Findmypast.co.uk, the leading family history website, has published the records of over half a million men who served in the British militia, the precursor to the UK’s Territorial Army. The Militia Attestation Papers, covering 1806 to 1915, were made available online for the first time to coincide with British Armed Forces Day on 25 June 2011.
The records colourfully portray what the British militia looked like, detailing the height, weight, chest size, complexion, eye colour, hair colour and distinctive marks of each recruit. Arthur Wilson’s distinguishing marks included an acrobat and dots tattooed on his left forearm. Similarly, Albert Smith, born in India, was recorded as having teeth that were ‘defective but enough for mastication’.
Debra Chatfield, marketing manager at findmypast.co.uk, commented: “These records provide rich insight into our past and show how the everyday man, such as your local shopkeeper, found himself fighting for his country. In the absence of photographs, these records can help you imagine what your ancestors looked like, containing details which are largely unavailable elsewhere. Our easy to use website means you can unearth even more fascinating and detailed information about your ancestors at the click of a mouse.”
Like today’s Territorial Army, the militia was made up of men who held everyday jobs, but took part in military exercises and on occasions fought for their country. In the 19th and early 20th centuries, these typically included shoemakers, woodchoppers, butchers, bakers, coal miners and millers.
The Militia Attestation Papers are the only set of their kind available online and have been published in association with The National Archives and in partnership with FamilySearch. The records show that the soldiers who made up the militia during that period hailed not only from the UK itself, but also from around the world. Some recruits had been born in Italy, Ceylon, South Africa and even as far away as Australia and New Zealand.
David Rencher, chief genealogy officer at FamilySearch added: “The publication of the Militia Attestation Papers fills another critical gap in the family historian’s toolkit. The digitisation and indexing of this rich collection will make it easy to find the regiment an ancestor served with and also when and where he was born. Family historians will quickly realise the value of this information, particularly when the record of an ancestor’s birth has been elusive or impossible to find elsewhere.”