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Live webchat with the Imperial War Museum on researching family history, Wednesday 18 January 1-2pm

(60 Posts)
GeraldineGransnet (GNHQ) Thu 05-Jan-12 13:37:21

In partnership with our lovely friends at Pearson, whose new online family history course is previewed on Gransnet, we're delighted to host a live webchat with Mel Donnelly, who works on family history at the Imperial War Museum.

Mel has appeared on television after Who Do You Think You Are? encouraging people who want to get started with family history research to use the internet.

Mel has been researching military and family history for 20 years - so if you're a keen researcher but you've got stuck, or you're thinking of looking into your history but don't know where to get started, ask your questions in advance or join us live on Wednesday 18 January 1-2 pm.

Elegran Thu 05-Jan-12 14:00:51

Hi Mel,

Today would have been my father's 97th birthday. How can I find out more about his army life? I remember some of it, of course, as I was born in 1939 and from 1941 to 1948 he was stationed in the UK, teaching cadets at Beachley, but he never spoke much about his experiences in France between Dunkirk and his evacuation from Cherbourg some weeks later. I sent for his record, which told me a little, but not why his unit was not at Dunkirk and what happened to them as they made their way to safety.

He seems to have been doing signals work, as he talked about code books (his young superior officer was most concerned at having to leave behind a safe, which he had personally signed responsibility for, as they left Rouen precipitately with the Germans entering at the other end of town. He was with difficulty dissuaded from leaving the keys in it so that it would not be destroyed when the Germans blew it up for the code books inside)

Elegran Thu 05-Jan-12 14:55:48

Should have added, he was not in the Signals Corps, but joined the Army Education Corps in 1936. When the war started he was transferred to the Gloucesters and then back to the AEC once he had returned from France.

GadaboutGran Thu 05-Jan-12 15:47:50

My husband's great grandfather was born in 1815 'at Sea (British citizen)'. On his wedding certificate his father's occupation is given as 'soldier'. I am wondering if there is any connection with the Battle of Waterloo given the date and that wives often went to war with their husbands. How can I follow up this hypothesis? Births at sea don't appear to be registered this early.

GadaboutGran Thu 05-Jan-12 15:59:29

My grandfather went to South Africa in 1901 to join the Cape Mounted Police based in Postmasburg & covering the Kimberley region. He died in WW1 in the South African Rifles at the Battle of Sandfontein on 26th Sept 1914. How can I find out more about how he came to go out to South Africa and wonder if he first went there in the Boer War, perhaps with a Surrey regiment. He lived in Mortlake & is registered there in the Census of 1891 & 1901 but there is no reference to military service. He appears to have had a long & distant courtship with my grandmother (a friend of his sister in London) as they married in Kimberley in 1909 - I can't imagine they would have had the money to have visited each other between 1901 and then.

grannyactivist Fri 06-Jan-12 09:25:47

My great, great grandfather was born in Belgium and has a Belgian surname, but is described on his marriage certificate as a British Subject. He was born in Belgium between 1814 and 1818 and married (a Scottish woman) in England in 1852. Is there a record kept somewhere of British Subjects? I'm intrigued to know how he became one.

Annobel Fri 06-Jan-12 09:44:43

What romantic backgrounds some of you have. My ancestors seem to be rooted in British clay, from Leicestershire to the Hebrides. Maybe in the distant past some of them came over with the Conqueror!

Annobel Fri 06-Jan-12 09:45:49

Sorry, missed the question out. Is there any way of getting back as far as the conquest?

Oxon70 Fri 06-Jan-12 13:24:24

I started 2 years ago, but still find I can't get further on some of my family......

I still could use some advice on my Irish gggrandfather, as I know his wife now (found her name recently via a history book on Vermont where their son emigrated!!) - BUT although I have one piece of evidence that they were both Irish, I don't know their ages or where in Ireland they were from.

(John Andrews m Marion Watson, around 1837, probably in Dublin.
No record found of this, their births, or any of their children's births, online.)

Mamie Sat 07-Jan-12 13:36:32

I come from a family of soldiers and have done pretty well finding out about most of them. My grandfather ended up as a Yeoman Warder in the Tower of London, where my father remembered being given chocolate by Sir Roger Casement shortly before he was executed (Sir Roger that is, not my father).
I have come a bit unstuck with my great-grandfather who was a Battery Sergeant-Major in the Royal Artillery and afterwards was in charge of the NAAFI in Dover Castle. I would like to find out more about his service in the RA, but not sure how to set about it. I live in France which makes visits to the various records offices a bit difficult, but I can't find anything on the internet. Can you help me with advice about how to get his service record which would cover the years from about 1855-1881 (when he appears on the census).

