Understanding Your ...

Ancestors in the Records:
Other Western European Records: Military Records

Military records, which come in numerous types, vary in their value to genealogy researchers and in how difficult they are to use. Some of the records potentially provide important genealogically information not available anywhere else. The list of kinds of military records is long but includes muster rolls, pension records, pay records, discharge records, conscription records, service records or personnel files, military church records, and regimental histories. You can usually find more detailed information on officers than on common soldiers.

Many of our male European ancestors are found in some sort of military record. Western European countries in the 1800s and before maintained relatively large militaries. Even ancestors who didn’t actually fight in conflicts as soldiers might be included in the records for other reasons. In several countries, most young men were required to register for military service. Also, our male ancestors may have had to show they fulfilled their military requirement before they could emigrate.

One basic problem in using military records can be gaining access to them, as some are only available in archives in their countries of origin. Another issue that can serve as a roadblock is that often you need to already know quite a bit of information about your ancestor in order to find him in the records. Usually you need to know your ancestors’ regiment or ship. In some countries, other sources are available that can give you this information.