Finding Your Roots: Searching for Sons and Daughters of Our Military Ancestors

Isabelle MacLean Drown
By Isabelle MacLean Drown March 15, 2013 12:00

Isabelle-Drown2We have many records available in the search for our military ancestors, but what of their sons and daughters?  What of the children who were born and died while their families accompanied their British-soldier fathers to battle?   Although this isn’t done today, it did happen in past centuries, and that is where we must search for records.

Recently I came across a document noting that a 5-year-old was enlisted into a regiment and made a drummer boy in the course of a British Army retreat during the Napoleonic Wars of the early 19th Century. The boy’s parents had been killed, and rather than leave the child to be hurt or killed by the enemy, the Army made him a drummer boy. Can you imagine the head-scratching that went on when a descendant of this boy found that he was discharged at age 26 after serving 21 years?

History reports that women would pick up their children and follow their husbands to far-off places like India or Jamaica. Fortunately for genealogists, a former army child has made a study of the practice. At the Army Children Archive website,, you will find stories of such children taken from diaries of ancestors or from contributors’ own personal stories. If you were an Army child or a “child of the regiment” and want to contribute to the archive, you are invited to do so.

In researching army children, we can go to sites such as or (which is free) for birth, marriage and death records.  If your ancestor was born in Britain, you can use the various censuses available at Choose United Kingdom under Collections, then choose the census you wish to view.

But what about those hard-to-find records of families that went abroad?  A good starting place is with the General Register Office in England. The GRO Army Birth Indexes (1881-1985), the GRO Army Chaplains’ Birth Indexes (1796-1880), and the GRO Regimental Birth Indexes (1761-1924) can be viewed free at

The Army Children’s Graves website,, cites children’s causes of death and why their graves may be found “a long way from home.” The Army Children Graves Register,, is an alphabetical list of surnames of the children and where they are buried.  As I scrolled through the index, it seemed that most of the graves were in either Malta or Ireland.

An excellent site for searching in Malta is And its records, from 1801 to 1940, are indexed, which delights researchers.

Millions of British military men were stationed in India from about 1600 to 1949, and two websites are very valuable in researching them:  The India Office Family History Search,, offers 300,000 vital records. Families in British India Society,, is free and offers more than a million names. Even if you don’t know for sure that your ancestor was in the military, give this site a look because you just never know where that record will turn up.

If the soldier you are researching attended a military school, search the Royal Hibernian Military School in Dublin (1765-1924) or the Royal Military Asylum, Chelsea (1803-1892). Begin this search at

If Jamaica turns up in your family history, try  This site, one of the most complete I have ever searched, covers almanacs, newspapers, religious registers and wills, photographs and more.

Until next time, good luck with your research.

Email genealogy expert Isabelle Drown at

© 2013 Friends and Neighbors Magazine







Isabelle MacLean Drown
By Isabelle MacLean Drown March 15, 2013 12:00
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