In Memoriam: Commemorating our family’s contributions to the First World War

In Memoriam

In the past, it was common for institutions such as schools, railway companies, post offices and even private businesses to create their own war memorials. They remembered those staff who had fallen in the service of their country.

This year, as part of the Royal Armouries commemoration of the Armistice, we decided to research the history of our own families. We wanted to find out how the lives of our grand-parents and great grand-parents were shaped by the two world wars.

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From all walks of life and from all over the country, our relatives fought. Students, mechanics, doctors, bank clerks, textile workers, accountants, publicans, gardeners, lovers of cricket and chess, all found a role to play.

They became ambulance drivers, pipers, commanders, nurses and soldiers. Each of these men, in their own small but significant ways shaped the course of the First World War.

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Some of our research is on display at the Royal Armouries museums at Leeds and Fort Nelson, but not all of our research would fit onto these walls. Over the next few months, we will share this extra research here.

A series of eight posts will focus on an underage ambulance driver, a dispatch cyclist who embodied the ‘Keep Calm and Carry On’ attitude of the day, a commander in the navy, a member of the Sheffield Pals battalion, a man who joined up with his older brother, a chess lover who finished his training just as the War ended, a private who saw action at the Battle of Paschendale, and another soldier who refused to talk about the amputation of his leg.

Please join us in remembering these men, and many other people like them.

If you have been Inspired By… this exhibition, why not start researching your own family history?

Starting to find out more about your relatives can be challenging. Here are some hints and tips that helped us to research our own family histories.

  1. Write down everything you know.

Jot down everything you can remember about your family. This will remind you of what you know, and reveal the gaps.

  1. Speak to your family.

Family members can be a wealth of knowledge. Watch out for pet names. ‘Uncle Jack’ may have been born ‘Michael John Smith’, and non-relatives may be awarded ‘aunt’ or ‘uncle’ status.

  1. Look for physical clues.

You can uncover a lot by looking through drawers and boxes. Certificates, wills, military service papers, books, photographs and letters can all be really helpful.

  1. Make your family tree.

Start with your name near the bottom, and work upwards through the generations. A family tree will highlight gaps in your knowledge, and help you develop a research plan.

  1. Develop a research strategy.

Make a plan before you start. Don’t just rush straight in!

  1. Start to search for more information.
  • The National Archives has lots of free guides.
  • County archives and local record offices might help if your family are from a particular place.
  • Regimental or corps museums might have information if you had relatives in the armed services.
  • The Commonwealth War Graves Commission website can help locate servicemen who lost their lives.
  • Websites such as Find My Past, Ancestry and Family Search hold transcriptions of censuses and Birth, Marriage and Death records among other useful information.