Expert advice for searching records

Before continuing, we recommend reading our quick Guide to searching records.

 

Expert advice: narrowing your search

There are over 487 million records to search, so there are usually large numbers of results. These can be narrowed by refining the name; adding a birth year; filtering by record sets or filtering by keywords. Not all of these steps will be relevant and they can be done in any order. Press 'Search Records' from any Life story to show the Record Search results page:

 

Start with many results, then narrow down by filtering and refining

 

1. Refine the name, birth year or place

Does the person have middle name or initials? These may not be present in all records, try searching without them -- or try adding them if known. Maybe they used an alternate spelling (e.g. “Smythe” for “Smith”) -- try selecting the ‘Name variants’ box to match these.

 

Has a birth year been added to the Life Story already? Or do you know it from another source? Then use it in the ‘When’ field. You can also use ranges (e.g. +/- 5) to narrow down to a likely decade they were born in.

 

Do you have information about where they were born or lived? Then use this in the ‘Where’ box -- try countries or wider areas first, e.g. “Lancashire” rather than “Blackburn”.

 

Refine name, birth year or place in record search bar and press ‘Search’

 

NOTE: adding birth year to search will exclude any record sets that do not have a birth year -- e.g. Medal Index Cards. And may exclude records that do not always have a birth year -- e.g. British Army Service Records. Try searching with and without birth year.

2. Try keywords: e.g  birth place, enlistment place, service number or regiment

Has the place of birth or enlistment place been added to the Life Story? Or do you know these from another source. Then use it in the ‘Optional keywords’ field. You can also use regiment names here and combine them with other keywords-- e.g. “Glasgow” or “Royal Scots” or “Glasgow Royal Scots.”  

 

We recommend always trying the service number as a keyword, e.g. “2055” -- combined with surname, this may produce good results across several record sets. However, service numbers are not always present, often changed over time and are sometimes recorded in different ways, particularly in the Navy. Try searching with and without this information.

 

To filter by keyword, locate the ‘Optional keywords’ field, add service number, place or regiment and press ‘Update’

 

 

3. Filter by Record set

We recommend filtering your results by record set - this will narrow down results and focus your search:

  1. First, locate the ‘Record sets’ filter on the record search results page then press ‘Show filters

  2. Next, see the list of all record sets containing your results. Select a Record set, e.g “British Army Service Records” or “Soldiers Died in the Great War”.

  3. Then press ‘Apply filters’.

Follow these 3 steps in the screenshots below:

 

Locate ‘Record set’ option to begin filtering. 1. press ‘Show filters’. 2: Select Record set(s), e.g “British Army Service Records” or “Soldiers Died in the Great War”.  3: press ‘Apply filters’

 

TIP: to see ALL record sets available, clear the Who and When fields, press ‘Search.’ Now see the ‘Record set’ title and press ‘Show filters.’

 

Expert advice: record sets for British Army personnel**

The ‘Medal Index Card’ record set used to seed records for British Army Life Stories do not include place of birth or date of birth. Lacking place or date of birth can make it difficult to identify your person in other record sets, particularly civilian record sets that never have service number or regiment. To find more information for a British Army person, try filtering by the record sets described here.

** Read on below there record set descriptions for advice on Royal Navy, RAF, Canadians and other Forces.

British Army Service Records 1914-1920 [Premium]:

Only 30% of these records have  survived, however, they are often full of information so it is always worth searching for your person. If you find a match for your person’s name, regiment and number, the transcription could tell you date of birth and place of birth. The digital image could tell you next of kin or other information not in the transcription -- always look at the image.  It can also describe places served, wartime injuries, descriptions of tatoos(!) and much more. This record set is the best place to start your search for people in the British Army. Here is a an example:

(c) Crown Copyright Images reproduced by courtesy of The National Archives, London, England.

Detail from service record of Corporal Arthur Silas Isaac Biffen showing disciplinary detail. The offence is described as “Improper conduct deficient of 1 pair woolen drawers, 1 vest”. the punishment awarded is “Fined 3 days pay.” View full record [Premium]

Commonwealth War Graves Commission (CWGC) Casualty Records [Free]:

If your person was one of the 12% who died in service, they will have a CWGC record. The transcription will give place and date of death and, usually, age or birth year. The ‘additional information’ field will often include parents names and hometown. Example:

 

© Copyright The Commonwealth War Graves Commission

CWGC record for Private Robert Smith showing parents’ names and address in ‘Additional information’ field.

 

Soldiers died in the Great War 1914-1919 Transcription [Premium]:

This UK wide roll of honour for those who died contains place of birth, hometown and, often, battalion and place of enlistment. This builds on the information in the CWGC record. Example:

 

© Naval and Military Press Ltd

Details from record transcription for Private Robert Smith showing battalion, birth place and enlistment place.

 

 

Viewing seed records

Other forces, including Canadians [Free], Royal Navy [Premium], and RAF [Premium]  include much richer seed records than British Army.  This section describes how to view those seed records.

 

Every Life Story includes a ‘seed’ record and that record’s transcription can be viewed from the Life Story page, without performing a record search. To do this:

  1. Locate the ‘Latest Records’ area on the right in the main, ‘Timeline’ view on a Life Story. The seed is the first record added at the bottom of the list -- it will say ‘Imperial War Museums’ next to it. You can also find the seed record at the top of the ‘Evidence’ view.

  2. Press the record title to see the information panel.

  3. Then press ‘Open in Record Viewer’ to view the transcription. See screenshots below for example:

 

To view the seed record. 1: press title of first record, the ‘seed.’ 2: on information panel, press ‘Open in Record Viewer’ to view the transcription

 

Expert advice: record set for Royal Navy, RAF,  Canadians and others

Aside from Brtish Army, most forces (including Canadians [Free], Royal Navy [Premium], and RAF [Premium])  include date of birth and, usually, place of birth when the Life Story is created.

