Guide to Military Research
Through my contact pages, I receive several requests from individuals to assist in researching an ancestor or relative who served in the British Army or The British Indian Army.
- How much information do you have to start with?
- Is it sufficient to begin reasonable research?
- What do you want to find out and why?
- How much time and money do you have available?
- Do not assume – if you don’t know, say so;
- Do not assume a fact is correct as stated, check and check again;
- If you find contradictory statements, explain that openly;
- Check the provenance of websites;
- Compare different sources – Check & Confirm;
- Corroboration strengthens evidence;
- Use primary sources were possible;
- With secondary sources – view the Bibliography;
- Handwritten documents may be difficult to read;
- You will not find everything you want to;
- Some conflicts will not be resolved (at least with reasonable effort).
- What are you going to do with your finished product?
- If you intend to publish, who is your intended market?
- Who else may be interested?
- Remember what you find interesting others may not;
- It is great fun;
- It can be frustrating, time consuming and expensive if you let it;
- Often one thing leads to another and the need to find out more;
- However, it can be very rewarding;
- You will learn more and be better informed;
- Understanding our history is important to who we are today.
Where to Begin?
Before You Begin – do you have?
Date of Birth;
Royal Navy/Army and Royal Air Force – Ship, Regiment/Corps, Squadron;
Where and when did he or she serve – any family anecdotes, letters, etc?
The more information you have, the better your chances of success.
Helpful tips …
Consider the names
Take account of different spellings of names, and use of shortened names, alternative forenames, nicknames or aliases. Likewise, the person may not have given their correct date of birth, or it may have been recorded inaccurately.
What do you wish to find out and why?
If you are researching an individual person, what was the extent of their influence and responsibility? The wider this is, the wider your research should be to understand fully their life in their context. What parameters do you have in terms of time and money?
Decide on the context you wish to learn about.
For example, my great-uncle died at Gallipoli in 1915 with the Herefordshire Regiment, but why was he serving with the Herefordshire Regiment, what was it like to be a private in this regiment, where did they serve, when did he enlist and when did they move overseas, why did the regiment go to Gallipoli and what was the context of that campaign, how did he die?
What would people have known at the time?
We now have the benefit of history, but at the time, what would an individual known and how would they have interpreted it? You can consider the level of your research by using:
Political Strategic – War Cabinet & Parliament;
Military Strategic – Chiefs of Staff, Senior Commanders;
Operational – Corps/Divisions/Brigades;
Tactical – Battalion/Company/Platoon
Remember Kipling’s 5 W – H: Who, What, Where, When, Why and How?