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 Ancestors – A Guide for Family Historians
By Simon Fowler
Pen and Sword Publishing (
ISBN 9781844159482
GBP £12.99


Family history research (termed genealogy) is fast becoming an exceptionally popular hobby and this book targets those researchers. The author is well known for his excellent publications in this field and he is one of the leading experts in (UK) family history research. This title continues in the “Tracing Your xxx Ancestors” series by Pen and Sword Publishing and they are developing a range of superb research guides related to ancestral research (see the other titles reviewed previously).

The book starts with a chapter on the necessary collation of data from which to start any genealogical project. These vital essentials include what to ask living older relatives, collecting family photographs, identifying military uniforms (most families can claim at least some connection to the military), organising oneself for the project and the benefits of “one-name” studies.

After establishing the initial criteria the book then progresses to illustrate how the internet can be used extensively and it comments upon the main subscription based genealogical websites. These websites are essential to researchers as they contain vast amounts of data. Also described are some of the non-subscription sites where one can conduct research for free.

Not surprisingly The National Archives features heavily in the “Archives and Libraries” section. The book also refers to the potential of local libraries and family history sources. The registration certificates commonly used are described in detail and so too are the census returns and wills.

Most families have had at least one member in the military and excellent information is given on how to research the pre-1914 period, First World War and Second World War service personnel. The chapter on “Other Sources” has outstanding notes on Apprenticeships, Merchant Seamen, Police personnel, employees of the Post Office and the Railways, Immigration & Emigration and British India. There are useful comments on the effects of people changing their names, criminals, Poor Law / Charity records and Freemasons.

The ability of Directories, Electoral Registers and Newspapers, and reference books to aid research is extensively discussed. The peculiar effects of Scottish and Irish relations are noted and appropriate guidance is given. The book finalises with a few good appendices on various aspects helping research.

In short, the author has produced a first class volume which is of outstanding benefit to genealogists. It appeals to both those new to the subject and those with experience. It has many vital tips on where to source data and the data that could be available. I have found that this book is exceedingly useful to find those little nuggets of information that bring a project to life and it is a good addition to anyone’s library.

May 2011