Tuesday, November 16, 2010

Chelsea Pensioners' Service Records complete at findmypast.co.uk: Victoria Cross recipients and Kray twins' ancestor unearthed

The following is from FindMyPast.

·         Most detailed records of over 1.5 million soldiers ever released
·         Records provide unique descriptions of what your ancestors actually looked like
·         Over six million full colour images of service records available 
·         Numerous records of Victoria Cross recipients found including the notorious John Kirk, plus an ancestor of the infamous Kray twins is unearthed

Today, for the first time, leading family history website www.findmypast.co.uk publishes over 150 years worth of Chelsea Pensioners’ British Army Service Records. One of the most comprehensive and detailed sets of military records available, this new online collection reveals fascinating insights into those who served in the British Army between 1760 and 1913, including Victoria Cross hero John Kirk.

Kirk was born in Liverpool and joined the 10th Regiment of Foot in 1846, aged 18 years. He was awarded the Victoria Cross for his bravery during the Indian Mutiny of 1857 when he saved the lives of a Captain and a family of civilians who were surrounded by rebels. However, Kirk was also a drunken scallywag who was imprisoned 12 times in his 18 years of army service for drunkenness, going AWOL and breaking out of barrack cells.

As one of The National Archives’ most popular record series, the collection of over 6,300 boxes and files will be preserved for future generations because of this major three-year project. Following their service, many soldiers were actually discharged overseas and did not return to the UK. Now descendents from all over the world can search and view records from the countries in which their ancestors settled.

In the absence of photographs, these records evoke an image of what our ancestors may actually have looked like and for many family historians, provide another colourful avenue of research where census and other records may have failed. Amongst the service records, findmypast.co.uk has unearthed a description of John Kray, ancestor of the East End Kray twins.

Kray, whose mother was Elizabeth Kray the great-great-grandmother of the Kray twins, was born in Bethnal Green, London. He joined the 65th Regiment of Foot on 13th August 1870 at the age of 17 years and 11 months. Upon his attestation, he was described as being 5’6’’ tall with a 35-36 inch chest, having a fair complexion, hazel eyes and dark brown hair. He was also recorded as having a rather distinctive mark – a scar on his left buttock.

Rich in detail that is difficult to find anywhere else for rank and file soldiers, the service records contain on average four pages per soldier and, amazingly, one even extends to 154 pages. This record details the bureaucratic and long winded case of Matthias Quinton’s pension claim.

Quinton was born in Limehouse, London and joined the Royal Artillery on 28th October 1889 aged 18 years and seven months. He saw service at home and in Gibraltar and was discharged after three years because of medical unfitness. During his service, Quinton was tried and imprisoned for 42 days for ‘using insubordinate language to a superior officer’. His record states that ‘when brought before Major W H Smart RA, his commanding officer, and when asked what he had to say in his defence, he replied “Sweet FA” in a highly disrespectful manner’.

The service records note all of the regiments in which a soldier served, ranks attained, and the total service rendered, in years and days, in each rank and regiment. The reason for discharge (illness, wounds or completion of service) is given, as are remarks on his general conduct, notations on his height, complexion, eye and hair colour, and civilian occupation.

Debra Chatfield, Marketing Manager at findmypast.co.uk, said: “These records are a colourful resource for family and militarily historians alike. Not only do they allow people to research new branches of their family tree but also get a unique insight into what the British Army was like during Britain's key battles over three centuries. We are delighted to be bringing these full records to the public almost six months ahead of schedule. Our easy to use website means people can find out even more fascinating and detailed history about their ancestors at the click of a mouse."

Pre-First World War, these records cover some of the most significant battles of our time -  the Napoleonic Wars, Crimean War, Anglo-Boer Wars, Battle of Quebec and Anglo-Afghan Wars - and more importantly highlight the unsung heroes who may not have seen operational service but were equally important in guarding the empire. In addition to providing detailed descriptions of each soldier, they shed light on how the British Army treated soldiers and their disability both in active service and once pensioned during the 18th and 19th century. 

William Spencer, Principal Specialist: Military, Maritime and Transport Records at The National Archives, commented: "The digitisation, in colour, of these records, will enable researchers to understand the British Army and its soldiers from their own computers. Technology will enable researchers to collect information about British Army soldiers in a new way and thereby improve the historians’ understanding of who these men were, how and where they were recruited and where they served."

