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Guide reference: Military Records Information 4
Last updated: 20 January 2011

1. Why use this guide?

This guide supplements the information in our introductory guide to records of British Army officers up to 1913, which includes advice on how to find an officer's service record.

Use this guide to locate further records of British Army officers who served before the First World War. This guide covers both:

  • commissioned officers
  • officers who were promoted through the ranks

2. Essential information

A commissioned officer is an officer who holds their position by the appointment of the Crown. They are separate and senior to the 'other ranks'.

Some of the records detailed in this guide are available to view online. Others are not and to view these you will need to either visit The National Archives at Kew or pay for research.

3. Selected pension records: widows' pension, half pay and disability pensions (1755-1938)

Officers were not automatically entitled to a pension until 1871. Before then, when officers retired they sold their commissions or went on half pay. There is little genealogical information in these documents.

There are indexed registers of the annual bounty paid to officers' widows, 1755-1856. To find them, look at or browse WO 25/3995 and WO 25/3069-3072.


Use the Advanced search option in our catalogue to search for relevant records. Try the following keyword combinations:

  • 'pension' AND 'widow'
  • 'pension' AND the rank of officer
  • 'pension' AND type of pay such as 'half pay'

Refine your search by date and within department codes WO and PIN. Refine your search to WO 25 for material on widows, such as applications for pensions and information on remarriages.

For more guidance on how to search our catalogue, read catalogue search help.

Also, browse:

  • PMG 3- PMG 14 for information about retired officers and their widows. The most useful records of half pay are the ledgers of payment, 1737-1921, in PMG 4. Please note, after 1841 PMG 4 is arranged alphabetically, not by regiment which can be helpful if you do not know the regiment
  • WO 24/660-747 (1660-1938) for records of officers on half pay (name, rank and regiment)
  • WO 23-24, WO 61, WO 42 for some records relating to pensions. Read their series descriptions for more details of what they contain

4. Selected birth, marriage and death certificates for British Army officers (1755-1908)

Browse:

  • WO 32/8903-8920 (1777-1868) for baptismal certificates for British Army officers
  • WO 42 (1755-1908) for certificates of marriage, birth of children, death and burial

There are index books in the reading rooms at The National Archives at Kew to identify relevant records. There are separate indexes for the French, Swiss, Italian and Greek corps; Loyal American and Canadian corps; and the King's German Legion.

5. British Army commissions (1679-1891)

The commission or warrant of appointment of an officer is likely to be recorded in several places. However, many records of officers' commissions contain only minimal information on the individual.

You may wish to bypass the original documents listed below as you can find much of the information they contain from the printed sources (such as Army Lists) listed in our British Army officers up to 1913 guide.

Some commissions are recorded in WO 25. Use the Advanced search option in our catalogue to search for relevant records within WO 25. Use keywords such as:

  • 'commission'
  • 'commission books'
  • 'succession books'

Refine your search by date. For more guidance on how to search our catalogue, read catalogue search help.

Browse:

  • WO 31 (1793-1870) for applications which may show personal circumstances of the individual concerned. The supporting documents often contain statements of service, certificates of baptism and letters of recommendation
  • HO 51 (1758-1855) for military entry books 
  • WO 103 (1809, 1871-1914) for original submissions and entry books of submissions to the Sovereign of recommendations for staff and senior appointments, and for commissions and appointments

Use the index IND 1/8914 to locate records of commissions in SP 44/164 (1679-1782).

Consult:

  • WO 4/513 (1704-1858) for correspondence about the purchase and sale of commissions. Later volumes can include addresses of officers - either where the regiment was stationed or their own private address
  • WO 74/1 (c.1871-1891) for original applications from officers of the British and Indian establishment, with certificates of service attached, related correspondence, and memoranda as to sums awarded

6. Further reading

Use our library catalogue to find a recommended book list. The books are all available in The National Archives' reference library. You may also be able to find them in a local library. You can buy from a wide range of history titles in our bookshop.

Guide reference: Military Records Information 4

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