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Searching for Militia Records

by Nick Thorne, The Nosey Genealogist on November 25th, 2011
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Some of our ancestors may not have been in the regular military but nonetheless served their country as members of the militia, yeomanry, fencibles or volunteer regiments. These local part-timers should leave behind them records that we as family historians can still research.

Normally there would have been at least one regiment in each county made up of a mixture of conscripts and volunteers. The practice of establishing these local forces having come into being from 1757 onwards with the aim of replacing the regular Army in the British Isles as the latter deployed abroad to fight the country’s wars.

The National Archives at Kew

The National Archives at Kew

Family historians can find the surviving attestation papers in class WO96 in The National Archives in Kew where you can also locate musters and pay lists for these men. Note the word “surviving” as regretfully not all have managed to make it through the ravages of time.

Another place to do research within is the county record office for the area where the militia unit would have been based. If you are lucky these records may be fully indexed in some online catalogues. There is also the Militia attestations database to search on British Origins (www.britishorigins.com) that rely on TNA’s class WO96 and can be searched by name. We are told that eventually the images will become available on TNA’s Documents Online at www.nationalarchives.gov.uk but not at present.

Also ancestors, that were in the various militias, should appear in muster lists. These also are in WO96 where they survive.

One tip that I learnt, some time back, is that if you have found an ancestor in a battalion and its number is the 3rd or some other subsequent number, then this is an indication that it is a militia or similar battalion; with the 1st and 2nd being made up of the regulars.


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