My recent trip to the National Archives at Kew, London, England, proved to be an interesting learning experience in using military muster books and pay lists to track an individual over a period of time. This information allowed me to track his movements in order to establish a location for his marriage and the subsequent births of his children.
The General Muster Books and Pay List records (reference series WO 12) begin in 1732 and end in 1878. They cover guards, infantry, cavalry, and household troops. According to the National Archives, the records also include special groups, such as colonial troops, various foreign legions, special regiments, and other depots.
The records show an individual’s enlistment dates, his movements, and discharge dates. Additionally, if the information you seek is after 1868, there is a “Roll of the Married Establishment” that lists husbands and wives.
Recording all this information must have been a daunting task, as the books are very large and heavy. There are 13,307 volumes of these records located at the National Archives. To view them, you have to use the special document room. Because photocopying these very large volumes would be extremely difficult, you can use a camera (without flash). In the records, the areas listed under “First Muster,” “Second Muster,” etc., are the physical locations of the individuals listed. This information aids researchers in following the physical movements of their ancestors.
If you are unable to visit the National Archives, they provide a document service that allows you to order copies for £0.40 per page. These records can provide enough information to locate your ancestral family, the place they were married, and the birth place of any children. It’s worth looking into if you know your ancestor was part of a regiment during this time period.
For more information, see the National Archives web page on the WO 12 series.
Also, see the British Military Records: Muster Rolls article in the FamilySearch Research Wiki.