Researching the First World War: what I’ve learnt so far

We have a War Memorial in the Arlington Baths with the names of 72 members who died in the First World War. Many of our members have looked at the memorial many times over the years and have wondered about the stories behind the names.

Here’s just a few of the things we’d like to know:

  • Who were the men before they ended up on the war memorial? Did they have a job? Were they at university or college or, even, were they still at school?
  • What was their connection with the Arlington Baths? When did they join? Were they in the water polo team or the swimming competitions? Did they sit on the Board?
  • Who were their families? Who were their parents, siblings and children? Were they all members of the Baths too? What happened to the families after the War?
  • What they did do in the War? Which service did they join? Where did they fight? How did they die, and where are they buried?

Members of the History Group have begun this research. But there’s still lots to check and – hopefully – discover.

We have also discovered the names of around 250 other men who served but who survived, including some who may be relatives of those who did not return. And we’re finding relatives in the records as well – what was it like for them when their sons, fathers, brothers or husbands didn’t return?

How can we do this research? Here’s a few of the sources I’ve used so far.

Arlington archive and family history sources

The Arlington Baths Club archive materials are in the Glasgow City Archives.

I’ve already found a lot of the names on the War Memorial in the Membership lists from 1914 to 1918. This gives details of their address, when they joined the Club, and when looking though them, occasionally it’s possible to spot other members of the family – same surname and same address.

These membership lists are for men aged over 18 years, so anyone younger than that might be listed in the Supernumerary and Ladies Membership Books from the same period.

The Proposal Books show when people applied to join the Club, and might include their occupation or employer (or their age for under-18s) but the entries are not in alphabetical order so we have to flick though the pages one by one – there’s 350 in each book! – to try and find each person’s proposal form.

Once we have an address as well as a name, it’s a lot easier to use to try and track down census entries and voter rolls to get information about the person and their family. Ancestry is available free in Glasgow City libraries to library members. In the Glasgow City Archives in the Mitchell Library are sources such as Post Office Directories and the Valuation Rolls which also have lots of information about addresses in the city and who lived there.

If the person had a particular profession or trade, or worked for a large company, then there may be more sources to consult. If they were from a specific community, then again specialist archives such as the Scottish Jewish Archives Centre may be useful.

Military records and sources

Screenshot of the Family History at the Mitchell websiteThe Glasgow Family History website has some starter information about researching people in the First World War.

As well as personal information, the Ancestry website has war service records, medal indexes and details of war pensions. Another source is Forces War Records but it charges for access.

We also have already found the majority of our war dead in the Commonwealth War Graves Commission so if they died abroad then we know where they are buried.

The Evening Times Roll of Honour with lists of people killed, wounded and missing in action is also online at Glasgow City Libraries Family History website.

Lots of other organisations in Glasgow have Rolls of Honour and some of these have been digitised; find out more on the Glasgow Family History website.

If you suspect the person you are researching was a student, there are online Rolls of Honour for:

Some schools also have online biographies of the ex-students. Regimental histories or archives may also offer more information.

The Imperial War Museum has a lot of material online including some photos of soldiers.

Finally, records in the British Newspaper Archive have to be paid for but a free search can bring up snippets of newspaper articles, such as obituaries, that might be useful and which may then be found in the Special Collections in The Mitchell Library.

General First World War history

We have other aspects of the War and its impact on the Baths and its members that we’d like to dig a little deeper into once we have the time, including women’s involvement in the war effort, the financial impact on the Baths, and the creation of the War Memorial.

We want to know what it was like after the War, especially for those members of the Baths who had lost brothers, husbands, fathers or friends. How did the community adapt to living with the absences after the War?

To learn more about what it was like in Britain at the time of the War there lots of websites with general information, stories, events and pictures. Here’s a few:

Once you start researching it’s a fascinating journey; sometimes hard to know when to stop!

And I’m sure there are lots more resources and places to look. If you know of any useful sources please share them in the comments below.



Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s