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Finding War Diaries: Beating Ancestry's Poor Indexing.

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Guest

For anyone struggling to find War Diaries on Ancestry.co.uk here is a quick and easy solution to beating the poor indexing. In this example I will use the 7th Bn Norfolk Regt.

 

  • 1. Open The National Archives Discovery  CLICK
  • 2. In the box closest to "any of these references" type WO 95. This limits the search to Great War period diaries.
  • 3. In the "Exact word or phrase" box type "1 Battalion Norfolk Regiment". Note 1 not 1st... and 2 not 2nd etc...click "Exact" and hit the blue Search button in the top right. This will generate the diary. CLICK
  • 4. Take the four digit stem from the WO 95 code...in this case the 1853 from WO 95/1853/1 and type it into the Ancestry "Keyword" box CLICK
  • 5. This will find the relevant file. Often the files contain more than one unit. Using the page index bottom centre type in 100 to jump forward 100 pages and see if the Norfolks diary appears. ..and 200... and 300 ..... after 3 attempts the 7th Bn Norfolk Regt's diary appears. Backtracking eventually gets to page 250 where the 7th Bn Norfolks diary starts.

 

NB. The reasons why many diaries are difficult to find is that they are usually consolidated with other units' diaries in Brigade War Diary bundles. Unless one knows the Brigade the unit was in (in this case 35 Inf Bde) and Division (in this case the 12th Division) it is difficult. In the drop down menu on Ancestry under "Browse this collection"the same diary could be found under Various (Infantry Brigades 12th Division). Even then one needs to know the relevant Brigade.

 

Happy hunting. 

 

 

 

TNA v Ancestry1.jpg

TNA v Ancestry2.jpg

TNA v Ancestry3.jpg

TNA v Ancestry4.jpg

Edited by Guest

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Lawryleslie

Never had a problem finding Unit War Diaries on Ancestry.com using the "Card Catalogue" then filtering "Military" - "Europe" - "United Kingdom". Half way down page 3 of the result are Gallipoli and Western Front War Diaries. You can then search for the relevant unit in the drop down menus on each page. Couldn’t be easier. In my opinion Ancestry gets bad reviews because people don’t know how to navigate th3 website.

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Guest
1 hour ago, Lawryleslie said:

Never had a problem finding Unit War Diaries on Ancestry.com using the "Card Catalogue" then filtering "Military" - "Europe" - "United Kingdom". Half way down page 3 of the result are Gallipoli and Western Front War Diaries. You can then search for the relevant unit in the drop down menus on each page. Couldn’t be easier. In my opinion Ancestry gets bad reviews because people don’t know how to navigate th3 website.

 

In this particular example under the Norfolk Regiment in the "Browse this collection" drop down menu the 12th Division does not appear. I would be interested to know how you would advise someone who is new to Ancestry how to progress from this starting point. MG

Edited by Guest

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Lawryleslie
18 hours ago, QGE said:

 

In this particular example under the Norfolk Regiment in the "Browse this collection" drop down menu the 12th Division does not appear. I would be interested to know how you would advise someone who is new to Ancestry how to progress from this starting point. MG

Misunderstanding here I think. Assuming the War Diaries one is searching for are available on Ancestry then the method I described works and is easy providing you know how. You are quite  correct the Norfolk Regiment 12th Division Diaries do not exist on Ancestry. Apologies if I have misled anybody.

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rolt968
22 hours ago, QGE said:

For anyone struggling to find War Diaries on Ancestry.co.uk here is a quick and easy solution to beating the poor indexing. In this example I will use the 7th Bn Norfolk Regt.

 

  • 1. Open The National Archives Discovery  CLICK
  • 2. In the box closest to "any of these references" type WO 95. This limits the search to Great War period diaries.
  • 3. In the "Exact word or phrase" box type "1 Battalion Norfolk Regiment". Note 1 not 1st... and 2 not 2nd etc...click "Exact" and hit the blue Search button in the top right. This will generate the diary. CLICK
  • 4. Take the four digit stem from the WO 95 code...in this case the 1853 from WO 95/1853/1 and type it into the Ancestry "Keyword" box CLICK
  • 5. This will find the relevant file. Often the files contain more than one unit. Using the page index bottom centre type in 100 to jump forward 100 pages and see if the Norfolks diary appears. ..and 200... and 300 ..... after 3 attempts the 7th Bn Norfolk Regt's diary appears. Backtracking eventually gets to page 250 where the 7th Bn Norfolks diary starts.

 

NB. The reasons why many diaries are difficult to find is that they are usually consolidated with other units' diaries in Brigade War Diary bundles. Unless one knows the Brigade the unit was in (in this case 35 Inf Bde) and Division (in this case the 12th Division) it is difficult. In the drop down menu on Ancestry under "Browse this collection"the same diary could be found under Various (Infantry Brigades 12th Division). Even then one needs to know the relevant Brigade.

 

Happy hunting. 

 

 

 

TNA v Ancestry1.jpg

TNA v Ancestry2.jpg

TNA v Ancestry3.jpg

TNA v Ancestry4.jpg

 

Thank you for posting this so clearly. I have used this method but it has been a bit hit and miss. I think I will print this and add it to my "How to" notes folder.

RM

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Don Regiano
Ron Clifton

For cavalry and infantry, British Regiments 1914-1918 by E A James is readily available as a reprint, and will tell you in which brigade and division a battalion or regiment served. Brigade MG Companies and Brigade TM Batteries have diaries under their respective infantry brigades, but they do not have the brigade number in the class-list to WO95. Becke's Orders of Battle of Divisions have the same information, and also include field artillery, engineers etc.

