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The first stage of a major project to digitise First World War soldiers’ pension records has gone live ahead of Remembrance Day.
A set of 50,485 records from naval pension ledgers and Merchant Marine cards was published at the start of October as the result of a partnership between Ancestry and the Western Front Association (WFA).
Searchable transcriptions of the records have been added to ancestry.co.uk, while 18,270 digital images of the records are available to subscribers of Ancestry’s military history website fold3.com.
In November 2012, the WFA acquired an archive of approximately 6.5 million First World War pension records index cards and ledgers from the Ministry of Defence, saving them from destruction. In December 2017, it announced that scanning and indexing of the records was underway, following a deal with Ancestry.
David Tattersfield, WFA development trustee, explained to Who Do You Think You Are? Magazine that since the WFA is a small organisation, the partnership with Ancestry is vital for “getting [the records] out into the public domain”.
The records were used by the Government to keep track of pensions paid to soldiers, sailors and airmen who were injured in the First World War, as well as the widows and dependants of men who were killed.
They are one of the largest surviving sets of records of British forces in the First World War, since the majority of the military records were destroyed in an air raid in 1940.
Tattersfield added that the records now provide the best chance for many people to trace their First World War ancestors.
“If he did survive the war and claim a pension, then there should be a record for him,” he said.
Ancestry will upload more records before Remembrance Day on 11 November, and add the complete set by early 2019. WFA is also planning to allow its members to access the records via its website without a subscription to Ancestry or Fold3.
The first tranche of records consists of cards used by the Ministry of Pensions to monitor payments to injured Merchant Navy veterans or the families of the dead. Among those are men killed in the notorious 1915 sinking of the RMS Lusitania, as well as victims of smaller incidents.
The naval ledgers, meanwhile, list married men who served in the Royal Navy and were lost at sea, and whose widows and children were eligible for pensions.
Both sets of records can include the seaman’s name, rank, service number, date of birth, date of death or injury, and the ship that he served on. They are also valuable for tracing the families of deceased seamen, because they list each widow’s name, date of marriage, and the names and dates of birth of any children.
‘Tattersfield said the records provide the best chance for many to trace WW1 ancestors’
The digitised pension records will help family historians research their First World War soldier ancestors