The following is a press release from FindMyPast. My comments are appended.
180,000 NEW CHELSEA PENSIONERS SERVICE RECORDS GO ONLINE FOR THE FIRST TIME AT FINDMYPAST.CO.UK
• Chelsea Pensioners British Army Service Records 1760-1854 now available to search online
• In-depth and colourful insight into the lives of ordinary ranking soldiers
• Records include servicemen born in the UK and throughout the world, including India and Jamaica
Leading family history website findmypast.co.uk has added a further 180,000 records to the Chelsea Pensioners British Army Service Records collection currently available online. The new additions comprise the service records of men pensioned out of the British Army between 1760 and 1854. The update means the collection now totals over four million full colour images of the service records of almost 700,000 soldiers pensioned out of the British Army between 1760 and 1900. Findmypast.co.uk has been working in association with The National Archives and in partnership with FamilySearch for nearly two years to scan, transcribe and publish online these records.
Many of the soldiers listed will have served in some of Britain’s most significant wars, including the Battle of Waterloo (1815), the Crimean (1853 – 1856) and both Boer Wars (1899 – 1902). Each individual soldier’s record consists of a bundle of a minimum of four pages, full of fascinating personal details, and could even be up to 20 pages long.
The details that can be found in these records are invaluable to family and military historians, providing a rich and colourful story of our ancestors’ lives, with a level of detail that is hard to find in any other historical records. Among the information included in these documents are the soldier’s date and place of birth, name and address of next of kin, height, hair and eye colour, distinguishing features such as tattoos, rank and regiment, occupation before joining the army, medical history and countries where, and dates when, the soldier served.
The records not only relate to servicemen born in the UK, but also throughout the world, with many soldiers born in India and even the Caribbean. These records are also invaluable to Irish, Scottish and Commonwealth researchers, as many men joined the British Army from these countries throughout the centuries.
The records list only those soldiers who either completed their full service in the army or who were wounded and pensioned out of the army. The records do not include those killed in action or army deserters or officers. The connection with 'Chelsea Pensioners' is that the pensions were administered through The Royal Hospital at Chelsea. The great majority of pensioned soldiers were out-pensioners and did not reside at the Hospital itself.
Debra Chatfield of findmypast.co.uk said: “The Chelsea Pensioners British Army Service Records are a rich resource for family historians. For each soldier you’ll find a minimum of four pages of information, including a physical description and even details of other family members, such as their dates of baptism and marriage. These fascinating records enable you to find out so much about your soldier ancestors, including what they looked like, long before the invention of photography.”
TNA information is that WO 97 has been the second most requested series at Kew. With this release FMP is getting toward the end of the WO 97 records. Promised in August are records for another 303,000 soldiers with date range 1901 and 1913.
The search page has space for name, country, county and year of birth. There is an ability to specify the location more closely but many entries don't have that information. Regiment and year served from can also be specified as can soldier number. Although suggested FMP have opted not to index date of discharge.
In the cases I looked at none named parents or next of kin. Intended place of discharge was frequently specified. Details of service are included, often squeezed into an area too small resulting in an interpretation challenge and information written sideways. Image quality is usually good. Having the ability to manipulate the original image on your computer, and to do so without the time pressure of being at TNA, will help you get the most out of the records.
We have to be patient another year for 500,000 records, date range 1806-1915, in WO 96, War Office: Militia Attestation Papers, which have been TNA 14th most requested series. Note that neither series includes members of the Royal Marines (sea soldiers). Their attestation papers are in ADM 157.