1297 Reign of King Edward I
Militia Lists and Musters begin as early as 1297 these contain the names of men eligible for military service. Not all have survived. Militia units were raised on a county basis and kept their own records, Fencibles were army units raised for home defence only, and appear on records usually with the militia records. Yeomanry were volunteer regiments; very few records survive.
1617 Reign of King James I
Navy records go as far back as 1617, these are exceptionally difficult to use not only due to the 'olde' script but due to the fact they didn't use a proper universal indexing system.
1660 Reign of King Charles II
The first proper 'army' began as a permanent organization in 1660 after the restoration of the Monarchy following Cromwells 'lord protectorship' and the 15 years of the New Model Army.
1755 Reign of King George II
The Royal Marines have been a separate part of the Navy since 1755.
1760 Reign of King George III
The national archive has the earliest British Army records which date as far back as 1760!
From 1760-1854 these records are arranged by regiment, & alphabetically. However, if there are several soldiers of the same name you still will have to determine which one is yours.
From 1855-1872 the records are arranged by regiment there is no index however!
From 1873-1882 the documents are alphabetically by name within the arm of service, i.e. cavalry, infantry, artillery, engineers and corps, rather than by regiment.
From 1883-1899 and 1900-1913 the records for the entire army are alphabetically by surname in these groups.
1765 Reign of King George III
The Army List, a published annual, begins: with an index to each year beginning in 1765, but half-pay (semi-retired) officers are not included in early indexes.
1790 Reign of King George III
Some records of marines survive from 1790, some by enlistment date and others by date of discharge.
1816 Reign of King George III
From 1816 to 1923 the Coastguard also kept its own records.
1837 Reign of King William IV
If you are tracing an ancestor born after 1837 it is quite possible to find a reference to a solder's regiment on a birth, marriage or death certificate. Therefore civil registration records should be searched as well as the census returns of 1841-1891, where reference to professions and occupations are found.
1847 Reign of Queen Victoria
Before 1847 joining the army was usually for life! The only men to leave were generally those who died or were discharged early for a disability.
Before 1853 however it would be very rare for anyone other than officers to be recorded and then only for a pay list, medal awards or desertion!
1871 Reign of Queen Victoria
Until 1871 officers were not entitled to a pension.
When they retired they either sold their commissions or went on what is called "half pay." Payments of half pay and pensions rested with the paymaster-general (PMG), and it among those PMG records that the genealogist will have to search at the PRO. They date from 1737.
1872 Reign of Queen Victoria
Before 1872 army records are arranged by regiment, many of these regiments have written histories with information about where & when the units served and the battles they fought in.