I am researching my 3G GF James Vincent. I have what looks like his baptism (2 Feb 1779, Wilton Wiltshire), and I have found him in the 1841 census living just outside Salisbury, occupation is 'Army Pensioner' age 60. Further digging has found him 20 years previously age 40 in Andover under the heading of 'Draft Registration'. It is a bit of a surprise that he might be joining up aged 40.

Is that possible, or am I making links that don't actually exist?

Has anyone any pointers for where I can search to find out what regiment he would have been signing up for, and also details of the draft?

My research to date has not found anything

  • 1
    You need to give us some clues about where this Andover reference is, otherwise there's nothing for us to work on. FindMyPast is probably the best source of British Army info for that period - I have little experience of what's on Fold3 but my impression is that (for this era) it has little that's not already in FMP or downloads from the UK's National Archives.
    – AdrianB38
    Commented Dec 20, 2022 at 21:56
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    My initial reaction is that the use of "Draft" to mean recruitment into the military is very much an Americanism, so in this context "Draft" is perhaps more likely to mean a preliminary version of the book (i.e. the register) in question. However, as I said, without some clues, we're just guessing.
    – AdrianB38
    Commented Dec 20, 2022 at 22:00
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    @AdrianB38 Presumably this is Andover in Hampshire, which Google maps says is "situated alongside the major A303 trunk road at the eastern end of Salisbury Plain" but the question would be greatly improved if we knew what record collection this "draft registration" came from. I agree that the phrase "Draft Registration" is most often used in the USA. We sometimes see 19thC lists of men eligible for Militia service in the US, & just like the 20th Century draft registrations, that is NOT proof of military service. Similar to Jury eligibility lists where one might not get called for a jury.
    – Jan Murphy
    Commented Dec 20, 2022 at 23:53
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    Please be more specific about the documents you have on hand, and which records you have searched in already. We cannot help you evaluate records when we don't know what you have. Consider who created the record and for what purpose it was created. This guide at TNA's Discovery website may be of help for records held at TNA. Check the RO or the site where you obtained the military record for similar guides. nationalarchives.gov.uk/help-with-your-research/research-guides/… " I can't find anything" is not sufficient for a show of research effort
    – Jan Murphy
    Commented Dec 21, 2022 at 0:04

3 Answers 3


This is a stub of an answer and may be fleshed out later with more specific information once the answer is updated.

If a research subject is listed on an 1841 Census enumeration as an "Army Pensioner" then that gives us a place to start when looking for records.

TNA's Discovery website has several guides in the category of military and maritime research. The following guides seem to be most relevant to this question:

Note that TNA's guide for research before 1913 says:

Although Britain has had a regular standing army since around 1660, there are few personnel records before the early 18th century.

When collecting any record you are unfamiliar with, do not leap immediately to making suppositions or assumptions about what the record means. Take a moment to collect a full source citation, not only so you can show others where you found the record, but so you can learn more about the record and understand what you are looking at.

I keep on my desktop a screenshot of a statement by Elizabeth Shown Mills, from her book Evidence Explained. This quote can be found on page 10 of the 2nd edition and page 8 of the 3rd revised edition. Mills says:

We identify our sources—and their strengths and weaknesses—so we can reach the most reliable conclusions.

We do ourselves a great disservice when we search for our people by name, and assume that just because we have the same or similar name in the right place, a record must belong to the person we're seeking. Leaping to conclusions, taking information from records and re-presenting it to others without context, hinders our understanding of what information the records (not necessarily the people in the records) are telling us. Learning more about the records helps us avoid premature connectivitis syndrome (PCS), cherry-picking records and linking them up simply because we want a record about our people.

As an exercise, it can help greatly to write out a document which lists each record you have, along with your thoughts about why you thought this might be your person when you collected it, plus your analysis and ideas about what to do next. Researching for context can help you spot clues in records that otherwise might not seem significant. The big-box genealogy sites that give us hints encourage us to match up names and places and call it a day. My standard procedure with a new record is to treat the new one as if it is about a different person, and to say "What can I find out about the person in this record?" E.g. if you brought me a death registration from 1860 for a James Vincent, I would work first to make sure it didn't belong to someone with the same name as your 3g grandfather.

