Chaplains Returns

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The Chaplains Returns of baptisms, marriages and burials 1761-1880, also known as Army Returns. From 1880 they were known as Army Births, Deaths and Marriages and from 1959 Forces Births, Deaths and Marriages. These records include the registrations of British armed forces (including serving members who were not British nationals) posted overseas.

In 1914 the Royal Commission on Public Records said ‘There is reason to believe that this class of military record has neither been preserved nor transmitted with sufficient care[1], so there are many BMD events which are not available.

In particular, the Army Chaplains Returns of Burials most likely do not include many deaths in action, or associated deaths in camp or on the march, including deaths from disease, such as cholera or heat stroke, where a chaplain did not conduct the burial service. The documentation does not appear to cover this point. The Muster roll records should include these deaths.

The Chaplain Returns records were compiled by regimental chaplains and may also be duplicated within the regimental records. The Overseas Section of the General Register Office in Southport holds these volumes and the indexes can be viewed at The National Archives (TNA) and online.

As an example of a record from the Army Birth Returns, a researcher has advised he has a “certified copy” from the GRO taken from “Army Book 112 (Register of Births) of the -th Bn. -th Punjab Regiment for the six months ending 30th June 19-- reported from the Military Station at Isak (North Waziristan)”. Note this Regiment was part of the Indian Army. He advised: I suspect the official recording and reporting of such events as births to British or foreign Indian Army soldiers’ wives were likely to have been done almost entirely through their Army channels with not a Chaplain in sight and would be dependent on the British/foreign father reporting the birth, although one needs to allow for delays in reporting - I was born before the six months specified above In my case it looks as if my father reported my birth to his adjutant a couple of months or more after the event when he was on operations (that means in a war situation) in Waziristan. [2]

The indexes in respect of the overseas registrations are most commonly called the British Army Overseas Indexes. Note that if a soldier died on a troopship there may be a record in the GRO Marine Deaths indexes, (some of which were noted to be handwritten, so subject to transcription error) or births may appear in the GRO Marine Births indexes. Most of the indexes are available online, see below.

Note that if a record is available both in the India Office Church records (now available on findmypast (pay website)) and in the General Register Office records, the latter may contain more information, at least for some time periods. By way of example, in 1903 the additional information available for a marriage record was the nationalities of the groom and bride, and the occupations of the fathers of the groom and bride.

There is also a series of records which includes India, (held by the General Register Office, and not on open access), known as the Regimental Registers 1761-1924 which are original entries of births/baptisms, marriages and (far fewer) deaths/burials kept by various regiments and relate to the families of officers and other ranks at home and on foreign stations from 1790.[3] Included in this series are records of regimental marriages taking place between 1761 and 1924 that have never been indexed. As these additional records have never been indexed, they are not included in the data on findmypast or other websites. If you can provide the man's name and regiment, and approximate date the GRO will search their records. Email the GRO with GQ in the subject header, eg "GQ Regimental Marriage Registers", to avoid receiving an automated reply.[4] There is a summary list of regiments and of dates covered for births and marriages in an Appendix to My ancestor was in the British Army by Michael J. and Christopher T. Watts (Society of Genealogists, 1995),[3] and an online listing of the regiments (but no dates) which also includes Army of Black Sea, Salonica Force and Egyptian Garrisons.[5] Indexes for the records which have been indexed, are available on findmypast. In respect of "Regimental Birth Indexes –[these] may show several index references for the same person. As a soldier moved from one regiment to another, he had to register himself and his family each time for pay purposes. If you find more than one index reference for same person, provide all references and we will produce the entry with the most information".[6]

