airmen Died in the Great War, British World War I Women Casualties, and much, much more. Originally begun as a United States military records database, the database has expanded to include military records of the United Kingdom, and some of its Commonwealth Nations, as well as other genealogy records such as census, newspapers, directories, and more.

This was just a brief overview about British Military Records. Explaining in detail how to research these records would require much more space than I have here. But remember, there are numerous guides which can help you learn more about military records as a genealogical resource, including in the form of books, blogs on the Internet, the FamilySearch Wikipedia, YouTube videos, etc. Be sure to take the time to learn more on your own.

This is another of a series of articles in which I show you the basics of searching for your family history, discussing the use of family records, public records, and online resources nationally and internationally, etc. The previous articles are now available on the Genealogy Section of this website.   See “Genealogy” in the menu options at the top of the web page.