News / Ask the Expert – missing soldier

Ask the Expert – missing soldier

Stephen Rigden, findmypast's resident expert

Our expert Stephen Rigden, pictured, answers your questions.

From Chris Hobson in Sheffield:

‘I am trying to find a great great grandfather who was born in 1823. His name was Thomas Woodhouse, born in Sheffield, and he joined the army serving in Ireland, Glerkad barracks Glasgow, Canada and Portsmouth. He must have served 12 years between 1842 and 1854 but I cannot find any trace of him in’s military records.

I think he was overseas in 1841 because his family is not on the census. I also cannot find any record of his marriage to Maria from Lavenham, Suffolk. Can you help please?’

Steve says:

‘Thanks for your question.

If you cannot find your ancestor in the Chelsea Pensioner British Army Service Records, it is worth trying again in future. The reason for this is that we will be adding related series of records over the next months. The first will be Militia records 1806 to 1915 from The National Archives’ WO96 series; while it may not have been true in the case of your ancestor, there was movement out of the army into the militia, sometimes after a break of years, following completion of regular service.

In such cases, it is just possible that records might be with the Militia series WO96 rather than in the Chelsea Pensioner WO97.

We also have plans to add further complementary records relating to the 19th century soldier towards the end of this year and over the course of 2011.

In the meantime, I note from the 1861 census that the recorded details of Thomas Woodhouse’s eldest children then living at home – Thomas, born circa 1843/44 in ‘America British Colonies’, Ann, born 1845/46 in ‘Taranca’ (maybe Tauranga?) and David, born 1852/53 in ‘Glasc, Scotland’ (Glasgow?) – certainly indicate a strong possibility that the family could have been travelling with the British Army for at least a decade.

It is also possible, therefore, that his marriage may have taken place outside the jurisdiction of England & Wales (perhaps in Ireland or Canada). Therefore, if you have not done so already, it is worth searching at least the army chaplains’ and regimental records among the overseas BMD indexes on Please bear in mind that these official records from the General Register Office are known to be incomplete.

Genealogy is sometimes, even often, frustrating and unfortunately there does not seem to be an immediate answer to the difficulties you are encountering at present. The amount of information which is being digitised and made available online, however, is ever-increasing and it is quite possible that what now strikes you as a brick wall could become straightforward to solve in 18 months’ or two years’ time.

Of course, if in the meantime any readers have any ideas, please send them in as usual!’

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