SHERWOOD, Clothall, 1778 (Military Records)

September 2002

Rob Sherwood of Melbourne, Australia, writes: My 4x great grandfather Stephen Sherwood of Clothall, served in the Hertfordshire militia.  He served as a result of the 1778 ballot. About 4 years ago Jack Parker suggested I search the PRO at Kew for Muster Rolls in Class WO 68 to get details of his service. According to the PRO web site the title of these records is...

War Office and predecessors: Records of Militia Regiments. 1759-1925.  568 volumes. Included in these records are: Enrolment books which provide for each man a description, place of birth, place and date of joining and period of service. Casualty books contain information on desertions, deaths, marriages and births of children.

Can you tell me where I go from here to find out more about Stephen's service?

In principal the answer to your question is very simple. You go to the Public Records Office at Kew (West London) and look the records up. Alternately you pay someone to do it for you (I believe the PRO has a list of people who offer their services), or find a UK relative with nothing better to do who is interested enough to do it for free. The PRO is like any other major archive anywhere in the world in that only a very small percentage of its collection is available off-site on microfilm (or other modern media) and even less is accessible through a detailed modern index.

Such records, whether they are in London or Melbourne, are only available on the premises. Every year more records are filmed and indexed - but the size of many archives are such that the process is very slow. I know of one recently discovered document collection which consists of a large trunk containing hundreds of bundles of legal documents which is not indexed beyond being a collection of papers from the archives of a named solicitor. It could well take a professional archivist many months to simply index to the bundle level.

I have limited experience of some PRO records relating to the First World War, when I was researching for "The London Gunners come to Town" and the records I was mainly looking at were war diaries - a typical unit diary would be a large bundle of papers with monthly diary sheet and associated documentation - which could consist of anything from a brief telegram to a bulky report. To find a reference to an individual you had to read through all relevant documents in the bundle. This was only possible if you understood the way war diaries worked - and which documents were likely to be relevant. Your class WO68 documents may well be much better structured - and as you know the name and the year you may be able to request the correct volume and you may find a contemporary manuscript index in it.

If you can add to the information given above tell me.