Casualty lists from The Genealogist

Many readers of this website will be familiar with the service providers Ancestry and Findmypast, both of which carry extensive collections of records that are of great value to anyone researching British soldiers of the Great War. Less well known in this field is the provider The Genealogist. I must confess that until recently hearing that this site now includes WW1 casualty lists, I scarcely gave it a look for it does not yet include the core, vital collections of service and campaign medal records.

The Genealogist has now added what it reports as 1.3 million names that appeared in British casualty lists. They appear to come from two sources. The War Office produced a daily official casualty list from the earliest months of the war, listing men who had been killed, died of wounds or accident, been declared as missing, wounded or (later) shell-shocked. From August 1917 these daily lists were produced in a weekly digest. These records are of enormous value to researchers, for in many cases the information that a man appeared in a list will not be available elsewhere. The Genealogist says that it has the weekly WO lists between 7 August 1917 and 9 April 1918 and the daily lists from 3 September 1914 to 1920.

The lists available on site can be searched by name, together with regiment, rank and number: it is not possible to search without a forename or surname. A list of men that fit the search criteria are returned, and the original document from which the information came can be viewed. These appear to be either a copy of the original War Office list, or a version of the list that was reproduced in the London “Times”. Researchers should note that the appearance of a name on the list was some time after the man became a casualty – usually around a month or so. Armed with this information and the war diary of the man’s unit, the circumstances in which he became a casualty can be traced.

The Genealogist is to be congratulated for a clear website. It is easy to use and search, and (from a sample) the accuracy with which the records have been transcribed is excellent.

The figure of 1.3 million names should be placed into context: official sources say that 2.27 million names of wounded alone appeared in casualty lists during the war, and if a man was wounded twice or more he appeared on two or more occasions. Even so this set of records will prove to be of value for many people.

The casualty lists are at present only available to those people who take out The Geneaologist’s “Diamond Personal Premium” level of service, which is the highest they offer and at present costs £119.45 per year. Subscribers at lower levels or on pay-as-you-go schemes offered by the site cannot access them. The lists can however be used by people who are in the initial free two weeks of access offered by the company, subject to terms.

The “Times” reproduction of War Office lists have been digitised for some years now and can be searched online although it requires access normally only available free of charge through libraries. Many local newspapers also carried lists, with many of these now being digitised and accessible via Findmypast or its stablemate the British Newspaper Archive.

Having now found The Genealogist I discover they do have some WW1 records including “Soldiers Died in the Great War”, the Army List of officers up to 1915 and from 1920, some memorial lists and rolls of honour, digitised copies of some divisional and regimental histories and more. I cannot comment on the non-military content.

Overall, from the viewpoint of someone  wishing to research a single soldier, the casualty lists are a very important source but on their own would not really justify the cost of a “Diamond” subscription. For those researching many soldiers, the economics begin to work out – but with The Genealogist not yet having the core service and medals records users will still need Ancestry and/or Findmypast.

In summary, this is a very welcome development in terms of the nature of records that have been digitised and thanks are due for a high-quality, well-worked website – but for researchers of soldiers access is at a cost that may not be justifiable on its own.  If The Genealogist adds service and medals records, there would then be a serious third player in this sector of the market. It will be interesting to see how this develops.