Ancestry online: finding ancestors who were involved in WWI

Our Reference Librarian, Owen Grey, writes:

Have you ever looked into how your family was involved in the Great War?

They may not have mentioned it to you, perhaps because it is too upsetting: the horror of the conflict is felt to this day with soldiers and artillery still being found, recently with tragic consequences; they feel you would not be interested (perhaps you never asked them); and in these more peaceful days they may not be proud that they were a member of the army. Whatever the reason,  it would be a fascinating and worthwhile project to find out more about the people involved, and perhaps who even gave their lives, during WWI – especially as we reach the 100th anniversary of its beginning.

Indeed, I myself found out from a comment from a relative that my Great Grandfather gave his life in 1917, and used Ancestry Online, and the Commonwealth War Graves Commission website, to find out more .

Ancestry, our online database of thousands of family history records, does not just provide birth and death details, it can also help us to find more information about our ancestors- or even find ancestors we never knew we had! Once we know a few simple details, we can then find their war records using AncestryAncestry doesn’t only have UK records, it also contains:

  • records from the US, the Commonwealth, France, Germany and other European countries who were also involved in the conflict.
  • Service records
  • Medals
  • War graves
  • Rolls of honour – those who died in the war
Ancestry online
Ancestry online

You can search specifically in a particular military record, in military records in general or perhaps just in amongst Ancestry’s vast number of records.

Once you have found items of interest you could perhaps ask family members more about what they know, and continue your detective work into your family history. Try looking in newspapers (using the Times Digital Archive) from WWI to see what was happening when your family members were involved in conflict. Your search could even uncover a grave or memorial. 

Drop into Kensington Central Reference Library to find out more about Ancestry and our other online databases. A member of our team will be happy to help you use them!

Angels at Olympia – our trip to Who do you think you are?- Live

Dave Walker, our Local Studies Librarian, writes:

The Who do you think you are live show at Olympia is a  big three day event in the world of genealogical and historical research for both the amateur and professional researchers and the information providers and for the first time staff and volunteers from all three Archives / Local Studies departments attended (Westminster, Hammersmith & Fulham and Kensington).

Exhibition Hall, Kensington Olympia
Exhibition Hall, Kensington Olympia

As you can see the historic exhibition hall at Olympia was heaving with enthusiasts. It has to be admitted that we weren’t actually in the centre of the action. Our stall is almost invisible under the balcony in the distance of this picture. But close up you can see we got plenty of attention.

Our stand
Our stand

This is the stall on Saturday where Alex from Westminster Archives, who also works at Hammersmith and Fulham Archives, is visible, along with two of H&F’s volunteers. Here they are again:

Alex and volunteers
Alex and volunteers

Eagle-eyed readers will note that the organisers have spelt Westminster incorrectly on the banner.

Other staff who spent time on the stall were myself, Tim Reid (K&C) Kim Smith (Westminster but soon to work at K&C as well), Maggie Tyler (volunteer at K&C), Alison Kenney and Adrian Autton (both from Westminster). Standing around all day is tiring work, but the stall got more than 300 visitors each day so my sore feet were worth it.

I did get the chance to wander around with a camera on Saturday.

Find my Past
Find my Past

That’s the Find my Past stand featuring a refugee from the Napoleonic wars, Myko Clelland.

Find my Past
Find my Past

And one of his colleagues in Regency dress. Or possibly a time traveller.

Below, the British Library Newspaper archive:

British Library  stall
British Library stall

Upstairs on the balcony there were a number of military related stands such as this one:

Military history
Military history

And what’s this?

Distant angels
Distant angels

Promoting the Spirit of Remembrance stand a pair of genuine, if slightly surreal, battlefield angels.

Angels
Angels

Clare and Maria, who kindly let me take a picture of them. Their costumes are based on images from actual propaganda posters of WW1.

I think the event could have been enhanced with a lot more historical costumes. Maybe we should try it next year. An 18th century man gentleman? A Victorian undertaker? A WW2 fighter pilot? And that’s just me.

Of course my favourite stand was this one:

Sausages
Sausages!

They serve a fine venison sausage with mustard that cleared my sinuses.

We spoke to hundreds of people and encouraged them to visit the three Local Studies/Archives departments, we sold a lot of publications and I successfully answered an enquiry about Westminster, which was a first for me. Thanks to Adrian Autton of Westminster for organising the stand and all the staff and volunteers who attended.