How to find long-lost Anzacs in your family history
IF YOU watch some genealogy programs you will be told that finding a family member is a simple task of keying in a name and it will pop up out of the ether!
Of course everything is not always so easy, even on the best databases. You often have to contend with transcription errors, inconsistencies, shades of the truth, and even deliberate lies!
Currently, with First World War anniversaries looming closer, there is a great amount of activity with people trying to find long-lost soldiers in their family. Where should they start?
The Australian War Memorial, and the National Library are great sites and one of their more recent databases is Mapping our Anzacs.
This new site is good because it gives you a record of the original enlistment and often spelling mistakes or other errors can be picked up.
What is perhaps more important to some researchers, it includes those who enlisted but stayed in Australia, and those who were rejected. The other databases list only those who went overseas.
Gravestones and Obituary listings are another source of information. However, here one is sometimes hampered by initials of forenames being given instead of full names.
This can be frustrating if the surname is fairly common like Smith or Brown, especially if there is only one forename initial! Local history books sometimes give lists of the names of servicemen, or perhaps there is the list from a roll of honour board in a local hall.
Here again initials are often used but perhaps the place of residence will help identify someone on an Embarkation List.
It is well to know a little about the geography of the area of course as little settlements often were referred to under several names. In addition, a larger settlement like Lismore, Ballina, or perhaps Alstonville could be noted whereas the person actually came from somewhere smaller.
People would think of postal addresses when giving information and the smaller settlements were always "via" some other larger centre. As well, some people tended to move around and change addresses frequently, thus causing confusion for the researcher!
A busy enlistment clerk could also add to this confusion by simply putting the place of enlistment as the place of residence. It is amazing how many of our soldiers were said to have been residents of Brisbane!
Most of the indexes we have on these computer sites have been transcribed from lists, many of which were transcriptions themselves. You should be aware that errors occur.
The War Memorial has four main files: Embarkation List, Nominal Roll, Roll of Honour, and Awards. Embarkation lists all those soldiers who left Australia.
They are listed by unit and then by number. The file can be accessed by surname or number.
The Nominal Roll is more or less alphabetical and usually lists the fate of those who went overseas, including nurses.
More information is still being found and it is added by hand. You cannot access the Nominal Roll by number, however, and this is sometimes frustrating.
If you know a soldier died or won a medal it is sometimes easier to start with these Rolls as they are accessible by name or number.
However, remember that sometimes the number has an "a" after it.
There are various other tricks to searching all these files, and no doubt you will soon discover them.