3 key websites for researching and commemorating your First World War ancestors


14 September 2018
Screen-Shot-2018-09-13-at-15.26.51-24674.png Highlanders and Dogras in a trench with dugouts on the Front Line in Fauquissart, France, 9 August 1915
The First World War centenary has seen a wealth of digital resources made available to family historians researching their WW1 ancestors. Here we choose 3 key websites that are helping to create digital legacies for generations to come, as we remember the hardships and sacrifices made by millions of our wartime relatives 100 years ago

The four-year First World War centenary, ending on Armistice Day, 11 November 2018, has seen a wealth of digital resources made available to family history researchers investigating the lives and wartime experiences of their WW1 ancestors, and many of them for free.


Not only that, but millions of family historians have taken the opportunity to help remember and honour the sacrifices made by our World War I-era relatives by contributing their own research and stories to some of these special projects.


In the special First World War Centenary (November) issue of Family Tree magazine, genealogist Chris Paton examines some of these remarkable web resources, which are creating a lasting digital legacy for now and the generations to come.


Here we’re picked out 3 of our favourite WW1 commemorative websites from Chris’s excellent selection, which you can use to research your own family member or contribute their story to a digital project.


1 Lives of the First World War

Lives of the First World War is a digital memorial created by the Imperial War Museums in partnership with Findmypast. People of all ages and communities are encouraged to join in the project to actively remember the stories of the millions of men and women across Britain and the Commonwealth who served in uniform or on the Home Front. At time of writing, the site was close to 7.7 million stories with more than 2.5 million public contributions, such as diaries, photographs and letters retrieved from old family photo albums and attics. The project is still appealing for citizen historians to commemorate WW1 ancestors on the website and will continue to accept submissions until 18 March 2019, when this digital memorial will be added to the IWM's collections for all to freely access.


2 Operation War Diary

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As part of its First World War 100 initiative, TNA launched an online portal in November 2013 onto which it hosted its already existing records offerings and additional support materials. At the same time it also began a volunteer-based initiative to help the archive conserve, sort, digitise and itemise thousands of diaries from France and Flanders (catalogued under WO95). The digitised diaries were then released in batches onto the Operation War Diary platform where the public was invited to help unlock their contents through a mass crowdsourcing-based indexing and cataloguing campaign to capture names, places and events. At time of writing, these citizen historians have tagged more than 1.5m digitised pages in TNA’s collection of handwritten war diaries and the project continues today.


3 ICRC prisoner-of-war records

Not everyone died during the conflict, but not everybody made it home immediately either. For those captured and interned as prisoners of war a useful resource was made available for British and Irish researchers from an overseas provider in August 2014. The First World War records of the International Prisoners of War Agency, digitised by the International Committee of the Red Cross, were made freely available to researchers and contain some 500,000 pages of lists and 6 million index cards detailing both civilian and military prisoners of war.


You can read Chris's article in full in the November 2018 issue of Family Tree magazine.


Other stories that might interest you:

Lives of the First World War project enters its final year

Introducing the Imperial War Museums' new Film Museum website


Photograph from the World War I: Indian Army by HD Girdwood collection held by the British Library, available via British Library Flickr and digitised for the Europeana 1914-1918 programme.