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Remembered Today:

Lives of the First World War launch - February 2014


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I think there are important points being made here about how do we record the contribution made by those outside the military. I'm quite sure I don't have an answer yet - I'd be really reluctant to seed all people from the 1911 census because then it really would just turn into a family history site. I do think that we can only start with what we have, and think about the more difficult tasks later...

Maybe there is no answer and it would be better now to consider it and be open about the fact that there is no way to both maintain the rigorous standards required and include everyone on the site.


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As to the use of official documents to sourcing "lives", I believe that If LFWW wants to be a rigorous and scrupulous exercise, it has to be grounded in fact, and has to avoid resorting to speculation or uncertainties. Official military records are the way to go to assert that someone did really serve in the war, whether at home or abroad.

Of course official documents are the way to go - the whole focus of my own research is based on official documents. But they simply don't exist for thousands of those who served in the United Kingdom, either destroyed in the Second World War or as an exercise by the War Office during the inter-war years. There are in the region of 60,000 women who served in the WAAC/QMAAC who no longer have a service record, most of those with home service only. There are also thousands of men who served in the British Army but did not go overseas - if they're among the 60% or so whose service records were destroyed, they also will remain anonymous. The site can never be complete and retain its integrity.


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Sue makes a very interesting point here about the balance between retaining the integrity of an evidence-based system and wanting to include as many people as possible. I confess to being very ignorant of the records of women who served, and it seems to me a great shame that there may be so many who will not be able to be included becasue there is no official record. Is there really nothing at all for all those people?

Currently there is a "suggested life stories" section where people can post the facts they have about relatives who do not appear on the site yet, but I suppose the problem here is that someone has to have some facts about the person to request they be added in the first place. I suspect saying "Great Auntie Enid served in the women's forces somewhere in the UK" won't be acceptable!

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The site can never be complete and retain its integrity.

I would agree with you. But then again, I confess that I always thought that - and slacking off the integrity controls won't ensure completeness.

Is there really nothing at all for all those people?

I would suggest that the answer to that is "unknown". What we eventually need is a way to load lists that get discovered tucked away in Record Offices. I suspect, for example, that it might be possible to load up the names of some, probably a very few, of the women who went to work in factories during the War. But I seriously don't imagine the IWM will want to become experts in the staff records of the London & North Western Railway, for instance, so it'll need to plug into other's expertise. Then there are Absent Voters' Lists, which might reveal the names of some of those in the military but still in the UK. Maybe we'll find lists of accommodation procured for munitions workers? We simply don't know what's out there.

Right now, we're hardly adept at loading data from recognised sources, never mind unrecognised ones.

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My token woman is proving a head ache. I suspect they are technical with the site.

Being well coached by people on this forum, plus thanks to Sue and others now knowing a good deal about Margaret Whitson and have several respectable sources.

But after adding a source I am unable to proceed as the site stalls and I get an endless reload icon, or message that the site for the person is unavailable. That has happened twice. Strictly speaking each piece of info must be linked to a source that contains that specific info. So I need two sources to enter her forenames, but the site may not refresh fast enough to allow people to enter details.

Another problem for me is that (I think) one has to re enter a source each time one uses it for another person. So using my uncles letters, I need to re-enter for each person mentioned and I cant see the screen to make absolutely sure that I give the same info in the same fields each time. So I am already messing up the IWM database by not standardising my citations of the same archive? As for other users citing the same sources, the mind boggles.

This Forum is actually a much better place to make contact with people researching a known individual as the posts here show up in Google, as does my own site. Whereas the names on the Lives of the FWW may only show up on a search within that site.

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Yes, the site works again, if I close down my browser, do a bit of thinking and then return, using all the various stages of entering and searching again.

There is something else odd about the sources one has added. Going back to the site, I couldnt see the sources I had added. They didnt show up till I clicked on the Military tab. Even though I needed them to put in family data, her middle name and parents, which was then possible.

I am determined to put in all I know about Margaret Whitson (thanks to Sue Light) but it will take some time and must wait for now.

I notice that the Lives site will allow one to enter brothers, but it was her nephew who was on the front nearby. It must have been terribly worrying for her and I think that was why my uncle (himself still a boy) went over to see her.

He may have had a horse by that time and his letters show that being given a horse on promotion to acting captain gave one mobility in ones free time.

It was so different in the artillery where almost anyone could get hold of a horse.

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Warrant Officer Class 2 Thomas William Hall

D.o.B 07/02/1891

D.o.D 06/12/1975

RFA Service #930168

I am fortunate enough to have a small archive of documents & photos relating to my grandfather, and, despite the clunkiness of the LFWW site, have actually enjoyed scanning these and building his 'biography.' I'm pretty much a novice at family history & have found much useful advice from the discussion threads on Lives of WW1 - so many thanks for these.

