Over a quarter of a million army pension records have now been made available online at www.findmypast.co.uk
For soldiers that served in the British army before WW1, by far the best way to find any information on service and personal details is via the chelsea pensioner discharge papers. (National Archives WO97). This series holds over 900,000 records of soldiers that were eventually discharged to an army pension during the years 1760-1913.
Working with The National Archives, www.findmypast.co.uk have a plan to digitise the complete series, as well as another 500,000 militia records. The first phase has now been completed and 270,334 records from 1883-1900 are now online and ready for viewing (for a small charge – of course!).
So, what can a researcher find out about the old pensioners from these files? Well, usually these files are 4-6 pages long, although some are longer and take the form of the man’s attestation (joining up) form, which was filled out when he joined the colours. Information on here would include date and place of birth, full name, civillian trade, a physical description including any distinguishing marks. There would then be a statement of service form which gives details of campaigns served in, details of any promotions, good conduct pay, wounds and any campaign and gallantry medal entitlement. The is sometimes extra information such as next of kin, details of marriage and children.
Soldiers were eligable for an army pension after 12 years of service, or earlier if they were wounded. However soldiers who died in action or whilst on service,a nd those who were discharged early did not recieve a pension, as a result they will not have a pension file. For those soldiers it is very difficult to get information. One way would be to check WO120 – The regimental registers which can give brief details of the soldiers.
One thing to bear in mind is that the dates that are referenced relate to the date the soldier was discharged. So the range that has been digitised will cover soldiers that were discharged between 1883 and 1900.
The rest of the files are being digitised and are planned to be released as follows:
- 1901-1913: By May 2010
- 1873-1882: By June 2010
- 1855-1872: By July 2010
- 1760-1854: By April 2011
These files are very popular at the National Archives, where they can only be viewed as original documents, so it is nice to see that they are being digitised. It is a shame however that the public are being forced to subscribe to another web based geneology site. The WW1 soldiers records are with ancestry.co.uk and these are with findmypast.co.uk. Finding out about your ancestors is not a cheap past-time!