The records, made available in association with The National Archives and in partnership with FamilySearch, comprise over six million full colour images of the service records of soldiers in the British Army in receipt of a pension administered by The Royal Hospital Chelsea, and who were discharged between the dates 1760 and 1913.

David Rencher, Chief Genealogy Officer at FamilySearch added: “The Chelsea Pensioners’ Records provide insight into your family history like no other military records available. They can provide absorbing details about what your family looked like including a description of your ancestor’s height, weight, hair and eye colour. For anyone with ancestors who served in the British Army, this collection will uncover some truly enlightening information about your family. FamilySearch is delighted to have played an essential part in making these records available online to a wider, international audience.”

Additional Notes:

The term ‘pensioner’ refers to an ex-soldier to whom a pension was paid, and not just to a resident pensioner at Chelsea Hospital.

Information the records may list
  • Date and place of birth
  • Age
  • Name and address of next of kin
  • Height
  • Chest size
  • Complexion
  • Hair colour
  • Eye colour
  • Distinguishing features
  • Rank and regiment
  • Occupation before joining the army
  • Kit list
  • Medical history
  • Conduct and character observations
  • Countries where, and dates when, the soldier served
  • Date the soldier signed up and date of discharge
  • Service history including promotions, campaigns and countries where they fought
  • Details of marriage and their children’s names, baptisms and dates of birth

Leading UK family history website findmypast.co.uk (formerly 1837online.com) was the first company to make the complete birth, marriage and death indexes for England & Wales available online in April 2003.

Following the transcription, scanning and indexing of over two million images, the company launched the first website to allow the public easy and fast access to the complete indexes, which until then had only been available on microfiche film in specialist archives and libraries. The launch was instrumental in creating the widespread and growing interest in genealogy seen in the UK today.

Findmypast.co.uk has subsequently digitised many more family history records and now offers access to over 750 million records dating as far back as 1538. This allows family historians and novice genealogists to search for their ancestors among comprehensive collections of military records, census, migration, occupation directories, and current electoral roll data, as well as the original comprehensive birth, marriage and death records.

In November 2006 findmypast.co.uk launched the ancestorsonboard.com microsite in association with The National Archives to publish outbound passenger lists for long-distance voyages departing all British ports between 1890 and 1960.

As well as providing access to historical records, findmypast.co.uk is also developing a range of online tools to help people discover and share their family history more easily, beginning with the launch of Family Tree Explorer in July 2007.

In April 2007, findmypast.co.uk’s then parent company Title Research Group received the prestigious Queen’s Award for Enterprise: Innovation 2007 in recognition of their achievement.

Findmypast.co.uk was acquired in December 2007 by brightsolid, the company who were awarded The National Archives’ contract to publish online the 1911 census, which it launched in January 2009.

About The National Archives
The National Archives, www.nationalarchives.gov.uk, is a government department and an executive agency of the Ministry of Justice (MoJ). As the official archives of the UK government, it cares for, makes available and ‘brings alive’ a vast collection of over 1000 years of historical records, including the treasured Domesday Book.
Not only safeguarding historical information, The National Archives also manages current digital information and devises new technological solutions for keeping government records readable now and in the future. It provides world class research facilities and expert advice, publishes all UK legislation and official publications, and is a leading advocate for the archive sector.
At the heart of information policy, The National Archives sets standards of best practice that actively promotes and encourages public access to, and the re-use of information, both online or onsite at Kew. This work helps inform today’s decisions and ensures that they become tomorrow’s permanent record.

About FamilySearch
FamilySearch is the largest genealogy organisation in the world. Millions of people use FamilySearch records, resources, and services to learn more about their family history. For over 100 years, FamilySearch has been actively gathering, preserving, and sharing genealogical records worldwide and operates over 4,500 family history centres in 70 countries, including the renowned Family History Library in Salt Lake City, Utah.

About the findmypast.co.uk and FamilySearch partnership
In May 2008 UK family history website www.findmypast.co.uk and US based FamilySearch (www.familysearch.org) announced the start of their new partnership after The National Archives awarded them the licence to digitise and make available both the ‘Chelsea Pensioners’ service records between 1760 and 1913, and the Merchant Seamen’s collection of records dating from 1835 to 1941. The Chelsea Pensioner Service Records is the first major project that they have completed together and made available online.

Findmypast.co.uk created indexes and transcriptions to enable members of the public to easily search the records online, while FamilySearch was responsible for the three year scanning programme of the historical records on site at The National Archives.

No comments: