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Digital Subscriptions > Family Tree > Family Tree November 2018 > RESEARCHING YOUR WW1 ANCESTORS HOW TO BEGIN


Soon the WW1 centenary Last Post will sound, 100 years on from the Armistice, 1918. At memorials in town squares and churches all over the world, many of us will say the words ‘we will remember them’. If you would like to find out how to begin tracing your ancestors’ war years, it’s not too late to start. Helen Tovey outlines some ways to track down clues about your family’s experiences


When it comes to the First World War, the scale of any single detail is hard to get your head round, so large are the numbers, so far-reaching were those long years of war. Inevitably it’s not possible to cover everything, however I hope to do two things. Firstly, to give you a flavour of this enormity, to help you understand the backdrop against which your ancestors’ lives would have played out. And secondly, and most importantly, to show you the records artefacts that will help you piece together the story of your serving ancestors’ lives 1914-1918.

In so few generations, tales and events become so easily forgotten – yet with the First World War – a conflict involving and affecting every one of our families in some way or another, it seems so particularly important that in the midst of the wider centenary commemorations we should take that time to research and remember our individual family members too. Let’s make sure that when it comes to Remembrance Sunday this year, that we can say, from the heart, ‘we will remember them’.

Number crunching the British Army

Let’s take a look at an overview. When war broke out in 1914, Britain’s Empire totalled a population of 400 million – and each dominion stepped forward to serve, supplying men, materials and often funds too. This is significant, because not only was this backing vital to the war effort, it does also mean that trying to pin down specific numbers of those who served, died or were wounded in the British Army is tricky. The reason for this is that sometimes the term is used to refer to just those from Britain, and other times to include those from the Dominions and Colonies. However, what can be said is this. About 5 million people from Britain and Ireland served; while India had 1.3 million enlist, Canada 619,636, Australia 416,809, New Zealand 220,099, South Africa 136,070, the West Indies 16,000 and Newfoundland 11,922. Gambians, Southern Rhodesians, Nigerians, Ghanaians, for instance, and many other colonies too, all signed up to serve too, bringing the total of the ‘British Army’ to about 8.5 million strong (estimates do vary!).

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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.