Accessing the above British Army Overseas Indexes

  • contains most of the GRO Overseas Indexes which include images from the British Army Overseas Indexes which you can access for free, (even though most other records on the site require a subscription). These are viewable images, which have not been transcribed to search. The site requires an up to date Adobe Flash (Flash 11 or later) plug-in to view the images. First you must log in (with first time registration required), from the Home Page, then select 'Search' (from the bar across the top of the page) and then 'Overseas Records'. (If the required records don't display, look for the category 'Free' records). Then select the database you are interested in. Note, some pages from the indexes were missing at one time, so the database may not be complete (missing Army marriage pages were noted). (Note: this website became inactive late July 2015, but returned c February 2016). British Overseas Records A description of the many GRO Index records on
  • Findmypast (pay website) contains three separate Index databases called British Armed Forces and Overseas Births, Marriages, Deaths, all of which contain overseas and some UK events, which include many of the British Army Overseas Indexes, (located within BMD). Some Royal Air Force index records are also included, as are GRO Marine Birth and Deaths indexes, which may be relevant for events on troopships. (Note, "Overseas" was amalgamated into this database 2018/01.) There is a charge to search, however the findmypast records have the advantage that at least some (but not Index records) may indicate the relevant regiment. In addition, the database contains indexes for births in the U.K. and overseas, 1761-1924, taken from regimental registers, including births in India. The Armed Forces Deaths database also includes what may be called GRO War Deaths or GRO War Dead.[7] As noted above, WO97 records are also available.
Findmypast article Scroll down the left side to GRO to see the many GRO Indexes included in the findmypast databases. Note, it does not seem possible to browse through an Index on findmypast. Note currently (2019/07) if you wish to search within the GRO Indexes on findmypast, your only option is to select one of the databases British Armed Forces and Overseas Births, Marriages or Deaths, as there is no option to specifically search one of the GRO indexes.
  • GRO "War Deaths Indian Services 1914-1921". The index for this dataset is briefly mentioned in the Fact Sheet: The British in India from the now closed Family Records Centre, so now would be available at the National Archives. "They relate to the Indian Army, Marines and other services". The AIGS (Australian Institute of Genealogical Studies, or Family History Connections) library in Melbourne Victoria has reference to this index as a book in its collection, title Overseas indexes: subtitle war deaths in the Indian Services, 1914-1921, number 355.305 GEN. This index database is not included in either, or findmypast.
  • If you have found an index reference and you then want to order a certificate, this can be done online from the GRO. (A charge applies). In the past the certificate has been a transcript, not a copy of the original document, and this is believed to be the current situation.
    • For legal reasons, Overseas and Forces certificates are not available in (the cheaper) PDF format.
    • If you do not supply the GRO Index reference, the certificate will cost more as there is an additional search fee, and it may take longer to be sent.
    • If a record is available both in the India Office Church record series on findmypast and in the GRO records, the latter may contain more information, at least for some time periods. By way of example, in 1903 the additional information available for a marriage record was the nationalities of the groom and bride, and the occupations of the fathers of the groom and bride.
    • The GRO certificates for War Deaths only contain limited information, which is taken from Army records, and an example shows it shows only the general terminology "killed in action".[8]
  • FamilySearch microfilm/microfiche records relating to various Indexes mentioned above, with catalogue entry by keyword search National Statist. These records are expected to be digitised in time. See FamilySearch Centres for more details.

Other National Archives records

  • Some marriage and baptismal information for Royal Artillery soldiers and their family, including India related details, may be found in the National Archives series WO 69. Some of this information has been transcribed and may be found by entering the surname and “WO69” in the National Archives Discovery Search. Many of the records in this series were destroyed during the Second World War, so the records are incomplete. Also see Royal Artillery for more information.
  • Ancestry (pay website) includes a database UK, British Army and Navy Birth, Marriage and Death Records, 1730-1960 (located in BMD records). This database consists mainly of Naval records, sourced from the National Archives, with relatively few records in respect of the British Army and does not include the GRO records referred to above.

Other Archives

British Armed Forces, Roman Catholic Registers have been digitised from The Scottish Catholic Archives and are available on findmypast (pay website) in the database British Armed Forces, Roman Catholic Registers 1836-1975 (located within BMDs, introduced 2017/11). There is a related Browse database. The registers were created by the Bishopric of the Forces, the religious officials of the Roman Catholic Church responsible for the pastoral care of Roman Catholics in the military. Includes locations in the UK as well as bases in Cairo, Cyprus, Malta, and more.

See also

  • British Army Records.
    • The WO97 records, to 1913, described in Section 4.1.2 Service and pension records, available on findmypast, may include information about marriages, births of children or deaths of family members. It may be helpful to view the WO97 record first, before pursing the records mentioned above. Some muster rolls also include married rolls for the regiment.
    • See Service Records for Army personnel serving after January 1921 (April 1922 for officers) which may possibly contain relevant family information.
  • General Register Office
    • The series of records RG 34 was noted to include a short roll of "Officers, British Prisoners of War, who have married in Holland" c 1918, including one Indian Army Officer.[9]