FamilySearch's Family Tree and Ancestry both have a place in the online tree to record a reason you think the record belongs to your person when you attach a source. A common problem I see on FamilySearch Family Tree is a Reason which is merely the title of the source being attached. "This person didn't have a baptism record and I found one which seems to match" is not a good reason to accept a record; Warren Bittner calls looking for records to "fill in the blank" a false research imperative. For a later record than the period you're asking in this question, I might write: "The father's address on the soldier's record is consistent with the address found in the 1911 census" or note other correspondences with the records already collected. It may seem silly to write out obvious things explicitly, but when you have to leave your research for a time, it's much easier to pick up where you left off when you have done so.


I'm afraid that I can't disentangle what that FamilySearch (FS) reference actually means. According to the index on the URL you gave, the entry comes from the "Great Britain, War Office Registers, 1772-1935", and according to the page on that collection, "The records are held at The National Archives in Kew under WO 25". WO 25 is, I'm afraid, a bundle of various types of register books, so I can't tell anything more about the record that FS have indexed.

If I go to FindMyPast (FMP) and try various searches on their Military stuff, looking for James Vincent, b 1779 +/- 5y, it's surprising how many matches there are. There are at least three born in Wilton, Wilts, though I'm not convinced they all qualify by year of birth.

Perhaps the most interesting one is this, as it roughly matches by age to your baptism:

First name(s)  James

Last name  Vincent

Discharge corps  3rd Garrison Battalion

Document type  Discharge

Archive reference  WO 97

Birth parish  Wilton

Series  Wo 97 - Chelsea Pensioners British Army Service Records 1760-1913

Birth town  Salisbury

Birth county  Wiltshire

Rank:  Serjeant Major

Record set  British Army Service Records

Regiment  Royal Garrison Battalions

Subcategory  Regimental & Service Records

This is a document discharging him in Feb 1815 at Malta from that regiment. It gives a list of the regiments that he served in - which starts in 1795 in the Royal Marines before moving over the the British Army proper - and his age (36, i.e. b abt 1779).

The above may also be a/v on Fold3 as Ancestry has an index to a record with similar details (assuming we match "Wilton" on FMP to "Willow" on Ancestry).

I suspect that the above is in the TNA Catalogue as:

Reference: WO 97/1145/399

Description: JAMES VINCENT

Born WILTON, Wiltshire

Served in 66th Foot Regiment; 3rd Garrison Battalion; 2nd Garrison Battalion; Royal Marines

Discharged aged 36

Date: 1795-1815

I have no knowledge of whether anything useful survives in Royal Marine records for the Serjeant Major (note archaic spelling!). Army documents of this period are (Muster Books and Paylists aside) mostly related to pensions - even what looks like an Attestation document (created on joining the Army) is usually a copy created for pensions purposes.

The most detailed documents tend to be the discharge documents as per the WO 97 example mentioned above. There can also be other pages created solely for the purposes of administering pension payments. In my personal view (i.e. I'm guessing) that's probably what the FamilySearch document is. Unless I saw the original I'm not sure I'd even believe the WO 25 reference and I certainly don't believe "Draft Registration" - that sounds like FamilySearch creating a list of events and being unwilling to update it.

Your tasks could be to

  • get access to that FamilySearch image;
  • check the image for the Serjeant Major to see if it can be linked to your chap and / or to the FS image.

Note that if it is the Serjeant Major, the list of regiments on his WO 97 Discharge Document is all you're going to get, apart from Muster Books & Paylists. These show quarterly snapshots of everyone in a regiment / battalion / depot but can often, on the first and last such entry in a unit, indicate previous or next service. Aside from a very few on Ancestry, these are all only available at TNA, Kew, in the UK.


I've gone back to the original documents and it appears it was a Family Search record which was a transcription of the War Office Registers 1772-1935 https://www.familysearch.org/ark:/61903/1:1:QG27-83VD I need to visit a LDS centre to view the original, apparently. Working on the assumption that this was my James I searched the National Archives for James Vincent leaving the army between 1819 and 1841 and could only find one record https://discovery.nationalarchives.gov.uk/details/r/C9520684 which looked really promising until I looked a bit closer and realised the person leaving the army here was 26 and my James would have been 42. Ah well, back to the drawing board on that one, I think I was jumping to premature connections without the proof


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