England Military Records

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Military records are potentially of great genealogical value and may provide information not found in any other source. These records identify individuals who served or were eligible to serve in the military. Military service (other than the militia) was usually a lifetime career. Officers came from the upper classes; soldiers usually came from the poor. On occasion, compulsory conscription was enforced and even "press-gangs" were used.

You may find evidence that an ancestor served in the military from family records, biographies, census, probates, civil registration, or church records.

Britain's armed forces comprise, in order of seniority, the Royal Navy (including the Royal Marines), Army and Royal Air Force. Other units can include local militia, fencibles, yeomanry and territorial units of the army. These are briefly discussed at the end of this section.

See also British Military Records Online.

History and Background[edit | edit source]

Wikipedia has more about this subject: Military history of England

England has been regularly involved in military action. Examples of these are:

1284: The Norman invasion of Wales from 1067–1283 (formalized with the Statute of Rhuddlan in 1284) put Wales under England's control. Wales came under English law with the Laws in Wales Acts 1535–1542.

1455-1481: Wars of the Roses. These ongoing wars involved mostly knights pledged to lords or vassals. Few commoners were involved, and few records were kept.

1642–1651: Civil War and Cromwellian period. Disputes over the form of government and religion led to civil war. Only very brief military records of officers still exist.

Wikipedia has more about this subject: Military history of the United Kingdom

1707: The unification of the Kingdom of England and the Kingdom of Scotland into the Kingdom of Great Britain bring about the new British Army incorporating Regiments that had already existed in England and Scotland

Further information: British Military Records

Records[edit | edit source]

The National Archives (TNA), located at Kew, West London, houses information on military personnel, much of it now available to download.

Militia Lists and Musters[edit | edit source]

Militia lists (beginning as early as 1297) contain the names of men eligible for military service. Militia musters are lists of men in the militia. Early militia lists and most militia musters contain only the men’s names. A brief explanation of musters and the location of available pre-1707 lists are given in:

  • Gibson, Jeremy, and Alan Dell. Tudor and Stuart Muster Rolls. Solihull, England: Federation of Family History Societies Publications, Ltd., 1989. (Family History Library book 942 M2gj)

Ship Logs[edit | edit source]

Ship logs exist from 1673. While they usually give information only on position, weather, and sightings of other ships, records of shipboard events may include names of individual seamen.

British Military3

Other Records[edit | edit source]

Many other records are available, such as records on medals, casualties, promotions, desertion, and court martials. The following military branches have separate records:

  • Fencibles were army units raised for home service only. Fencibles were usually classed with the militia, and records are kept with militia records.
  • Yeomanry were volunteer regiments, records of which often do not survive or are less complete than other military records.
  • Colonial armies were forces raised in other countries. Records of these forces are usually in the country where the forces were raised. A notable exception is the Indian Army, for which many records are held at the British Library Oriental and India Office Collections, 96 Euston Road, London NW1 2DB England. Another source of British_colonial_army_officerscan be useful.

These records are at The National archives. For further information on military records for branches of the service other than navy or regular army, see the military record handbooks at the end of this section.

  • Boer War has information on the ships used by each regiment. It names the regiments, dates of sailing, dates of arrival and ports of departure and arrival in some cases.

Records at the Family History Library[edit | edit source]

The Family History Library’s collection of army records includes:

  • Army soldiers’ documents
  • Description books
  • Officers’ records of service
  • Indexes to the Regimental Registers and the Chaplains’ Returns
  • Regimental histories
  • Other miscellaneous army records

For the navy, the library has:

  • Continuous service engagement books
  • Indexes to commission and warrant books
  • Bounty papers
  • Various published sources

Some Royal Marine attestation (enlistment) records are also available at the library.

A number of name indexes to some military records containing birth, marriages, or deaths are in the Family History Library. These indexes can be found in the Place search of the FamilySearch Catalog under:


The library staff has compiled a typescript listing of army records in its collection (Family History Library book 942 M2; film 990313 item 5).

Library records are listed in the Place Search of the FamilySearch Catalog under ENGLAND and the following subject headings:


Military histories or regimental histories are listed in the Place Search of the FamilySearch Catalog under:


Branches of Service[edit | edit source]

Royal Navy[edit | edit source]

The first permanent naval fleet was formed during the reign of King Henry VIII (1509–1547). For many years Britain had the strongest navy in the world. The earliest surviving navy records are from 1617, but the majority of the extensive collection date from the mid-1600s. Many records are available only at The National Archives.

Several sources list navy ships with descriptions and the dates on which they were placed in service. One such work is:
Colledge, James J. Ships of the Royal Navy. Annapolis, Maryland: Naval Institute Press, 1987. (FHL 400175 Family History Library book 942 M3c.)

The Navy Official List books, available from 1673, give ports of call for ships during each year. Some of these lists are available in the Family History Library.

Seamen often moved between the navy and the merchant marines. Until 1853 enlistment was informal and lasted for the ship’s commission, usually three years. Individual "ratings" (seamen) were not mentioned in navy records other than musters or pay lists unless they deserted, misbehaved, or earned a medal. After 1853 seamen often made the navy their career. They were assigned continuous service numbers and records were maintained for the duration of their careers.

Navy Officers.

You can usually find navy officers in the Navy Lists (1782 to the present) or in the Index to Commission and Warrant Books (1695 to 1742). See the sub-heading of "Lists of Officers" in this section for details.

Royal Marines[edit | edit source]

(Corps of Her Majesty's Royal Marines)

The Royal marines originally maintained military discipline on navy vessels. It has been a separate corps of the military since 1755, although under the control of the Admiralty and forming part of the Naval Service. Alphabetically arranged records of marines exist from 1790, some by enlistment date and others by discharge date. Service records up to 1926 can be accessed online via TNA.

Army[edit | edit source]

The army began as a permanent organization in 1660. Earlier armies were raised as needed, usually as county militia units. The oldest regiment is the Honourable Artillery Company, formed in 1537. For information on pre-1660 military records, see the handbooks listed at the end of this section. The Soldier in Later Medieval England database has names of about 250,000 soldiers.

The basic unit of the Army is the regiment under a colonel or lieutenant colonel. Regiments are usually divided into two or more Battalions. The main types of regiments which should be searched are:

Corps (e,g, Army Service Corps; Royal Signals; Royal Engineers etc.)

The army began as a permanent organization in 1660. Earlier armies were raised as needed, usually as county militia units. For information on pre-1660 military records, see the handbooks listed at the end of this section.
Pre-1847 - English army service was usually for life. Some soldiers were discharged early for disability, which was liberally defined. A soldier was often discharged by the age of forty.
Pre-1872 - Army records are organized by regiment. Most regiments have published histories that tell the places where they served and the battles they fought. For a bibliography of these histories, see:
White, Arthur S., comp.A Bibliography of Regimental Histories of the British Army. Dallington, East Sussex, England: Naval and Military Press Ltd., 1992. (FHL 561266 Family History Library book 942 M23was.)
Military histories or regimental histories are listed in the Place Search of the FamilySearch Catalog under:

Search Strategies[edit | edit source]

It is difficult to locate an individual’s record without knowing his ship or regiment. If you do not know this, you may find it in other types of records. Once you know the regiment or ship, consult the muster rolls, records of service, or other records available for that ship or regiment. Strategies for finding the ship or regiment follow.