Researching people who were involved in D-Day and the Battle of Normandy

Introduction

This is a short guide to a question that we are often asked: "How can I find out more about an individual who took part in D-Day?"

First, while they are still alive, try to ask them as much as possible about their experiences. Of course, in many cases that may sadly no longer be possible. If so, do you have any paperwork belonging to them? There may be clues in this, for example a photograph may have details written on the back of when and where it was taken, or which unit the troops shown in it belonged to.

We - the D-Day Museum - do not hold records about individual veterans, unless that particular person has previously given us material that we have added to the museum's archives. Before you contact us, you will need to know a few details such as which unit the veteran served in. To find this, you may need to contact other organisations, or do your own research.

There are several different types of records that you may find useful in your search. Some relate to individual people, and give specific details about their wartime service. Other useful records relate to a much larger group of people, such as an RAF squadron or an infantry battalion. These may not mention the person you are looking for by name, but will at least give an idea of what they were doing and experiencing at that time.

You can also make use of other family history sources, such as censuses, birth, marriage and death records, electoral registers and local newspapers. A useful tip is to keep track of the source of each piece of information that you have, so you can judge its reliability. After more than 70 years, it is not unusual for information to be misremembered or confused.

For information on armed forces casualties of any nationality in Normandy, it is worth checking the Fallen Heroes of Normandy website which lists information on individual casualties.

 

British servicemen and women

Service Records for Second World War British Servicemen are often the best source of information about an individual, and are held by The Ministry of Defence. For the Second World War period, these records are normally only available to next of kin. They will contain information such as when that person joined and left the armed forces, and which units they served in and when.

The National Archives hold many useful records, such as unit war diaries, and other documents such as maps, plans and reports regarding various campaigns and battles. Their collection can be searched online at their website.

If you are researching a servicemen who died during the war, their details will be recorded on the Commonwealth War Graves Commission's online Debt of Honour register.

Officers will be featured in the Navy, Army or Air Force List, which can be viewed at many local libraries. Officer's commissions also feature in The London Gazette, which can be searched online.

If you are researching a serviceman who was held as a Prisoner of War, there may be some relevant documents at The National Archives, such as questionnaires completed by ex-Prisoners of War, and also inspection reports by the Red Cross. The International Red Cross hold records of all twentieth century Prisoners of War. Unfortunately they are not currently accepting research requests.

Second World War gallantry medals were announced in The London Gazette, which can be searched online. The National Archives hold citations for Second World War British Army gallantry medals, and these can be downloaded via their website. The Ministry of Defence Medal Office website has information about Second World War campaign medals.

Depending on which unit a person served in, the relevant Regimental or Corps Museum, or the National Army Museum, National Museum of the Royal Navy, or RAF Museum, may have some information that may be of use.

There are several useful Research Guides available at The National Archives website.

 

Canadian servicemen and women

The service records of Canadian personnel who were killed during the Second World War are open to the public, and can be searched online.

Service records of Canadian personnel who survived are held by the Canadian National Archives, but access is currently restricted. For more information see the following Research Guide.

If you are researching a serviceman who died during the war, their details will be recorded on the Commonwealth War Graves Commission's online Debt of Honour register.

Officer's commissions feature in The Canada Gazette, which can be searched online. Second World War gallantry medals were also announced in the same publication.

The Canadian Virtual War Memorial has some information about Canadian Second World War dead, including some photographs.

 

US servicemen and women

US Army Second World War enlistment records can be searched and accessed online at the US National Archives website or here.

The US National Personnel Records Centre holds Service Records of US Second World War Servicemen.

If you are researching a US serviceman who died during the Second World War and they are buried outside of the United States, their details can be found on the American Battle monuments commission website.

If you are researching a US serviceman who died during the Second World War and whose body was repatriated for burial in the United States, then their details will be on the US Veterans Agency's grave locator website. Many Second World War veterans were also buried in US National Cemeteries after leaving the armed forces, and their records can be found on the same website.

The International Red Cross hold records of all twentieth century Prisoners of War. Unfortunately they are not currently accepting research requests. The US National Archives also has a database of US Prisoners of War, which can be searched online.

The US National Archives has an Honour List of Dead and Missing Army and Army Air Forces Personnel from the Second World War.  There is also a similar list for the US Navy, Marines Corps and Coastguard.

There are useful research guides produced by the US National Archives here and here.

 

German servicemen and women

Information on German armed forces casualties from the Second World War is available from the Volksbund Deutsche Kriegsgräberfürsorge. There is some useful information here.

 

Enquiries from descendants of American and Canadian soldiers who were in the UK during the Second World War

Occasionally we receive enquiries from people who are children (or other descendants) of Amercian or Canadian soldiers who were stationed in the UK in the Second World War, who want to find more about that soldier. In some cases, the soldier left suddenly (possibly to go to Normandy in 1944) and contact with him was lost at that point. Much of the above advice also applies in this situation, although sometimes very few details are known about the soldier (even his full name and unit may be uncertain).

There are two organisations that are worth contacting if they are applicable to your situation:

Canadian Roots is a charity that helps Canadian 'war children' born in the UK trace their fathers and other family in Canada, as well as helping Canadian fathers (or relatives) who are trying to trace a child they may have fathered in the UK during the Second World War.

GI Trace provides information for people who are trying to trace their American soldier fathers (or related family).

 

Other nationalities

We do not currently have information about researching individuals from other nationalities, but please do suggest any useful sources/websites that you know of.

 

Other useful websites

Please see the D-Day Museum's links page, which may have a link to another website relevant to the person's unit, branch of the services, or type of equipment they used (such as landing craft).

 

Research at the D-Day Museum

We do hold some material in the D-Day Museum's archives that may be useful. For example, we may have a published or unpublished history of a unit, the memoirs of another veteran who served in the same unit, or photographs of a relevant unit or place. We also hold material such as maps that may be useful in understanding a soldier's service in Normandy, for example. We also have a large library of books relating to D-Day.

This material can be consulted by the public, by prior appointment (click here to email).

 

 

The D-Day Museum is not responsible for content on external websites. We would be glad to hear if you find any broken links - please contact us via our contact page.