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)




Review of
Tracing Your Secret Service Ancestors
By Phil Tomaselli
Pen and Sword ( )
ISBN 9781844159871
RRP GBP £12.99


This is another excellent addition to Pen and Sword’s “Tracing Your Ancestors” series. The quality of the author’s work is exceptional and this highly informative volume will help both the experienced military historian as well as the “fresh” genealogist.

Many people have ancestors who were involved in espionage at home or abroad. This is especially true for the Second World War as the secret services were quite large during that conflict. During the two World Wars there were numerous secret agencies such as MI5, Secret Intelligence Service (MI6), Naval and Military Intelligence, MI9, Special Operations Executive and the now famous Government Code and Cypher School (Bletchley Park).

The history of the secret services really starts in the Victorian era and since then these agencies have developed. The book starts with an overview on how and where to start research into these ancestors. These include personnel records from all three of the armed services and useful notes on the National Archives and the Freedom of Information Act.

Then the early days of “modern day” espionage are recounted. They start with Victorian era organisations and those used in the Boer War (c. 1900). Although it is sometimes overlooked, the Police’s Special Branch is often a customer of intelligence data and it has close ties with the Secret Services both in the last and current centuries. Similarly the Indian service also had its own intelligence staff in the Indian Political Intelligence bureaux.

The real “meat” of this book concerns secret services in the First World War, the inter-war period and the Second World War. MI5 is given a detailed treatment in the WW1 section but the review of SIS (MI6) for this era is more limited. There is a section on WW1 service records and another interesting portion on WW1 naval and military intelligence.

Then the book proceeds to the inter-war period for both MI5 and SIS. Finally the services in World War 2 are given highly detailed treatment. Naturally MI5 & SIS are considered but also the Home Guard Auxiliary Units, naval and air intelligence formations, Inter-Services Liaison Department (ISLD), MI9 and the British Army Aid Group are assessed. No treatment of secret services in World War 2 can be complete without mentioning the Special Operations Executive and the Government Code and Cypher School (at Bletchley Park). It then concludes with a number of highly useful appendices.

Given the book’s objective – to produce a guide to researching secret service ancestors – it exceeds this requirement and it is full of highly useful information. It covers the myriad of intelligence services and it is of immense value to researchers. One cannot praise the author’s work sufficiently and if you are researching such ancestors then this is the book to have.

November 2013