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Digital Subscriptions > Family Tree > Family Tree April 2018 > Researching a WW1 prisoner of war

Researching a WW1 prisoner of war

Using treasures from the family archive alongside some wonderful digitised records, genealogist Judith Russell was able to trace her husband’s WW1 ancestor who was a prisoner of war, and lived to tell the tale. Here she reveals her secret research weapons, which you could use to trace your PoW heroes too
Before capture: Ned Russell (circled) with the rest of his unit, the Signallers, from the King’s Royal Rifle Corps, and the dreaded telegram informing Nellie that her new husband was missing


Many family historians can find little trace of family servicemen and women in official records from the Great War, due to the loss of around 60 per cent of UK WW1 service records in WW2 bombing. The search is even trickier if an ancestor survived, since, sadly, casualties generated more comprehensive records. Additionally, fewer records exist for ‘other ranks’ – privates and non-commissioned officers – than for officers. One potential source that may yield information is your extended family’s private collections. Add some less common service-related records, and you may pick up the trail.

On active service

In spring 1918, Nellie Russell received a Government telegram, informing her that her husband Ned was missing in action. Having had only a few weeks of married life before her husband joined TRACING A GREAT WAR POW up, she feared she would never see him again. Fortunately for her descendants, including my husband, she did. Ned had in fact been wounded and captured. Ned Russell joined the King’s Royal Rifie Corps in November 1915, shortly after he and Nellie married. One of the few surviving official documents, his medal card, shows his enlistment date, before conscription began in January 1916. Ned’s two medals are still in the family’s possession – the Victory

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What is it that you're yearning to discover about your family history? Just thinking of starting to do your family tree? We can help (see our beginner tips this issue). Looking to stretch your learning? Check out our Academy pages to get practical experience to improve your research knowledge and skills. Or just want a spot of ancestor-hunting inspiration and a great read (our reader stories are cracking!)? You've come to the right place. These are just a few of the genealogy gems to be found within the pages of Family Tree - enjoy!