The 14 best websites for finding family on war memorials

By Guest, 28 March 2019 - 10:29am

Jonathan Scott explains how you can find where relatives who died in the First World War are commemorated

George V unveiled the Cenotaph memorial in Whitehall in 1920 (Credit: The Royal Photographic Society Collection/ Victoria and Albert Museum/ Getty Images)

The solemn-looking object, resembling a large bronze coin, gathered dust on the mantelpiece throughout my childhood.

I was in my teens when I finally took it down, realised it had the name of a relative embossed on the front, and asked what it was.

Read the full version of this article and much more expert family history advice in Who Do You Think You Are? Magazine March 2019

It was a Memorial Plaque or ‘Dead Man’s Penny’, issued after the First World War to next-of-kin of service personnel who were killed.

The Great War suddenly seemed closer, graduating from a chapter in a textbook to something more real.

Finding the name of a family member on any kind of memorial can be a powerful moment. And our websites this month can help you search for relations recorded in stone, find casualty lists, and locate smaller memorials in schools and churches, on village greens and at places of work.


1. Commonwealth War Graves Commission

Commonwealth War Graves Commission

The CWGC has been a go-to destination for many years now, home to a vast free database of 1.7 million men and women who made the ultimate sacrifice.

You can search by a number of fields. If your relative has an unusual surname, that alone may be enough to track down an entry.

Conversely, searching for ‘Smith’ leads to 20,982 records, which you can then narrow by conflict, parent country, force and so on.

A better bet is to try to narrow the results before you search. Remember that some CWGC records don’t include first names – so try with initials first.

The website can also be very useful for confirming an ancestor’s service number.

2. War Memorials

War Memorials website

This growing database of war memorials (3,700 at time of writing with more than 500,000 names) is an ongoing project between Mark Herber and TheGenealogist.

Access to the database, which includes about 39,000 images, is by subscription only (prices start at £5 for a month), although the entire collection is also included within the Diamond subscription package at TheGenealogist.

The material is mostly from the UK but does include some memorials from Britain’s former Empire including Canada, Australia, New Zealand, India and Singapore.

Memorials include rolls of honour from schools and workplaces, which may lead to more avenues for research.

3. The War Graves Photographic Project

The War Graves Photographic Project

The original aim of this website was to record every war grave, Ministry of Defence grave, and individual and family memorial to military personnel, from the First World War to the present day.

However, the team have now extended the remit to cover all nationalities and military conflicts – at time of writing the website boasted nearly two million photographs of war graves.

You can search by name, narrow your results by various fields, then click ‘View Details’ for any hits. This should give you enough information (such as rank, unit and number) to know whether you’re on the right track, before ordering a digital (£4) or printed (£6) photo.

4. In From the Cold

In From the Cold missing in action

Many were missed from the lists of casualties supplied to the Commonwealth War Graves Commission. For some years now the In From The Cold project has been working to plug the gaps in the official record.

To date the project has processed more than 5,000 cases, many of which are now added to memorials to the dead or missing.

5. Flintshire War Memorials

Flintshire War Memorials

As well as national and international sites, it’s always worth seeing what exists locally.

Many digital projects relating to village, town or county have come to light during the course of the First World War’s four centenary years. This particularly fine example is a community website, created and run by volunteer, amateur historians.

It is full of fascinating stories behind those who are listed on memorials across historic Flintshire. Another excellent local example covers memorials in Derbyshire.

6. Expert's choice: The Imperial War Museum Memorial Search

Imperial War Museums memorial search

Chosen by Jacqueline Wadsworth, author of Letters from the Trenches:

"The Imperial War Museum Memorial Search gives access to the IWM’s huge register of more than 79,600 war memorials in the UK, the Channel Islands and the Isle of Man.

"You can filter your search by such criteria as town, county, denomination, material and condition. Details are clearly laid out, including inscriptions and photographs.

"Lists of individuals commemorated on each memorial are also displayed – very helpful for family historians researching ancestors who met their end during conflicts.

"Civilians are included as well as members of the armed forces, and there are even memorials to animals. A stone trough on the Isle of Wight is dedicated “To the horses and dogs who also bore the burden and heat of the day 1914–1920”.

"The website’s memorials each have a story to tell. They range from simple plaques, books of remembrance and even road names, to more elaborate stone monuments and stained-glass windows.

"Most have their origins in the 20th century, although some commemorate earlier conflicts. One stained-glass church window at Hook, in Humberside, depicts a nurse tending a soldier of the Crimean War.

"Touchingly, this website places memorials to ‘the great and the good’ who lost their lives in war beside those for ordinary people. We are all equal in death."


Go further

7. American Battle Monuments Commission

Search the ‘Burials’ database of Americans commemorated by the ABMC.

8. Australian War Memorial

This website includes a roll of honour featuring members of the Australian armed forces.

9. British War Graves

This useful database features thousands of photographs of British war graves.

10. Canadian Virtual War Memorial

This website contains a registry of information about the graves and memorials of more than 118,000 Canadians and Newfoundlanders.

11. Irish War Memorials

Explore a growing database of cross-conflict memorials in the Republic of Ireland and Northern Ireland. At time of writing the website had records of 577 places, 1,110 memorials and 35,940 people.

12. National Memorial Arboretum

Search an online roll of honour for those who have died in military service since 1948.

13. New Zealand War Graves Project

This database covers New Zealand service personnel who have died in conflicts since 
the Anglo-Boer War.

14. UK War Memorials

Find out how to research and record a memorial including advice on conservation and applying for funding for projects.



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