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Finding British

Infantry Regalia 1811 Army Ancestors



Which Regiment?

Soldiers Records



One of the most often asked questions that often arrives in my e-mail "In Tray" can be summed up by "How can I find my ancestor who was in the British army?", and within this can be included Irish soldiers up to 1922.

The British Army were involved in numerous campaigns on a "Global Scale" (as we say today), and many of the troops elected to settle in the areas that their Regiment happened to be serving in when their time of service expired. Now whether you appreciate the British Army or not, the one thing that they were quite good at was maintaining records of one type or another, and the closer you get to the 20th century, the better the records get.

The problem is that the first challenge is trying to find out just where those records are kept, and this is not without its challenges!

Some authors have written books on how to tackle this detective work, and the serious researcher cannot do better than to read some of these. However the purpose of this part of the domain is to help get you started in the right direction with a few "easy-peasy steps". I have researched my own family tree using British Army Records, and found it relatively simple once I managed to "get going".

The major points to take on board are that individual's records are kept at the Public Record Office in Kew, London, England whilst records that deal with the Regiments may be located in either the aforementioned PRO, the National Army Museum in Chelsea, or the individual  museums of Regiments where they exist.

You will have realised by now that all these things have one thing in common, they are in the British Isles, so to actually get your hands on the records you need to visit one of these places, or get someone to visit for you! Even if you are one of those who needs to get someone else to make the trip, understanding some basic information will still be beneficial ... so read on!


British army regiments can be known by their name, the number of the regiment or both, an example would be The Loyal Regiment (North Lancashire) the 47th/81st  and both the names and the numbers of many regiments have been subject to many changes over the centuries.

There are a number of distinct periods in the history of the British army that may impact your research. These are:

bulletEarly Establishments including the English Civil War and creation of the New Model Army in 1645 that led to the emergence of Regiments in 1661.
bulletThe Unification of Great Britain in 1707 when with the Act of Union the Regiments of Scotland, England and Wales formed one single Army Establishment.
bulletThe creation of the United Kingdom of Great Britain & Ireland with the 1800 Act of Union that provided a 122 year period of Irish association with the British Army..
bulletThe Dis-unification in 1920 (December 23) when Ireland divided into North & South. The six counties of Northern Ireland remained with the UK which was then renamed the United Kingdom of Great Britain & Northern Ireland. The counties of Southern Ireland became The Irish Free State on December 6th 1921, however those Regiments of the Southern Counties that had been part of the British Army four were disbanded on July 31st 1922, and one on the 31st December 1922. Regiments associated with Northern Ireland remained in the British Army.
bulletRegiments disbanded 31 July 1922
bulletThe Connaught Rangers, the 88th/94th
bulletThe Prince of Wales's Leinster Regiment (Royal Canadians), the 100th/109th
bulletThe Royal Munster Fusiliers, the 101st/104th
bulletThe Royal Dublin Fusiliers, the 102nd/103rd
bulletRegiment disbanded 31 December 1922
bulletThe Royal Irish Regiment, the 18th.

Which Regiment was your ancestor in?

Initially most researchers looking for ancestors will be faced with the question of the part of the British Army that the ancestor served in, and period in history (because of later regimental amalgamations) can impact the speed at which records can be found.

Major classifications for the British Army are as follows;

bullet1660-1750 Regiments are known by the names of their Colonels or official titles.
bullet1751-1781 Regiments are known by their Precedence Number or official title.
bullet1782-1881 Regiments are known by Territorial or official title & precedence number.
bullet1881-1946 Regiments are known by new Cardwell Titles and precedence number.
bullet1946-1990 Regiments are known by title, precedence number, training brigade, Divisions or new names created from amalgamations of the older regiments.

To facilitate your research, you can search a list of Regimental names according to these periods, for instance if your ancestor joined the Cambridgeshire Regiment in 1865 and left in 1883 would you have known to search for him in the West Lancashire Regiment?  Note WIP = not done yet

Putting together the list of Regiments takes some time, so as most folks may be more interested in the period after 1881 I have completed that list first. As the other lists are placed on the site the text will have a hyperlink completed.

1660-1750 WIP 1751-1781 WIP 1782-1880 WIP 1881-1946

Having confirmed which Regiment your ancestor served in, you are ready to move on, but if you do not know what Regiment your ancestor served in what is the next step?

Also if you would like to do some background reading here are some useful books.

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Created by Don Dickson The-Dicksons 2000

Last edited 19 March 2000