 

Some time ago I did post a thread with a list of the WO95 number ranges for each division. I can't lay my hand on it at the moment but I will try searching for it later.

 

Meanwhile, anyone seeking the War Diary of a unit is welcome to post a specific request and I, or a few other Forum Pals, will be able to help you fairly quickly.

 

Ron

PS What are infantry bridages? :lol: 

 

Edited by Ron Clifton

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Ron Clifton
13 minutes ago, Ron Clifton said:

Some time ago I did post a thread with a list of the WO95 number ranges for each division. I can't lay my hand on it at the moment but I will try searching for it later.

Ron

 

 

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TEW

Another aspect to this is that whatever description errors existed with TNA before ancestry had the diaries online will have been carried over to ancestry. However, I've made use of TNA's error reporting system with diaries I've downloaded from them and made numerous corrections to TNA's Description or Date. TNA now shows the corrected information while ancestry will never follow suit.

 

EG WO95/1592 used to be described by TNA as;

WO 95/1592/1 - Headquarters Branches and Services: Commander Royal Artillery. 1914

WO 95/1592/2 - Headquarters Branches and Services: Commander Royal Artillery. 1915-1916

 

I downloaded both from TNA and found them to be 6th Division ADMS and TNA corrected the description.

 

Ancestry still have it as;

Piece Description: Piece 1592/1-2: Headquarters Branches and Services: Commander Royal Artillery (1914 Aug - 1916 Dec). Regiment or Unit:Royal Army Medical Corps.

 

I've probably submitted a dozen or so errors to TNA, how many other errors have been reported and corrected by TNA which will slowly make things awkward to find on ancestry?

TEW

 

 

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Guest
13 hours ago, TEW said:

Another aspect to this is that whatever description errors existed with TNA before ancestry had the diaries online will have been carried over to ancestry. However, I've made use of TNA's error reporting system with diaries I've downloaded from them and made numerous corrections to TNA's Description or Date. TNA now shows the corrected information while ancestry will never follow suit.

 

EG WO95/1592 used to be described by TNA as;

WO 95/1592/1 - Headquarters Branches and Services: Commander Royal Artillery. 1914

WO 95/1592/2 - Headquarters Branches and Services: Commander Royal Artillery. 1915-1916

 

I downloaded both from TNA and found them to be 6th Division ADMS and TNA corrected the description.

 

Ancestry still have it as;

Piece Description: Piece 1592/1-2: Headquarters Branches and Services: Commander Royal Artillery (1914 Aug - 1916 Dec). Regiment or Unit:Royal Army Medical Corps.

 

I've probably submitted a dozen or so errors to TNA, how many other errors have been reported and corrected by TNA which will slowly make things awkward to find on ancestry?

TEW

 

 

 

 

The lack of pass-through is evident in most of the diaries. I have had very similar experiences - highlighting errors or mis-labelling in TNA which have been corrected, yet the Ancestry file remains unchanged. I gave up flagging errors to Ancestry some time ago as nothing ever appeared to change. 

 

Within TNA it is possible to isolate any Battalion diary in a single file or (increasingly) a set of files as diary 'loaf' is sliced into ever thinner slices. There are no other units in the same file... this seems to suggest all the battalion files have been separated. This does not seem to be the case for the majority of Battalion diaries in the Ancestry files. Many (most?) are still in Brigade bundles, particularly the New Army.

 

The example of the 7th Bn Norfolk Regiment (35th Inf Bde, 12th Divsion) in the OP is a case in point; the TNA files is WO 95/1853/1. It is a single file 404 MB. In Ancestry, firstly under the Browse function under the Norfolk Regiment there is no 12th Division listed so one can not locate this diary under Norfolk Regiment in the Browse function..... One needs to look in "Various (Infantry Brigades, 12th Division)" in the same drop down menu (towards the bottom). How anyone new to Ancestry would know this is a complete mystery.

 

Once the file is located (as in the OP) one discovers it is a bundle of units and one has to use a kind of artillery range-finding bracketing techniques to try and find the exact diary within the bundle -  on page 250  of a 707 page file in this example. In this case there is no cover page indicating how many units are in the diary and as it starts with 35th MGC and an inexperienced user might reasonably conclude they had the wrong file. This example clearly shows that the isolated 7th Bn Norfolk Regt war diary available in TNA is not isolated within Ancestry's offerings. This is very common. 

 

Frustratingly there is no consistency within Ancestry's filing and indexing. It is such a mess that prior to any transcription project I now 'map' the files into a spreadsheet, do a page count, index the start and end points of diaries within bundles etc in order to prioritise my work and optimise the time spent navigating. I also index every page of every diary in order to double check the diaries don't contain loose pages or runs of other diaries. Some do.  I recently did this for the Indian Army Corps only to find that some unit diaries were completely disorganised, and in some cases mixed up rather like a shuffled pack of cards. 129th Baluchis and 89th Punjabis being largely shuffled. Some battalions of the Gurkha Rifles are stand alone files, some are in brigade bundles and some are in more than one brigade bundle as the units were frequently transferred. One needs to have arcane knowledge of the ORBAT of the Indian Army Corps and all its multiple changes to stand a chance of finding the complete chronological run of some battalions in Ancestry Even after an exhaustive trawl there are large chunks of some diaries that can not be located. Rather than having been lost (destroyed) I suspect some have simply been mis-labelled. and are languishing in some dark corner of the archives. The frequency of out-of sequence pages, upside down pages and mis-labelling suggests an insufficient level of attention to detail.

 

As a heavy user of Ancestry, my experience has been that a large proportion of unit diaries remain in these bundled files -  hence my reliance on TNA's WO95 indexing... the WO5 index numbers appear to have been carried across with some success into Ancestry.

Edited by Guest

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