Tag Archives: Family history


By Frances Casey, Project Manager

We are often asked whether it is possible for someone to be named on more than one war memorial. The answer is yes. For my last blog, I want to give the example of Lt Lionel Pilkington Abbott, who was killed during the battle of the Somme on 14th July 1916.

Lt Lionel Pilkington Abbott, Leicestershire Regiment, 1915 (Courtesy of Hugh Parker)

Lt Lionel Pilkington Abbott, Leicestershire Regiment, 1915 (Courtesy of Hugh Parker)

Unlike memorials erected by the Commonwealth War Graves Commission, the majority of memorials in UK towns and villages were erected by local communities, with the funding, construction, design and names collection overseen by a locally appointed committee.

We have found Lt Lionel Pilkington Abbott commemorated on seven different memorials. These include the memorial cross on the village green in Corby Glen, Lincolnshire, which is the village in which he grew up. The Corby Glen memorial was funded by public subscription and commemorates the men of the village with the names arranged by Regiment. Lionel is listed under the Leicestershire Regiment. The cross was unveiled on 13th December 1920 by the Reverend A. Abbott, who was Lionel’s father.

Rev Abbott was vicar of the nearby St John the Evangelist Church. Inside the church can be found a memorial erected to Lionel by his parents. This takes the form of a plaque and the dedication details include Lionel’s rank, regiment, age, place and date of death. Unlike the Corby Glen village memorial, the plaque is a personal dedication to Lionel designed and funded by his family.

Lionel (second right), Exeter College rowing team, 1906 (Courtesy of Hugh Parker)

Lionel (second right), Exeter College rowing team, 1906 (Courtesy of Hugh Parker)

The plaque refers to Lionel’s education and degree at Exeter College, Oxford, which is where we find another memorial commemorating Lionel. The Exeter College memorial is to old scholars killed in the First World War and the names are arranged by the date of matriculation. Lionel is commemorated under the year 1907 along with nine other students of his year.

Lionel is also commemorated in the Leicestershire Regiment Book of Remembrance in Leicester Cathedral , the Matthew Humberston Foundation School memorial and the memorial in King’s School, Canterbury .

Each memorial remembers Lionel in a different way and for a different reason, whether as a resident of the village, a son, a scholar or as serving in a regiment. It is for this reason that the same person can be commemorated on more than one memorial, because memorials commemorate many different social groups. You will find all ranks commemorated on memorials in schools, businesses, towns and villages not only officers or the more wealthy. First World War memorials remember people in all of their variety and as such are testaments to the loss felt in many areas of social life.

By Jane Furlong, Project Coordinator

Have you ever wondered how the Blitz affected your family? What role did your ancestors play to help win the war on the home front? And what effects of the raids can still be seen around us and in our lives today? If you are planning ahead and wandering what to do on 6th November why not come along to the Family History Day at the Imperial War Museum. I will be giving a talk about Blitz memorials  and you will get an opportunity to speak to a range of Museum experts and other organisations about starting and continuing Family History Research. You can bring along any documents, photographs, medals or other objects relating to family history in the twentieth century and we will try to help you learn more about them. The Museum’s Conservators and members of the Institute of Conservation (ICON) will also be on hand to advise on how to look after these precious family heirlooms.

A series of special lectures  offering more in-depth advice on how to find out more about your family will also be taking place – including one by me on Blitz memorials – and there will be the opportunity to visit the Explore History Centre, a specially-designed public space where anyone can drop in for free and discover how the Imperial War Museum’s vast collections could help to uncover their past.

So come along. It would be great to see you!

The Castle and Regimental Museum, Monmouth, is a small volunteer-run museum which tells the story of the Royal Monmouthshire Royal Engineers (Militia). The museum displays a wide range of artefacts relating to the Regiment, which can trace its origins back to the militia of the sixteenth century. It also holds the records of the Regiment, which cover the
period 1786-1976, and contain much fascinating information on the Regiment and on the men who served in it.