 

The digital image of a seed record sets contains additional information that is not in the transcription. This information is minimal for British Army people, but for all other records, including Royal Navy, RAF and Canadians --  it is always worth viewing the images for these records.  The information available varies by seed record set, and can vary from record to record. Here are some examples of what these records can contain:

 

Canadian Expeditionary Force Attestations 1914-1918 [Free]

These are the seeds for 598,026 Life Stories. The digital images include useful additional information, that can be used as evidence to add facts. Information can includes: civilian job; next of kin; birth place; marital status; and more. It is always worth viewing these images. Example:

 

© Library & Archives Canada

Attestation paper for  Private Herbert John Garrard showing place of birth, civilian occupation (or ‘trade’) and more. View full record [Free]

 

Royal Navy Seamen and Officer [Premium]

These records require a subscription. They usually include: ships served in and dates served; physical descriptions; pay and pension; injuries and sickness; promotions; character references and more. Example:

 

© Crown Copyright Images reproduced by courtesy of The National Archives, London, England.

Excerpt from service record of Lieutenant Commander George Arthur Scott showing ships served on and remarks from senior officers, including “Exceptional French interpreter. Quick decision. Fearless in taking responsibility” from Capt. Hutton, May 1915. View full record [Premium]

 

RAF Airmen and Officers [Premium]

These records usually include: place served and dates served; physical descriptions; injuries and sickness; promotions; character references, religion and more. If you are a subscriber, we strongly recommend viewing these images. Example:

 

©Crown Copyright images reproduced by courtesy of The National Archives, London, England.

Excerpt from service record of Lieutenant Harry Coleman Smith stating “Wounded and remaining on station 14/11/18.” View full record [Premium]

 

Royal Naval Division Service Records 1914-1920 [Premium]

These records require a subscription. They usually include:  home address; next of kin; religion; civilian job; physical description;  brief service history with dates. Example:

 

© Crown Copyright Images reproduced by courtesy of The National Archives, London, England.

First page of record for William Bridges describing a tattoo and civilian occupation. View full record [Premium]

 

Medal Index Cards for British Army [Free transcriptions]

There is no surviving complete list of British Army personnel, so the transcriptions of  Medal Index Card records were used instead.  These cards were created to issue medals to people who served overseas and were used to seed around 5.4 million Life Stories for British Army personnel -- there is some duplication, causing duplicate Life Stories (you can report duplicate stories here). The digital images of these records can be accessed via a link in the information panel, or on the transcription page.. This links to the National Archives website where charges will usually apply to view images. There may be a little additional information shown in the digital images, including: date they went overseas; and theatre of war served in.

 

Other record sets to get started with:

NOTE: CWGC casualty records [Free] contain war deaths from Royal Navy, RAF, Canadians and all other forces, not just the British Army. If your person is one of the 12% who died in service, you should search this record set -- see description and example above.

To find your person, you’ll often use date of birth and/or home address and/or parents names. You may have gathered these from one of the steps above, or they may already be added to the Life Story. Use this information to search the following record sets and  use these record sets as evidence to add facts to Life tories:

 

1911/1901/1891/1881 England, Wales & Scotland Census [Premium]:

Census records contain name, address, birth year, parents names and sibling names where these people lied in the same household. Use what you know to find the right person and discover new information. It will usually also contain their occupation. Example:

© Crown Copyright Images reproduced by courtesy of The National Archives, London, England.

1911 census return for William Wheeler showing his occupation as “fishmonger”  and details of his wife and children. View full record [Premium]

 

England & Wales Births [Premium]:

This large record set contains name, place of birth registration and birth year. Example:

© Findmypast ltd

Transcription of birth registration record for Arthur Isaac Silas Biffen showing his birth was registered at Hanover Square, London. View record [Premium]

 

England & Wales Deaths [Premium]:

This record set contains name, place of death registration, birth year and death year. Example:

© Findmypast ltd

Transcription of death registration record for Arthur Isaac Silas Biffen showing his death was registered in Kensington, London. View record [Premium]

 

Also, explore all our record sets

See the full list of military and civilian record sets->

 

Found a record that matches a Life Story?

Your next step is connect it to the Life Story, by pressing the ‘Connect this record to ..’ button on the record transcription page. Example:

© Naval & Military Press

Press the ‘Connect this record to ..’ button.

 

 

Confirming a match

With over 300 million genealogy records on this site, how can you be sure you’ve found one that matches your person? Review the  following information in the record, to see what matches the Life Story:

  • Surname: this will usually match exactly. occasionally there will be a transcription error -- e.g. “Mauger” transcribed as “Manger.” Common names required more information to confirm the match.

  • Other names: some records may not include middle name and some only have initials

  • Birth/age/death: birth years are often estimated from age information, so a discrepancy of a year can still be a match

  • Military details: regiment (or equivalent) name and service number provide a strong match

  • Family/people: parents names provide a strong match

  • Places: home addresses in census records can often be matched with those in service record

  • Other reasons: other information that confirms the match.

Now give the reasons the record matches the Life Story, in the connection panel:

 

In the connection panel, tick the reasons the record matches and add an optional comment. Then press ‘Connect to ...

 

Once connected, the record can be used as evidence to add facts to the Life story -- see our  Guide to adding to a Life Story.

 

ADVANCED ACTIVITY:  Discovering wartime ancestors

If you know the name and home place of a wartime child such as a grandfather, you can use this to find their family in the 1911 census [Premium]. The household listing may include people of war service age (usually 18 to 40). These might be a father, brothers or uncles. You can then search for these people in Life Stories (see our guide to finding people) or search for them in official records.

 

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