First World War pensions records go live on Ancestry

By Rosemary Collins, 4 October 2018 - 11:42am

Ancestry has released the first stage of the Western Front Association pensions records, featuring naval records

First World War pensions files
The original First World War pension records preserved by the Western Front Association (Credit: WFA)

The first stage of a major project to digitise First World War soldiers' pension records has gone live on Ancestry.

The set of 50,485 records from naval pension ledgers and Merchant Marine cards was published on Ancestry this week.

The record release was made possible by Ancestry's partnership with the Western Front Association (WFA).

Ancestry has added searchable transcriptions of the records, with 18,270 digital images of the originals available to subscribers of Ancestry's partner website Fold3.

In November 2012, the WFA acquired an archive of approximately 6.5 million First World War pension records index cards and ledgers from the Ministry of Defence.

In December 2017, it announced that scanning and indexing of the records was underway, following a deal with Ancestry.

David Tattersfield, WFA development trustee, explained to Who Do You Think You Are? Magazine that since the WFA is a small organisation, the partnership with Ancestry was vital for "getting [the records] out into the public domain".

The records kept track of pensions paid to soldiers, sailors and airmen injured in the First World War.

They also record payments to the widows and dependents of men who were killed.

They are one of the largest surviving sets of records of British forces in the First World War.

Many important records were destroyed in air raids in 1940.

David Tattersfield said that the records now provide the best chance for many people to trace First World War ancestors.

"If he did survive the war and claim a pension, there should be a record for him," he said.

Ancestry will upload more records before Remembrance Day on 11 November and add the complete set by early 2019.

WFA is also planning to allow its members to access the records via its website without an Ancestry or Fold3 subscription.

The first tranche of records consists of cards used by the Ministry of Pensions to monitor payments to injured merchant navy veterans or the families of the dead.

Among those are men killed in the notorious 1915 sinking of the RMS Lusitania, as well as smaller incidents.

The naval ledgers, meanwhile, list married men in the Royal Navy who were lost at sea, and whose widows and children were eligible for pensions.

Both sets of records can include the seaman's name, rank, service number, date of birth, date of death or injury and the ship he served on.

They are also valuable for tracing the families of deceased seamen, as they list each widow's name, date of marriage, and the names and dates of birth of any children.

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