Researching British Military Ancestors

October 27, 2016 | Irena

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Getting Started

This guide focuses on resources available at the Toronto Reference Library. Most of the resources listed are available through the Humanities and Social Sciences Department, located on the second floor.

Questions to think about before beginning:

  • To what branch of the military did your ancestor belong (army, navy, militia, etc.)?
  • In what type of unit did your ancestor serve (cavalry, infantry, etc.)?
  • Was your ancestor an officer or an enlisted soldier?

In order to locate records, it may be necessary to know your ancestor’s regiment. For advice on determining the British Army regiment, see:

Searching the Library Catalogue

Many different subject headings apply to military sources, so keyword searches may be most effective. Choose keywords from the name of a place, the name of a conflict, and/or the name of an armed forces division. Lists of participants will have the subheading Registers. Lists of casualties will have the subheading Registers of dead.

Suggested Subjects and Keywords

  • Great Britain. Army. [Name of regiment]

E.g., Great Britain. Army. East Yorkshire Regiment

  • [Name of conflict] – Registers of dead – Great Britain

  E.g., World War, 1914-1918 – Registers of dead – Great Britain


Suggested Titles

Armed Forces Lists

These publications list commissioned officers, not enlisted men.

Handbooks and Guides

Medal Rolls

Regimental Histories

The following bibliography, available at the Special Collections information desk, has been annotated to reflect the Toronto Reference Library’s holdings:

Registers of Dead


Additional Print Resources

                           ---. Scottish soldiers in colonial America 

                           ---. Scottish soldiers in Continental Europe 

  • Deserter Index 1828-1840: an index to soldiers of the British Army regiments, Royal Marines & the Honorable East India Company's Service who deserted their units & whose names were published in the Police Gazette between 1 January 1828 & 31 December 1840 

External Websites

Library and Archives Canada -- Military Heritage

National Archives (United Kingdom) -- Military and Maritime Research Guides

British Regiments Contact Project (Friends of Fort York) 

For further assistance, contact:

Answerline: 416-393-7131

Humanities and Social Sciences Department, 2nd Floor, Toronto Reference Library: 416-393-7175

or use the "Ask a Librarian" feature on