Quick guide to searching

What are ‘Life Stories’ and ‘Official Records’?

  • Life Stories are created by IWM using information from key official record set we call ‘seeds.' When created, each Life Story gives the person's name and a few key pieces of information from that official ‘seed’ record -- now we need you to complete the stories.

  • Official Records are digital versions of real historic documents about people. There are over 330 million of these on this site. Evidence about a person with a Life Story can often be found in several records -- e.g. in military records, census record, birth records and more.


Searching Life Stories

Find your person’s Life Story:

    1. Use the search box at the top of every page. 

    2. Try surname and service number, if known, e.g . "Smith 40348":

Use the search box to find your person

NOTE: Finding people is not always straightforward -- see our Guide to Finding a Named Individual for tips, tricks and advice.


Searching Official Records

1. Search Records: 

On the Life Story page for your person, press 'Search Records’:

Press 'Search Records'

2. Filter by service number 

Narrow down results with the service number from the Life Story. Enter the service number in the 'Optional Keywords' field. Here's how:

To filter results. 1: copy service number to 'optional keywords' filter. 2: press 'Update'

IWM Tips:

  • The “Optional Keywords” field will only find records where the Life Story's service number matches exactly.
  • You can also use the 'Optional Keywords' field to filter by birth place, e.g. "Hull" or regiment, e.g. "Royal Irish"
  • To get more results, experiment with the filters and read our expert advice.


Official Records: view transcriptions and digital images

Transcriptions and images of historic records are where you will find new information about your person. Records can provide fascinating information such as civilian jobs, places lived, war injuries and medical history, disciplinaries or even descriptions of tattoos --  we strongly recommend viewing and exploring them.

You can then use the records as evidence for adding these facts to Life Stories. Free records require free registration to view and premium records require a subscription (£6 per month) to view unlimited records. See full list of free and premium records.

All records have a transcription - to view, press the document icon next to a result. Many records also have a digital image of the original historic document. These often contain much more information than the transcription. On the transcription page, press ‘View image’ or press the camera icon in search results. Here’s how:

To view, choose a record from results. 1. Press document icon to view transcription. 2. On transcription view, press 'View image'


NEXT: find out which records to search first

Read our Expert advice for searching records