I was disappointed to find that the 'Communities' created so far have not yet been indexed. This seems somewhat short-sighted if they are to be effective. Each Community has simply been allocated a number, without any indication as to what they relate to (eg a named regiment, battle etc.) I certainly don't want to spend hours trawling through them in the hope that somebody has already set up a community relating to my own particular interest. My grandfather enlisted in his local TA in 1909 & went on to serve throughout WW1, but since he was in the RFA &, as I have already discovered, the brigade/battery numbers and letters are very confusing, I would love to be able to link his story with others, particularly from his part of the London area (56th London Division.) I don't feel confident enough to host a Community of my own &, anyway, how would other people find it if it were just identified as Community no XXX ??

Has anybody else explored the Communities option - oh yes & it is only available to subscribers!

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Morning (just)

Is there any way of searching this site for an area ie Walsall, or do we have to look for specifics ?



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As I understand it, the searchable Index for Lives is made from specific "seed data", which at present consists ONLY of the (Army) Medal Index Cards from National Archives and the Canadian Attestation Records, Thus for now you can only search by name, Unit or service number as those are the only items available from the seed data.

I would assume that as the data used to seed the index increases, other search options will become available.


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I find that I am slowly getting the hang of things and even though the 'Search Official Documents', is limited I was AMAZED to find a NEW record for my Grt Uncle from Kent on a Surrey Recruitment Register.

So everyone - don't give up.......

It is worth persevering..........


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  • 2 weeks later...

Well, there's list of all the available record sets, which highlights new ones: https://livesofthefirstworldwar.org/a-z-of-record-sets automating searching them is not necessarily entirely straightforward as they will have different info transcribed in each (and could have mistranscriptions) etc etc. Adding "hint" functionailty might work though.

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Just started on this IWM site so a lot to learn.

My grandfather Maurice Newman RGA is listed under both his original and new service numbers. Can these records be linked or does the information have to be entered twice?


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there will be a way to merge them, for now pick one and record the details of both on the help forums, and it should get sorted when the functionality is introduced.

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There's a specific FAQ on this Nigel. Usually happens becasue the man has more than one MIC and each of course generates a separate entry. I have one with three!


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  • 4 years later...

Please remember that we have until 18 March 2019 to remember the fallen and the survivors on The Lives of the Fisrt World War. A lot of work remains to be done on this site - so many men and women yet to be remembered.

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  • 4 months later...

Tom Sawyer

Whilst Hans Christian Andersen's story of The Emperor's Clothes is well-known, the similar story of Tom Sawyer and the fence is not. It is a similar tale, to be wary of “spin”.


The boy Tom Sawyer has the dreary task of whitewashing a fence to perform. He would much rather be spending his time in a more leisurely manner. He is not getting paid to do this, but he has to obey his Aunt in any case. (He is being punished for having skipped school for a day.)

When several of his friends come along, individually, he strikes up conversation with them. He explains that is is an honour and a privilege to perform such a task. Not only do these people end up painting the fence for him, they pay him for the privilege too.

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The IWM had the conflicting demands of covering the costs of a web platform, and allowing it to be free. At the same time, it needed to entice a genealogy services provider to participate in the project, and to somehow find a way for said partner to make money in the process.

In essence, this laudable project was “privatised”. Unlike, say, building an extension on a house, the highly specialised nature meant there were only two potential suppliers globally.

In order to entice the supplier to participate, there has been no evidence of project milestones, or adherence to service levels as per a SLA or similar. It appears that at the IWM, somebody said “We have to have FindMyPast on board as a supplier. I don't care what you promise, or what concessions you give, just make sure that they agree to sign up.”


At the same time, there is an aura of secrecy around the project. When the IWM and FindMyPast agreed to work together, there was a legal partnership that came into being. In the name of “commercial sensitivity” for a “going concern”, there has been the justification to have zero transparency on the project now known as “Lives of the First World War” (LOTFWW).


Phase one

In order to get off the ground, there appears to have been some unrealistic “talking up” of how popular the product would be, and how many people would pay for a “premium membership”. This combination of arrogance, stupidity and wishful thinking would result in a “build and they will come” approach.

Beta testing commenced in May 2014. The website was clunky, and it is understood that many users provided this feedback to the LOTFWW team. No training was provided, and it was somewhat bewildering. During the test, some “official records” could be searched for, and attached to a person in the database. The surviving British Army service records were appearing as “1790 US Census”. The initial records were sourced, but in order to bump up the numbers, half a million potential duplicates were added along with the existing four million British Army campaign medal recipients. There was no indication as to when other records would be added.


