England Military Records
England Military Records
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.
History and Background
England has been regularly involved in military action. Examples of these are:
1455–1485: 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.
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
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
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 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.
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.
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.
Records at the Family History Library
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 Family History Library Catalog under:
- MILITARY RECORDS - CIVIL REGISTRATION
Library records are listed in the Place Search of the Family History Library Catalog under ENGLAND and the following subject headings:
- MILITARY RECORDS
- MILITARY HISTORY
- MILITARY RECORDS - ARMY
- MILITARY RECORDS - NAVY
Military histories or regimental histories are listed in the Place Search of the Family History Library Catalog under:
- ENGLAND - MILITARY HISTORY
Branches of Service
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
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.
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.
(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.
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.)
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.