Nonny Mon 09-Jan-12 22:14:18

My grandfather fought in the trenches in the first world war. I have tried to trace records on line but could only find his conduct record. He had a terrible time like many of his generation and only ever told his mother about it. The story was that he was a machine gunner and was wounded and left in shell hole for dead. He was partly gassed, I presume a lot of the gas went over the top of the shell hole. He was picked up by a German soldier who asked his name and turned out to be his Piano teacher who had taught him in London as a boy! The German soldier made sure that he got some medical help. Grandad then got taken to prison in a stadium in Minden Germany.It was very cold with snow and he had given his coat to someone else who was sick or wounded. When peace was declared he had to walk back to where the British troops were which was a long way.
I would like to find out if this was all true and to find out who his piano teacher was. Is this possible? I know that some records were lost in the blitz inWW2.

teddymac Thu 12-Jan-12 14:36:13

Hi Mel - My mother, who died in 1983, was born in April 1904, of Polish parentage. I have never been sure whether she was born in Poland and came over when she was a very small baby or was born in Hull, where her family eventually settled. I have her maiden name - both the original Jewish one and the one it was changed to when the family settled in England. However, I have no idea where in Poland the family came from, so I don't know how to go about researching her side of the family. I don't have her parents' christian names either. I do know her younger brother, who was in the RAF, was killed in World War II and I have the names of her three other brothers, although they are obviously now long gone and in any event she was not in contact with them. I have tried in the past to start off on this research, but got nowhere fast. What is the best way to proceed bearing in mind most of the early family history will be from Poland? My parents were in their early forties when I was born and both my grandparents on my mother's side had already died. My other Scottish grandparents were very elderly and died when I was about 10. I am an only child, as was my father, so I have no living relatives as far as I am aware. I know virtually nothing about any of my ancestors and would very much like to fill this gaping hole my doing some research.

newt148 Thu 12-Jan-12 15:33:09

Hi Mel
Would love to know how to research Military History apart from Family history often able to find the person but would love to be able to look up their Military their a way?

Lizziehop2 Thu 12-Jan-12 15:40:09

I am trying to find out more about my father's army life, he was a regular soldier until 1938, then he served in WWII. His regiment, the York and Lancs have been disbanded and whilst I have a copy of his service record, I should like to know how he was ambushed and shot in Norway, which hospital he was taken to, etc. He was then sent to a number of Prisoner of War camps in Germany and although I have the letters he wrote home from the Camp, the Stalag number does not seem to be traceable!!

Zephrine Thu 12-Jan-12 15:45:26

Hi Mel,
I have a copy of my grandfathers discharge documents but it's not very easy to read. It would appear that he was discharged from M.J.C. (motors) Basra, 21.3.1919 having only served 1 yr 125 days. but had previously been in the Russian Armoured (Car?) unit R.N.A.S. If RNAS Is Royal Naval Air Service can you tell me how Russian armoured cars fit in please? and how can I find out when he joined and if he was conscripted or a regular soldier? Thank you.

Pamaga Thu 12-Jan-12 15:59:08

I have been trying, without much success, to trace information about my great grandfather Patrick Joseph Leary, a.k.a. Learey or Gannon-Leary who served with the 11th Hussars around 1880. Although he married under the name Patrick Joseph Leary, he seems to have taken his wife, Elizabeth Bridget Gannon’s surname at some time.
There is a census entry for 1881 for Private John Gannon, 11th Hussars and, in the 1891 census, the head of the family is James J Gannon, Sergeant in the Reserve Force Cavalry. However, I know my great-grandmother had a brother James Gannon and am unsure if this is her husband or brother. She herself is not listed in this census but many of the children are listed as sons/daughters of James J. Gannon.
Patrick’s children are listed in the Army Births and Baptisms – and all are recorded under both names Gannon and Leary apart from the youngest, Charles, born 1888, who appears only under the name Gannon. All entries are for a father serving with the 11th Hussars.
I made a freedom of information request to the National Archives who searched WO 97/3274, WO 97/5324 or WO 97/6371 under the name Leary or near variations and 1880s muster books without success. Earlier muster books list one 1864 Private J J Gannon, who enlisted at Hounslow on 14th September 1880. The last entry TNA were able to locate for him was as Lance Sergeant in E Troop in the muster dated 1st April 1890 at Aldershot.
I located a Patrick Leary, Grenadier Guards in document WO97/1864 in FindMyPast. He was discharged from the guards on medical grounds. I am wondering if, having been discharged as not fit for service in 1879, he could have re-enlisted using his wife’s surname? Nothing within the records confirms this. However, his occupation is given as ‘musician’ on his daughter Norah’s baptism is not inconsistent since this was between Private Patrick Leary’s discharge and Private J.J. Gannon’s enlistment and Patrick was a drummer in 1873-74. I thought the number 1864 might be significant as a service number as it appears in the Leary Grenadier Guards record and the
Gannon Hussars record but TNA say this duplication of the number is just coincidental.
TNA didn’t think it worth my while to search earlier musters since there was no evidence of a soldier named Leary or Gannon at the time when his first child, his daughter Kathleen’s birth was registered (1876). Also they were unable to help with respect to records for the Reserve Cavalry given as James J. Gannon’s regiment in the 1891 census.
I am wondering if you are able to give me any further advice with respect to this, especially as I am unclear on who provides information to the General Register Office for Army Births and Baptisms. Is this done by the soldier himself, by his unit or by the priest? Why would both the names Gannon and Leary be on the children’s records if Patrick had changed his name to Gannon and why, indeed, would he feel the need to change his forename as well as his surname?
As you can imagine this is very frustrating for me as Patrick Joseph Leary/James J Gannon just seems to disappear off the planet after 1891. Family rumours abound, e.g. he hit an officer, he deserted, he headed off to the US during the gold rush but, unfortunately, older family members who might have less apocryphal information about great grandfather are no longer with us.

