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Digital Subscriptions > Family Tree > Family Tree November 2018 > First World War centenary

First World War centenary

Genealogist Chris Paton reflects on how the First World War centenary has created a wealth of new resources for family historians and opportunities to help commemorate the lives of our WW1 ancestors


The family history legacy

On 4 August 1914 the United Kingdom and the British Empire declared war against Germany and its allies. Described at the time as ‘the war to end all wars’, it became nothing of the sort, instead bequeathing a legacy that affected every man, woman and child, and pre-empting a second global conflict just two decades later.

As the world was torn apart by the carnage, and the physical and mental health of the combatants and the survivors was severely tested, our own society was equally transformed as a consequence – not just with women gaining the vote, for example, but also with the fracture of the United Kingdom through the departure of the Irish Free State, as events were set into motion that started the permanent decline of the wider British Empire. From a family history perspective there is perhaps no greater period in our past to which most people can readily find a connection and a story – not least because for many of us the participants were grandparents and relatives who passed on their own oral history accounts and mementoes.

Shocking in its scale, lethal in its ferocity, and dramatic within every country and ocean in which it raged, the First World War for many genealogists provides an important thematic boundary, separating ‘recent events’ from what many of us might begin to term as ‘history’ itself.


In this regard, the centenary of the First World War was always going to be an event worthy of commemoration, and not just for those within the military world or acting on behalf of the state. The rise of interest in family history over recent years, and the continued expansion of online platforms and resources to help our research efforts, meant that the genealogical world was more than ready for the challenges and the opportunities that the commemorations could provide.

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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.