Military Archive Research
by Dr. Stuart C Blank
Member of the Orders and Medals Research Society (OMRS)
Member of the Royal Air Force Historical Society (RAFHS)
Member of the Naval Historical Collectors and Research Association (NHCRA)
Member of the Nautical Archaeology Society (NAS)
Member of the International Bank Note Society (IBNS)
Member of the International Bond and Share Society (IBSS)





The vast majority of enquiries that I receive concern military genealogy. That is the personnel records for soldiers, sailors, marines and air men. Only documents for those who left the military before about 1920 are publicly available. The Ministry of Defence still holds the service papers for those who served after this date. If you wish to research a serviceman / woman who was in the Forces after 1920 please see Post 1921 Service. If the subject was a serving Officer after this cut off date it is possible to get an outline of his / her service from other sources but it is not possible to get their Service Record unless you are next-of-kin. 

The genealogical research for an individual usually depends upon his (her) rank and the branch of the military in which they served. Records for each branch of the forces are kept together and details for Officers are kept separately to those for non-commissioned officers and other ranks. There are various ways the records are catalogued - sometimes they may be arranged alphabetically by surname for a period or by unit etc.

The usual searches for an individual serving in the British Army are:

i) Attestation and Discharge papers,
ii) Army List for officers,
iii) medal index cards,
iv) medal rolls,
v) war diaries for his / her unit,
vi) pension papers - Royal Hospital at Chelsea,
vii) London Gazette

Searches for Royal Naval and Royal Air Force personnel are similar. However RN / RAF documents include:

i) Service Papers,
ii) ship's logs,
iii) Navy List,
iv) medal rolls,
v) muster and pay rolls,
vi) squadron records,
vii) flying logs,
viii) aircraft accident lists, etc

The amount of information necessary to undertake a search is usually full name, service number and unit - if known. However, it is possible to do research from just a name and approximate dates of service. This process usually yields candidates where it may be impossible to distinguish between individuals who have the same name or initials & surname. Occasionally, I have identified men in the same regiment with the same first, middle and surnames. The only difference was their regimental number and rank!!! Although the probability of soldiers having identical names is slim, it is more frequent to get lots of identical surname & initial combinations.