As we commemorate the World War I Centenary “1914 – 2014,” remember your forgotten heroes.
- Three in 10 descendants of World War I heroes are unaware of their military heritage
- Many lose opportunity to learn of family link to Great War when relatives pass away
- Ancestry makes all WWI Medal Index Cards records free-to-use to help people find lost heroes
More than a million British soldiers* who served in World War I (“WWI” also known as “The Great War”) have since been forgotten by their descendants, according to a new genealogical study.
Our researchers mapped population growth among veterans of the Great War to quantify how many Brits today have a WWI ancestor. They then compared this figure (26.7 million) with the number of people actually aware of such heroes in their family’s past.
The results show a significant ‘ancestral knowledge gap’, with 7.5 million Britons in the dark about their family connection to the Great War.
According to the report, this equates to more than a million soldiers (1.26m) since forgotten by their descendants.1
The research also suggests why such important family knowledge has been lost. Most of those unaware of having WWI ancestors assume that they would have been told about them, when in fact many veterans never spoke to their children about their role in the conflict, wanting to put the trauma they experienced in the trenches behind them.2
In addition to those completely in the dark, many Brits have heard a rumour of a connection to WWI but don’t know the details, with most of these people reporting that their grandparents died before they could ask them about the details of their WWI war hero ancestor.3
Those ‘in the know’ about their WWI ancestry clearly see the benefit of such knowledge, with half saying they’re more grateful for what they have today and a similar number feeling humbled when they think about their ancestor’s bravery.4
To help people discover and learn more about their veteran ancestors, we are making our British Army WWI Medal Rolls Index Cards (1914-1920) available and completely free to use until the end of 2014.5 An additional 10 million records will also go online to celebrate the WWI centenary.
More than 20 million WWI records are available at Ancestry.co.uk/world-war-1. Also included on the site are the British Army WWI Service and Pension Records, 1914 – 1920, Citations of the Distinguished Conduct Medal, 1914-1920, and we have also digitised the Commonwealth War Graves 1914-1921, which list details and images of fallen WWI soldiers’ graves.
- Miriam Silverman, Ancestry.co.uk Senior Content Manager: “Many veterans never spoke about their experiences in the Great War upon returning home, so it’s understandable how so much knowledge could have been lost, especially if people missed the opportunity to speak to their older relatives before they died. The result is a widespread and tragic lack of personal knowledge of our WWI ancestry. We believe all those who served in WWI deserve remembering and want to help bridge this knowledge gap. That’s why we’ve made all of our WWI medal records universally available and completely free to use. We hope that this will allow millions of Britons to reconnect with their past and feel the pride that so many of us have for our war hero ancestors.”
*NB – This study looks at British soldiers (from England, Ireland, Wales & Scotland) serving in the British Army but does not include those serving from the wider Commonwealth nations or Indian Army (that made up approximately three million additional serving troops).
The research was carried out using two methods:
- A population projection model, used to show how many people today are directly related to a British WWI soldier. The model mapped the population from 1918 to today accounting for levels of migration and emigration to show the natural population growth from the native 1918 population. The number of surviving British veterans who got married (4.2m), their offspring and orphans of those KIA or MIA (300,000) were then mapped from 1918 to modern times, growing to a population of 26.7 million today.
- A nationally representative poll of 2,000 Britons to tell us about the levels of modern day knowledge of our WWI hero ancestors. Sample = 2,000 UK residents, carried out online between 4-6th July 2014. This showed that 30% of people know of their British WWI hero heritage, equivalent to 19.2 million people, meaning that 7.5 million of the 26.7 million people with war hero ancestry are unaware of it (approx. 28%).
Full methodology available upon request.
- This is based on applying the 28% (% of all descendants of WWI heroes unaware of their heritage – 7.5m/26.7m – see above) to the 4.2m surviving veterans and the 300,000 veterans who died leaving children. 28% of 4.5m = 1.26m, approximately one million. This is an underestimate (minimum) as the population of people who know of a WWI hero in their lineage could contain overlap (where people share the same WWI ancestor), which would increase the proportion of ‘forgotten heroes’. NB – Our definition of ‘forgotten heroes’ are of those ‘forgotten’ by direct descendants, rather than completely forgotten by all, or extended non-direct descendants.
- Of those who know nothing of any WWI ancestry, when questioned about why, the most common response was that ‘none of my family ever told me’ (56%).
- Among all respondents to the poll, 13% said that they believe they have a WWI ancestor but don’t know any details. When asked why they didn’t know the details the most common answer was that ‘my grandparents died before I could ask them about details’ (60%).
- Of those questioned with knowledge of their WWI ancestors, 51% agreed with the statement ‘Knowing that one of my ancestors fought in WWI makes me more grateful for what I have today’ and 50% agreed with the statement ‘I’m humbled that my direct ancestor put so much at risk for his country’.
- Access to the records in the Medal Index Cards collection will be free until 31 December 2014 23:59 p.m. GMT. To view these records you will need to register for free with Ancestry.co.uk with your name and email address. We will then send you a user name and password to access the records. After the free access period ends, you will only be able to view the records in the featured collections using an Ancestry.co.uk paid membership.