What Military Medals may Reveal about Your Ancestor
Family heirlooms can be an invaluable aid to you family history research, none more so that military memorabilia. Military medals, badges and photographs can lead family historians to the branch of forces their ancestors served in as well as their rank, conduct and field of operation. Once you have this sort of information, you are able to search through military and other public records to acquire more information about your relative. A side benefit of this type of research is that it exposes you to world history that will help you gain insight as to the type of life your ancestor lived, and the kind of person they were.
Where the Medals may Lead You
Once you’ve scrutinised your ancestor’s military medals, photographs or other memorabilia to locate their regiment or military branch, you can begin to search the relevant records for facts about them. Military records are often held in the national archives of a country, and some libraries will lead you to discover records such as pensions and pay lists. The Ministry of Defence holds older records, and can assist you in identifying the origin of your relative’s award.
The National Archives of the United States is exceptional in the wealth of information they have available for researchers. A trip to their website will reveal information on specific wars, including the American Revolution, the Spanish American War, the Boxer Rebellion, even the War of 1812. A particular gem on their website is the War department’s collection of Revolutionary War records dating from 1625 – 1915. If it doesn’t reveal any information on your ancestor, it will at least capture your imagination and entertain you with wonderful historical material.
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If you come across a Waterloo Medal from the battle of Waterloo, or memorabilia from the Boer wars in South Africa, Military-Genealogy.com is the place for you. Though it is a commercial site, and they charge a fee to access such records, if the trail of your ancestor leads you there it is well worth subscribing. Besides containing data on the World Wars, their Boer Wars Casualties' database includes a listing all officers and men of the South African Field Force from the outbreak of war, 11th October 1899 to 31st May 1902 and the Natal Field Force from 20 October 1898 –to 26 October 1900. They also list any casualties that occurred after the signing of the peace treaty.
Other Military Records that may be of Value
Soldiers, sailors, and airmen were often commended for outstanding military service by means of dispatches, reports that were sent by senior officers to the military hierarchy. These can also be found in National Archives, and newspapers may reveal such information as well. If your ancestor was exceptionally valiant and performed an outstanding act of service to his country and comrades, he may have been awarded a Victoria Cross or a Congressional Medal of Honor. These events would certainly be recorded in a local newspaper.
Another potentially valuable source of military data is letters or postcards sent home from the war.
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Now that papers concerning the First World War have been released to the public, it is possible to secure valuable biological information on your relative, as well as trace their movements throughout the war. Indeed, it is feasible that you can now trace the career of any soldier through records now available in the public domain.