Among the records in the archive are several Regimental rolls and some very detailed enlistment registers, which record not just names and ages of recruits, but where they came from and their height and physical appearance and occupation. Information from these has been put online as a searchable database, so that family historians and others can look for individuals who they think may have been members of the Regiment or its predecessor, the Monmouthshire Militia.

So far, information from an enlistment register for 1786-1816 and a (much less detailed) Regimental Roll for 1914-1916 is online – over 3000 names in all. A further 3500 should be available shortly.  It’s worth noting that members of the Regiment didn’t just come from Monmouthshire.  Those listed in the early enlistment register came from various parts of south Wales and the West Country; by the First World War, the Regiment was drawing recruits from all parts of England and Wales.

The website can be found at  As well as the database of members of the Regiment, it has information on the archive and a selection of some of the fascinating photographs in the museum’s collection.

UKNIWM staff will again be running a stand with colleagues from the Imperial War Museum at the Who Do You Think You Are? LIVE show this year.  It takes place from 2 – 4 May in the Grand Hall, Olympia, London. 

This is the second year the event has been run and last year we all enjoyed meeting many people and answering queries about family history and war memorials.  This year the show will be bigger and better and, as well as focusing on family history, it will also feature military history and archaeology. 

Click here to read further details about the event

Private Robert Burns, killed in action on 1 July 1916 at the start of the Battle of the SommeWe recently answered an enquiry from a member of the public who wrote to tell us that she had started what she hoped would become a tradition with her young daughter on Remembrance Day.  They walk to the local war memorial and leave a poppy with a message.  Each year they will pick out one name and try to find out more information  about that person.  

She wrote to us because she was looking for advice on how to go about this.

The first thing we do is check our records to see if we hold any information about the people named on the memorials. Unfortunately in this case we didn’t yet have that information. 

The next simple thing to do (if the memorial is to the First or Second World war) is to try to find the individual on the Commonwealth War Graves Commission Debt of Honour database.  This would then give you useful information such as age, service number and regiment, which can be used in further enquiries.

CWGC Debt of Honour database

However, if the only information you have are surname and first initial (which is very common on First and Second World War memorials) then it could be very hard to identify which of the many people with the same name is the one on your local memorial.  Obviously, it’s easier with more unusual surnames.  Even with common names it might still be possible.  Sometimes next-of-kin were listed and you may find someone with family who were living locally.  A word of warning regarding the regiments though, don’t assume that just because someone is listed as serving in a local regiment that they lived there.  Men could be recruited for any regiment and sometimes moved between regiments over the course of the war.

Another very useful thing to do is to contact your local history society.  It’s possible that someone has already done this research.  If that draws a blank, you might try looking through the archives of old local newspapers.  These should be in a local studies centre – usually stored on microfiche. Try to find a newspaper report for the unveiling, as these sometimes listed the full names. If you can find out the full first name, you’ll have a better chance finding him on the CWGC database. Most First World War memorials were unveiled sometime between 1919 and 1925 so start with those dates and expand from there. 

The other thing you can look for in local newspaper archives are obituaries and reports from soldiers at the front which were often printed. These can provide interesting information about the person you are looking for and others serving at the time.

Once you have positively identified the individual there are other sources for research, such as unit war diaries and service records. Below is a link to some useful downloadable PDF leaflets on how to get started.

Click for information sheets about tracing service personnel

11 November is Remembrance Sunday and staff from the UK National Inventory of War Memorials will be at three different branches of the Imperial War Museum, answering questions about war memorials, remembrance and tracing military family history.

Each branch will also hold an armistice memorial ceremony at 11am.

You can see us at the following branches

  • Sunday 11th November at IWM Duxford  Read more
  • Saturday 10th and Sunday 11th at IWM North, Manchester, Read more 
  • Sunday 11th at IWM London, Lambeth Read more

We receive regular enquiries from people searching for service personnel who died after the end of the Second World War.  While fatalities from the First and Second World War are well documented by the Commonwealth War Graves Commission’s Debt of Honour database, until now there was no easy way to search for those who had died after 1947.

However, the Roll of Honour for the new Armed Forces memorial is now available to search online.  This valuable resource includes the names of everyone who has died while  serving in the armed forces since 1 January 1948. 