External links

  • Commonwealth War Graves Commission. For more detais see, Cemeteries – CWGC.
  • British Births, Marriages and Deaths Overseas. FamilySearch Wiki. Based on three articles by Anthony Camp, formerly Director of Society of Genealogists, in Family Tree Magazine in July, August and October 2000.
  • National Archives Guide Looking for records of a birth, marriage or death in the armed forces
  • Mediterranean area
    • Malta. Some regiments in India came from a posting in Malta, or were posted there after leaving India.
      • Malta Family History, now an archived website. Includes data for births, marriages and burials. Also includes data about other areas such as the Ionian Islands, including Corfu and has a section called "Other Mediterranean Cemeteries" which includes Gibraltar and Smyrna, Turkey. The Smyrna database also includes baptisms and marriages (1795 – 1832). Although this site is now archived, most/all of the internal links appear to be available.
      • There are some church records for Malta available at the London Metropolitan Archives
      • deceased online, a website which is free to search but pay to view, has some records for military burials in Malta, also Egypt and Cyprus. These records are described as "Selected pieces from the National Archives WO 156/103-122'", which are "UK and overseas garrisons; Registers of burials". For more details, from the deceased online Home Page, select 'Coverage' and scroll down to " “The National Archives - Military Burials” date added: 12 Dec 2013". Also includes records from the National Archives series ADM 6, ADM 73, ADM 305.
      • Details of Malta Registers at The National Archives and Registers in Class ADM. Includes B, M, B. (Note: (selected) burials are now available online, refer above). Alan McGowan’s "Garrison Church Registers", now an archived website.
    • Gibraltar
      • Gibraltar National Archives now has a Search facility for free transcriptions of Military Births, Deaths and Marriages in Gibraltar 1869-1914, based on records from the Gibraltar Civil Register office. Note a previous comment that a certificate obtained in Gibraltar, from the Registrar of Births and Deaths of Gibraltar, contained additional information to the certificate obtained from the GRO [10].
      FamilySearch catalogue entry Civil registration, 1848-1990 from the "Registry of Births, Marriages and Deaths in Gibraltar", with most of the records digitised microfilm viewable on your home computer.
      • British Overseas Territories/select Gibraltar from Ireland & United KingdomGenWeb, now an archived website. Select Articles/ ‘Cemetery Records' for burial records from King’s Chapel (Witham’s Cemetery). Where an occupation is shown, the burials appear to be of British Army soldiers, and seamen. Select ‘Military Records’ for transcriptions by Donald Brett[11] of the Gibraltar Indexes for the Chaplains Returns for Deaths and Marriages (to 1880). The Gibraltar Chaplains Returns Indexes for Births have been transcribed separately by Donald Brett: download - depending on your browser, you may need to locate this in your downloads folder. (Full records, in respect of these Index records, are available at the GRO).
      • FamilySearch has some additional records for Gibraltar- See General Register Office-External links for details.
      • findmypast includes a group of records from Gibraltar, some baptisms, marriages and burials from St Andrew's Kirk, which appear to be related to the military, or seamen, and some marriage indexes supplied by FamilySearch. From the Search, select A-Z of record sets, then use Search term Gibraltar to locate the record databases.
    • Egypt had compulsory civil registration for births and deaths from 1912 for all, including foreigners. [12] Egypt Genealogy FamilySearch Wiki.

Historical books online


  1. British Births, Marriages and Deaths Overseas Family Search Wiki
  2. By email to User:Maureene, 23-24 Feb 2010
  3. 3.0 3.1 Regimental Registers FamilySearch Wiki.
  4. Downes, Pam GRO Regimental Birth Indices 04-03-2005 Forum. Retrieved 6 April 2015.
  5. Available on (refer Accessing the above British Army Overseas Indexes) in the free database "GRO List of Army Registers"
  6. Certificate ordering Service: Most customers want to know... (Scroll down)
  7. War Deaths, including World Wars I and II, and the Boer War. Searching for overseas records GRO, now an archived web page.
  8. Ellis1918. Death certs? Great War Forum 27 August 2017. Retrieved 24 July 2019.
  9. Ancestry record for Alexander John Hew Maclean of Ardgour, British Army, also mentions Captain Mullaly, 9th Bhopal Inf.
  10. aitch2o Info ommitted from GRO supplied birth cert Who Do You Think You Are? Forum 21 November 2015, and later posts. Retrieved 5 December 2015.
  11. Gibraltar WorldGenWeb Project, now an archived webpage
  12. The Development of the Vital Statistics System in Egypt by Gamal Askar January 1981.