Army Records for Family Historians

Simon Fowler and William Spencer (Public Records Office, 1998), 25 cm x 19 cm. 154 pp.

This book is the second in a series of 20 Public Record Office Reader’s guides that were published by the Public Records Office in the late 1990s. Although now somewhat dated, the information contained within this book nevertheless gives a comprehensive guide to the most commonly used Army Record collections available at The National Archives. But it is not just a list of available resources, as the authors are careful to provide the purposes in which particular records were made, their historical context, and to provide case studies of individuals that were serving in periods varying from the 18th to the 20th century.

The first chapter of the book deals with the structure of the army during its four major periods of development, and the second looks at records of the army before 1660. The next two chapters (and the longest) deal with the individuals in the army – the first discusses records relating to commissioned officers, and the second those relating to other ranks. It is within these two chapters that the six case studies of using records in connection to individual subjects appear.

The remaining fourteen chapters of the book are really monographs on a variety of specific areas of army life and records. These chapters include pieces on Royal Artillery, Royal Engineers, Militia and Yeomanry units, courts martial, campaign medals, the Indian Army, ancillary services, POWs, colonial forces and foreign units in the British Army. The book finishes with discussion on the records pertaining to the First and Second World Wars, and other 20th century campaigns. Several useful appendices provide organisational lists and further reading matter.

Written in a very readable and clear style this book provides the family history researcher with a sound basis for exploring and using army records, and is an excellent guide to tracing soldier ancestors from scratch.

Tony Roberts

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