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Digital Subscriptions > Family Tree > Family Tree November 2018 > No grave but the sea

No grave but the sea

Could a death at sea solve your World War I brickwall? Find out with maritime genealogy expert Simon Wills
Patriotic wartime postcards like the one pictured top left are common;
many sailors and their loved ones worried they would not come back home


Sometimes finding the death of an ancestor in the Great War era is not straightforward, even though it is comparatively recent history. Traditionally, a death in the armed services would be recorded in military service records, and that of a civilian with a conventional death certificate. However, it’s not always that simple and a record of death may initially elude you.

The UK is a series of islands so movement of people during wartime often depended on transport by sea. Troopships took men to the continent, hospital ships nursed the wounded, and merchant ships such as liners, cargo ships and ferries carried supplies, armaments, raw materials and personnel. The British Empire lost over 3,300 merchant ships to enemy action during the Great War at a cost of around 17,000 crewmen’s lives. In addition to all these vessels, there were also Royal Navy warships of course.

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About Family Tree

Soon the Last Post will sound as we commemorate the Armistice of 1918, a century ago. If you'd like to find out, or discover more, about your ancestor's time during the First World War - look no further. Our November issue is a First World War centenary commemorative issue, packed with information and advice about the records and the medals of First World War people. Have a read, do some research, and then, this year on Remembrance Sunday you'll be able to say that you truly have remembered them.