Searching for Militia Records

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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Fantastic Society of Genealogist Course!

Society of GenealogistsI’ve been to London this weekend and, on Saturday, I attended a great course at the Society of Genealogists on My Ancestor Came From Devon given by the society’s Genealogist Else Churchill.

Over the afternoon we were introduced to what we would be able to find in the library at the SoG in Charterhouse Buildings and where to look on the internet for Devon sources.

The talk encompassed sources for beginners to beyond and if you can’t make it down to Devon itself and find getting to London easier, then what is available at the SoG really is a good alternative for anyone who, like me, have Devonian ancestors.

I shall be returning to this lecture in a future post, but today I’d just like to mention some of the resources that were highlighted by Else Churchill.

The Society of Genealogists has registers for about 10,000 parishes. It houses published indexes and finding aids including the Devon FHS publications and also has many transcripts and indexes in microfilm and CDs.  There are various trade directories spanning from 1783 to the 1930s in the library and poll books particularly from Exeter and Plymouth.

Many of us subscribe to one or other of the subscription sites, but very few of us can afford to belong to more than one or two. Well that is where a visit to the SoG  can be useful as they have free access to a number of the pay per view websites so allowing us to do searches on the sites that we don’t subscribe to ourselves. This is an important resource for the family historian, as often the way the database has been transcribed can have a bearing on what you are able to find on one over another. So if you have hit a brick wall and can’t find a forbear on one site then it is worth looking on another. Also one may be stronger for the counties that you are interested in. Findmypast turns out to be particularly good for Devon.

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