Breamlea, Victoria

Breamlea, Victoria

Sunday, 19 April 2015

How to view your Australian World War 1 ancestor's Service Records

With the ANZAC Centenary rapidly approaching, I thought I would write about how to access your ancestor's war records.

The first thing to know is their full name, place of birth and if possible their Military Number.

Then armed with enough information so you can id him or her out of the thousands, you go to the National Archives of Australia website.:

Find the blue box called 'The Collection'.  You are searching their Collection for War Service Records.  Look in the blue box for the War Service Records hyperlink and click it.  A new page will open.

Now you look for which branch of the services your ancestor was in:

1.  Australian Army
2.  Royal Australian Navy  (or RAN)
3.  Royal Australian Air Force (or RAAF)
4.  Other records such as civilian service etc.

Now we can look at Australian Army Records.
Notice the Army records are broken into various eras, and each era is a hyperlink that leads to a new page.  For our purposes, we will go to the World War 1  records.

The heading says Army - World War 1: 1914 - 18 and gives a list of the areas from which the personnel records come from.  They are called Service Dossiers.

Again you see a blue box and you can choose from two hyperlinked options.  For those who served in the army, click the hyperlink First Australian Imperial Forces personnel dossiers (World War 1 service records).  If your ancestor applied for the army but did not get in, click the hyperlink Applications to enlist in the Australian Imperial Force.

For our purposes, we will go to the first hyperlink. You will be taken to the specific RecordSearch area.  The page had a green bar horizontally across it and it has six paler green tabs just above that:
Basic search, Advanced search, Name Search, Photo Search, Passenger arrivals index and help.

Click on the Name Search tab and it becomes the darker green.

There are now two boxes to fill in. One is the Family name.  Just type in the surname of the person you are looking for. Next box is Category of records.  Use the drop down box which is the little black triangle at the right hand end to select the correct category,  Do not select All records; you are wasting your time and theirs, especially when demand is so high.

For our purposes again, go to Australian Defence Forces personnel records, subheading Army personnel records, subheading World War 1  and click on it. Then click on the Search button beneath it.

A new box will show, this time showing how many results are under that surname for World War 1.  Are you starting to understand why the search is happening this way.  We are literally sifting and sifting down until we get the exact right person out of the tens of thousands probably more of all the records.  Don't complain that it is too hard, it's not, but it takes some time to filter our your ancestor from the thousands.

For example, I searched the name Avery which I think is not such a common name, and still got 87 results for World War 1 alone.

Ok we are really close now.  You have a choice to display all the results if you like, but I don't want to go through all 87 Averys.  You might like to search this way if you don't know the particular name, but I will presume you know your ancestor's name.  So now click the button Refine this search result. 

Another 2 new boxes comes up, Given names and/or Service number.  Type in their given names then click the Search button. For example, I typed in 'Thomas' and got 11 results.  Who knew there were 11 Thomas Averys in World War 1?  If you can give more information, go to the Refine this search result button and give the extra information you have to narrow the results.

If that is as much information as you have, I am afraid you are stuck with looking at the 11 matches, so click the Display button.

Now we have listed the 11 Averys with Thomas somewhere in the record.  It may be their first name, it may be their middle name, it may be their father's name, or the town name they were born in.  This is where your information that you had at the start comes in handy.  You can often tell in the list which is the correct person you are looking for as it displays the Place of Enlistment (POE) their Place of Birth (POB) and Next of Kin (NOK).  It also displays their Military number, This is often enough to make a positive id of your ancestor.

Once you have found your ancestor in the list, notice on the right of their details there is an icon that looks like a sheaf of papers with lines on it.  There should be one icon per person for the entire list under the heading Digitised item. Click on the icon for your ancestor.

You've found it! A whole new page opens up with the scans of the actual pages of your ancestor's war records. It is incredibly exciting to see the handwriting of the person who filled in the document and your ancestors signature attesting to the veracity of it.  There is a physical description of your ancestor too.  In both of my grandfathers' World War 2 records, I even found small photographs for ID purposes.

So now you just browse each page of your ancestor's dossier.  It will show at the top right hand corner how many pages there are in total and which page you are on.  For example Page 1 of 22.  Just click on the green next button to turn the page. You can make the screen bigger by making the page fullscreen and you can use twitter, facebook, google+, pinterest and email to share it with the world.  It is truly amazing and we in Australia are so blessed to have this resource.

Enjoy your discovery but remember, we don't celebrate ANZAC day, we COMMEMORATE it.
Historically yours,
Valerius Copernicus

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