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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 an­ces­, while 18,270 dig­i­tal images of the records are avail­able to sub­scribers of An­ces­try’s mil­i­tary his­tory web­site

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

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