Tuesday, 5 October 2010

Soldiers' documents 1760-1913

If you have an ancestor who was an other rank (ordinary soldier) in the British Army before 1913 then you need to check out this new resource from Findmypast. They have completed digitising the soldiers' papers in series WO 97 at The National Archives (TNA). These are records for men who survived army service and received a pension: there are no records for men who died in the service or deserted. You can read more in my Tracing Your Army Ancestors' book from Pen & Sword (buy it at www.pen-and-sword.co.uk).
Any way I have been playing with the new resource which can be checked out here. It is pretty good. I do like FMP's clear layout (despite the distracting ads) . The index seems good and the quality of the images is excellent.
My only gripe is that in the indexing the only practical modifier is place and date of birth, which you may well not know, so you could waste precious units in downloading records which are no use to you.. It would have been better to include regiment as modifier, which users are likely to know. To an extent you can over come this, at least for men who left before 1854, by typing in your man's name into TNA catalogue and in the series box add WO 97. Years ago the Friends of the Public Record Office, as they were then, indexed these records in some detail and results were added to the catalogue.
It costs 5 units to download a transcript and 30 units for the document itself. The other thing you need to do is to press the clear button before each new search, otherwise the search engine may get confused.
Over the years I have researched several of the men who appear in here: Pte Fred Grover (48th Foot) who fought in the Crimea and whose life is memorably told in George Bourne's Memoirs of a Surrey Labourer, Richard Cavendish, a Gentleman-Ranker (and supposedly the illegitimate son of the King of Prussia) who abandoned a promising career in the Queens Hussars to become a workhouse master, and Benjamin Harris of the Rifle Brigade who left a fascinate set of memoirs behind which was the inspiration of Bernard Cornwell's Sharpe novels.  

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