The platform has been plagued with a lack of data management policy – names from other datasets are added, without any system-based weeding, whilst other areas are woefully under-represented.


(If a duplication is identified and reported, it is the unpaid volunteers who perform this manual activity. Similarly, if a new person is to be added to the database, this is a manual activity that is performed by an unpaid IWM volunteer. The volunteers were asked to help out in August 2015.)


FindMyPast does not have experience in building websites, and this showed itself with the clunky platform they built in 2014.


It soon became apparent that a platform with a clunky setup, a limited coverage (British Army only), no technical support and an inability to have requested additions to the database was not something that the average punter would be prepared to pay an annual premium subscription for. The poorly assembled platform failed to become a Tom Sawyer white fence. The IWM team were no longer there in paid employment in Spring 2015, and leave me with the impression that they became scapegoats.


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A comment that I have seen elsewhere. I agree with the sentiments, and it struck a chord with me


Final Thoughts - You Reap what you Sow

The First World War Generation are surely deserving of a permanent digital memorial and as the Imperial War Museum was founded with “The intention was to collect and display material as a record of everyone’s experiences during that war - civilian and military - and to commemorate the sacrifices of all sections of society” it would seem on paper to be the perfect fit. 
However despite the bold tagline “We believe that each and every one of the 8 million who served during WW1 deserves to be remembered” this claim does not hold up to scrutiny. What we have with “lives” is a vast and varied collection of military records dumped into a database with hundreds of thousands of duplications, errors and omissions. As a starting point for research that is fine, but it does not constitute a fitting memorial. The most basic memorial task of including all personnel who have a CWGC entry is incomplete despite that information being very publicly available. A cursory search of FIndmypast’s records will reveal many that they did not include in the database despite having the data “in house”. There are thousands of other records that are not held by FMP also ignored. This means that any local researcher or group had many pages that needed to be reported via this clunky support system, assuming they were determined enough to seek it out. 
The handful of volunteers who have given up huge amounts of their time over the last 3 years to try and make a positive difference to the data are to be applauded, as well as the thousands of members of the public who have contributed over the project’s lifespan. However it is disappointing that neither FMP nor IWM have demonstrated any desire to acknowledge or get to grips with the underlying problems. 
The database is certainly a lot better now that it was in 2016 and the volunteers have done their best with the very limited resources open to them. I would argue that the site only started to build in momentum after the ability to add missing people was belatedly introduced. It is a shame that neither enough time nor resources were made available to really make the difference. 
It has to be questioned whether trying to run a memorial through a commercial partnership was ever a sensible proposition. The hard work necessary to compile a complete database was too time consuming to be profitable and therefore ignored, the push towards paid access to records was one of the main turn-offs for a lot of people and those who already have genealogy subscriptions were not inclined to pay twice for the same thing. Having the memorial database as a distinct separate IWM entity that people could have linked FMP etc external references to would have been cleaner and less controversial. 
So we wait with interest to see what form the Permanent Digital Memorial takes when IWM have it in house. IWM’s published Digital Transformation Strategy has all the right corporate jargon but we will see how it works in practice with what should have been IWM’s flagship WW1 digital project. 
Of all the many fleeting WW1 projects undertaken over the centenary this seemed to be the one with a possibility of a real long term legacy but it remains a great idea badly handled.


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This is what got populated in batches:

Ref Description Added to LOTFWW
WO 372 British Army 07-Mar-14
RG 150 CEF 23-May-14
ADM 339 RN Reserve 24-Jul-14
ADM 188 RN ratings 01-Aug-14
AIR 79 British Royal Air Force, Airmens' Service Records 04-Sep-14
AIR 76 British Royal Air Force, Officers' Service Records 06-Nov-14
ADM196 Royal Navy Officers 11-Dec-14
ADM 159 Royal Marines 08-Jan-15
BT 351 British Merchant Navy, First World War Medal Cards 10-Feb-15
AIR 80 British Women's Royal Air Force Airwomen 19-Feb-15
ADM 318 British WRNS Officers 24-Feb-15
ADM 336 British WRNS Ratings 24-Feb-15
WO 398 Women's Army Auxiliary Corp Service Records 13-Mar-15
18805 Online Cenotaph: New Zealand Expeditionary Force 10-Apr-15
B2455 Australian ANZACs from the National Archives of Australia 14-Apr-15
N/A Conscientious Objectors 06-May-15


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It sort of looks comprehensive but as I found out the inital seeding clearly omitted a lot of naval personnel and things with a trace of India !

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From my experience, when I asked for people to be added to the site, they were there within the week. Not difficult, all I had to do was show some evidence.

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