[Ellie Pilcher | Contributing Writer]
– The action of remembering something.
– The action of remembering the dead.
– A memory or recollection
When thinking of commemorating the First World War with these definitions in mind I feel I am remembering falsely. I am remembering that a War happened, that millions of men died in it but I don’t remember the men or the war, how can I when I wasn’t there. This is a question that is pondered by many in this new century and whilst we wear our poppies with pride and we cry at the heart-wrenching memorials services there is a glass wall between us and the First World War, put there by Time.
Yet there are thousands of open records for us to visit, hundreds of stories to be discovered, photos and videos – not just the ones we see re-used again and again over Remembrance weekend but the ones that surely must litter people’s attics and un-packed moving boxes.
Personally, as a History student, I have had a deep longing to discover about my ancestors, particularly my ancestor’s involvement in the war. How could these men have gone off to War so freely at the beginning and come back so destroyed, or not even come back at all. How did their families cope? Where are they buried? Do people remember them?
It was with these many feelings that I opened up a barrel of worms in my family by discovering everything I could about my Great-Grandparents – the majority of students will find that this is the generation of which their families fought.
Discovering your history
I’ve had 10 relatives, on both sides of the family, fight in the war – 3 of whom were killed in Action – one just a few days before the War ended, another after only 21 days of fighting.
I had a relative in a POW camp, another who was caught with Opium whilst on duty, a man who was in the army for 7 days before being removed due to his dentures being ill-fitted. A relative who received the ‘White Feather’ of cowardice, another who refused to wear a poppy of remembrance and another who died before meeting his new-born son.
There are silly stories, and heartbreaking stories, photos and letters home and it was pleasure to learn about them, to mourn them and to visit them.
Personally, finding my relatives who fought in the war has been one of my greatest achievements thus far and it is an achievement I think many would benefit from.
If you are interested in discovering more about your relatives there are many easy ways to find out about them – yes some involve paying a bit of money but never extortionate and you get what you pay for in spades – and there are ways around spending money, particularly if other family members, distant or close, have already done some research into the family tree.
Before you begin on your road to discovering you will need some information to help you along the way:
Your Grandparents and/or you Great Grandparents:
– Year of Birth
– Place of birth
To find someone who fought in World War One they must have been born in the period before 1899 to have been eligible (or able to lie about their age) the easiest records to use to gain perspective on your ancestors beginning is the 1911 census which can be accessed in any of these websites:
– Lives of the First World War (Imperial War Museum)
Personally I recommend the former, although I recommend looking at ‘Live of the First World War’ which has a list of every soldier who ever fought and is waiting for others to fill in the details.
As morbid as it sounds, if you know of a relative who was killed during the First World War you are more likely to find more information about them, than those who survived as the Graves commission spent most of the war mapping and keeping information on all soldiers who died, whereas the records for most of the survivors were destroyed during the Blitz of the Second World War.
The best records to use:
– 1911 Census – the clearest census will give you information on family members, any children, marriage, where born, occupation, any illnesses and where they live 3 years before the war.
– War Record – many of these were burnt in the Blitz in World War Two but some remain.
– War Medal Records – all of these are available – they contain vital military information such as rank, service number, regiment etc.
– War Pension Records – Will give you detailed information spanning medical history to physical appearance but again rare due to the Blitz.
– Silver War Badge Records – if a relative was injured or invalided out of the war this record will hold their name, rank, service number and cause of injuries.
– Birth/Marriage/Death records – all readily available but very basic with usually name, year of birth/marriage/death and place of etc.
– A town/cities memorial Roll of honour – most Towns & cities in Britain had a memorial placed in their area after the First World War and many of them had a Roll of Honour, a list of all those who are commemorated, with details of their lives in that area. Always a good place to search for a little more personal information.
I hope many of you find this interesting and feel able to research your family, you never know where it will lead you – you may discover family secrets, letters, heart-breaking/warming stories it may even take you to Belgium, France of Turkey to visit graves you never knew existed, or to experiences such as writing articles, studying family history or just thinking of them.
Most of all it should leave you with pride and understanding for all those that bravely fought in the First World War.