jeebur Thu 12-Jan-12 17:09:08

I have struck a brick wall in trying to research my grandfather's details during the Ist World War. I remember him telling me that he cried when his mule was killed, but I know nothing of his regiment etc. His name yielded nothing from the records, but many of those were destroyed. Strangely, I couldn't find him on the 1911 census either. I have his birth, death and marriage certificates.
Would there be anything at the Imperial War Museum, or at Kew?

CariGransnet (GNHQ) Thu 12-Jan-12 17:37:15

Prize alert!!!

Pearson have very kindly offered the chance for three gransnetters to win free access to the "Research Your Family History" online course (normal price £37.45)

All you have to do to be entered into the prize draw is add a question to this thread. The draw will take place after the webchat on wednesday 18th January.

You can take a look at a sample of the course and find out more here

Noni Thu 12-Jan-12 17:53:02

I had an uncle who was very involved in the second world war with" secret" high security issues for the government. I believe he worked at Bletchley, but having gone there can not find his name in the register they have available there. He was of German origin, was sworn to secrecy so would never - even until his death in 1991 - talk about what he did. It is also possible he interogated high ranking Germans captured during the war, as he was bi-lingual. But I do not know. His name was Rudolph Edler, but I know he changed his first name during the war to Bruce, I think Eldon was his surname at that time.

Is there any way I could find out more about his role during the war?

teddymac Fri 13-Jan-12 08:24:38

This thread has set me off again on a little research, so further to the message I posted yesterday about my mother and her Polish ancestry, I have discovered that she was in fact born in Hull in April 1904 rather than in Poland. However, I believe she was born very soon after the family arrived in the UK, so I am still at a loss as to how to find out more about their earlier history in Poland.
Any advice gratefully received.

JessM Fri 13-Jan-12 09:09:22

I have heard that many of the WWI service records were destroyed in the WW2 blitz. Is this true? My grandfather was from South Wales and was gassed in France is all I know. He survived but suffered chest problems which apparently led to his death in middle age. There must have been a lot of men who died of after effects.

Elegran Fri 13-Jan-12 09:51:12

JessM A lot of WW1 army records service were lost in a fire. I think they have been trying recently to decipher the remains. Hope they succeed because my grandfather's seem to be amongst them.

He too survived being gassed but suffered from bronchitis every winter, until he died of lung cancer at age 59. It did not help that work was scarce and he ended up painting the outsides of council houses for a living, in all weathers. He had to report for work each day and hang around until someone decided it was too bad to paint, then go home cold and soaking and did not even get the full day's pay.

Zephrine Sat 14-Jan-12 16:59:24

Family legend has it that Alfred Hunt and his wife Mary Ann perished on their way back from somewhere possibly Malta in 1939 (probably) when their boat was torpedoed. I know this is very vague but I don't know where to start looking. Where would their deaths be registered? They do not appear to be in the GRO records. I have found several journeys for him when he was listed as an engineer working for the government so not military I think. If they were coming back from Malta in '39 would it be on a civilian ship or military? Any help much appreciated.

biggran Mon 16-Jan-12 10:24:11

My question involves military history but is slightly unusual in that it is about my mother.
I know she was in the QAs and after she died I got a copy of her army record as someone said at her funeral that she had nursed surviviors from the Belsen concnetration camp. Nothing had ever been said about that during her life, not even a passing reference so I was somewhat taken aback.

The record shows that she was with a BGH in Ostend or Bruges at the relelvant time and she was certainly there in July 1945 as my parents were married there. Is it possible that she was seconded from the BGH to Belsen or that she nursed survivors who may have been brought to Belgium?

I would say that her service record is not accurate in some important respects and there may be other other discrepancies. Is there any other way of finding out if she went to Belsen or any other concnetration camp or will this remain one of history's unknowns?

alchemillamollis Tue 17-Jan-12 14:41:02

Hi Mel,

Please can you recommend any good blogs written by people researching their family history?

Especially if they are descended from the Huguenots, as I am?

Thank you! Je vous remercie!

smile thanks