Where available, it can include the following information: date and place of birth; date of death; rank; service number; regiment and place of burial.  There is also the option to print out a personal certificate.

Search the Roll of Honour

Along with colleagues from the Imperial War Museum, we’ll be manning a stall at the National Family History Fair at Gateshead International Stadium this Saturday, 8 September. 

We always enjoy getting out and about talking to people interested in war memorials and discussing how information, both on memorials and in our archive, can help with family history research.

Read more about the National Family History Fair

Alexander Foltyniewicz, aged 23 in 1917On Sunday it will be 89 years exactly since my great grandmother’s step-brother was killed on the Western Front.  Lance Corporal Alexander Foltyniewicz died in action on 26 August 1918 at the age of 24.  He had served since early 1915 and died less than 3 months before the armistice.  The Commonwealth War Graves Commission lists 1,594 other commonwealth service personnel who died on the same day.

Alec’s body was recovered and he is buried in France but there is no known memorial to him in England. There are several possible reasons for this.

Firstly, the way we locate memorials on which individuals are named is by searching on the Lostgeneration website.  This database was compiled using name lists sent in to us over the past 18 years by volunteers.  The project is very much ongoing, so there are still many memorials remaining to record.  Additionally,  family history was not as popular when we were founded as it is today.  In those days, with the limited resources available, recording the memorial itself to help protect it was often considered the priority.  This means that even for some memorials for which we do have a record, we don’t yet have a name list on file.  We are working to fill in these gaps.

There is also the possibility of errors in transcription, either at the time the memorial was erected, or when we recorded it.  This is even more likely with unusual or foreign names such as Foltyniewicz.

Alexander may have been named on a memorial that was subsequently lost, e.g. destroyed during bombing during the Second World War.  Or he may have been listed on a temporary street shrine that was dismantled after the war.

Another possibility is that he was not listed on any memorials.  One of our ‘frequently asked questions’ deals with why and how names can be ommitted from memorials.

Regardless of the reasons, I’ll keep looking!

Thursday, 12 July, saw the official remembrance ceremony at Tyne Cot military cemetery in Belgium, to mark the 90th anniversary of the Battle of Passchendaele, also known as the Third Battle of Ypres.  47 memorials on our database specifically mention Passchendaele, but there will be many more memorials that commemorate soldiers who died during this battle.


One of these memorials is dedicated to Lieutenant Archibald John Harvey of the 29th Canadian Battalion, reminding us that many soldiers from other countries of the Commonwealth also died at Passchendaele.

Lieutenant Harvey’s Commonwealth War Graves Commission record reveals much the same information as his memorial.

If we want to know more about this soldier we can turn to another extremely useful resource for researching Canadian soldiers. The Library and Archives Canada, based in Ottawa, have digitised the attestation papers of those who joined the Canadian Expeditionary Force during the First World War. The database now contains over 800,000 pages of scanned documents.

Lt Archibald Harvey’s attestation papers reveal more significant details about him.  He was born on the Isle of Wight in England in 1887, but later emigrated to Canada, probably as a young man as his parents were still living on the Isle of Wight at the time of his death.  He signed up on 15 November 1914, soon after the outbreak of war, and we can imagine his desire to return home to do his duty for king and country. 

At the time he enlisted he was unmarried and working as a salesman, but interestingly he had already served four years with the Canadian Army Medical Corps. The papers also detail Lt Harvey’s physical characteristics helping us to conjure up an image of the man.  He was 5′ 5″ (short but not unusually so for the time) with grey eyes, brown hair and a fair complexion.

By looking at a combination of Lt Harvey’s attestation papers, his memorial details and his CWGC entry we can catch a glimpse of him at the start of his service and sadly gather details about the end of his life at Passchendaele.

Returning to his memorial, situated in his home town of Shalfleet, Isle of Wight, we see that he was wounded on 7 November, just three days before the end of the battle and died five days later on 12 November 1917. 

He was buried in Lijssenthoek, the location of some of the casualty clearing stations in the Ypres area, and presumably where he was brought to be treated after being wounded at Passchendaele.