Researching your ancestors' occupations

How to identify your ancestors' occupations and find more information their employment history.

Introduction

This page will help you to research military personnel who served in the Australian Defence Force from 1902 onward. It focuses primarily ong the Australian Army. the Royal Australian Navy (RAN) and the Royal Australian Air Force (RAAF).

Although this guide includes many WWI resources, you can find more extensive information can be found in our Australians in World War 1 research guide.

Detailed information on the colonial forces can be found in our Australian colonial forces and family history research guide - which covers the period from the First Fleet in 1788 to the end of the South African (Boer War) in 1902.

 


  Army Service Corps Melbourne, taken in time of South African War. H6905.

State Library Victoria

State Library Victoria holds a rich collection of resources useful for researching military ancestors. We hold official and regimental histories of World War I and World War II. books on battles and campaigns, official and unofficial lists of army, navy and air-force officers,  enlistment and casualty registers, biographies, images, journals and newspapers. In our manuscripts collection you can find a strong collection of personal papers including war diaries, letters and photographs.

Search the Library catalogue for the name of an individual, their military unit, a place name or the name of a particular battle or campaign. Try searching for a number of keywords i.e. Kokoda campaign, Egypt nurses or RAAF Germany. By enclosing keywords in quotation marks you are ensuring that the words are searched as an exact phrase i.e."Womens Land Army" or "24th battalion"

You can also browse the following subject heading searches and add additional keywords to limit your search down.

World War, 1914-1918, World War, 1939-1945, Vietnam War, 1961-1975, Korean War, 1950-1953

Use the catalogue drop-down menu to limit your search to 'Pictures & photographs'. "Journals & newspaper titles" or  'Manuscripts'.

 

 Image shows a crowd of R.A.A.F. men on a small jeep.

RAAF ground crews in Front line. H99.200/50

More information can found on our World War I and World War II collection pages.

Military records

Official military records include - service records, embarkation records, nominal rolls, Department of Veterans Affairs case files, official military histories and unit diaries, maps and much more.

Each of these records has the potential to provide valuable information about your ancestor. Details vary for each record type, but may include - name, name of next of kin, age, marital status,occupation, unit name, movements and transfers, injuries, casualty information etc.

Click on each of the tabs in this box to find more information on the relevant category of records.


Many of the resources listed are held by the National Archives of Australia (NAA), the Australian War Memorial or the Department of Defence. Please consult their websites for further information on their holdings.

World War 1 and World War 2

Army, Navy and Air Force service records are held at the National Archives of Australia (NAA). The records include - personal details, name of next of kin, relevant dates, some medical details and the name of their unit or ship.

Copies of World War I Army and Navy records and some World War II Army, Navy and Air Force records have been digitised and can freely be accessed through the NAA website. – the remaining World War II records are currently being digitised and should be available by early 2023. 

To find a record go to the NAA RecordSearch page. Select the Basic search option and enter the person’s surname and service number (if known). Or try using the Name search, enter the person’s surname and select the relevant collection from the drop down menu.

If the record hasn’t been digitised you can order an online copy. Select 'request copy' on the right side of the screen above the item title and follow the prompts.

You can find out more about the service records held at the NAA on their research page.
 

Post World War 2 service records

The National Archives of Australia (NAA) holds a range of records for the following post WW2 conflicts, however most of the service records for these campaigns are currently held with the Department of Defence.

Korean War: 1950 to 1953
Malayan Emergency: 1948 to 1960
Indonesian Confrontation: 1962 to 1966
Vietnam War: 1962 to 1975

To find records we recommend that you begin by searching the NAA’s  RecordSearch. If you have no success you will need to submit a request for information using their 'Defence service after World War II' enquiry form. 

See the Department of Defence - Service and Personnel records page for further information.

The details of approximately 330,000 AIF personnel are listed on the First World War Embarkation Rolls - available on the Australian War Memorial website.

The rolls contain information recorded on the Attestation Forms and usually include - name, address, age (not date of birth), religion, occupation, rank, number and unit at the time of enlistment, date of enlistment, previous military service, next of kin's name and address, date of embarkation,  ship and place of embarkation. Please note that this is not a complete list of those who embarked.

At the end of the war a Nominal Roll was produced, updating the information provided on the Embarkation Roll. It provided information on the rank, unit, honours received and fate. Click on the Nominal roll tab to find holdings of these records.

Separate Embarkation rolls are not available for other conflicts. See Service records and Nominal rolls for similar information.

 View shows mounted soldiers marching down a street, with crowds gathered on either side.

1st. Australian Division leaving Melbourne 1914, H39187

 

The First World War Nominal roll was recorded to assist with the repatriation of personnel to Australia from overseas service following the First World War. Details include name, service number, rank, unit, conflict/operation, enlistment date, fate and date of fate.

From World War Two onward, the Nominal roll was compiled by extracting data from original Department of Defence service records. Additional information may have been gathered from records held in the National Archives of Australia or the Australian War Memorial.
The roll provides a 'snapshot' of each individual veteran's military service.

The information included varies for each conflict but should include - name, service, service number, date and place of birth, date and place of enlistment, next of kin, date of discharge, rank, posting at discharge, whether they had been a prisoner of war and any known honours.

 

1914-18
World War I

Search the First World War Nominal roll on the Australian War Memorial website.

1939-45 
World War 2

Search the WW2 Nominal roll though the  Department of Veteran’s Affairs website.

1950–1953
Korean War

Search the Korean War Nominal roll though the  Department of Veteran’s Affairs website.

1962-1975
Vietnam War

Search the Vietnam Nominal roll though the  Department of Veteran’s Affairs website.

Aug 1990 to Sept 1991
Preliminary Gulf War

Information regarding access to these records can be found on the  Department of Veteran’s Affairs website.

Department of Veterans' Affairs case files, also known as repatriation files, contain medical, hospital and pension records from the time when an individual returned home, until their death.

Copies of Boer War, WWI and some WW2 DVA case files can be accessed through the National Archives of Australia.

To find a record go to their RecordSearch page. Select the Basic search option and enter the person’s surname and service number (if known). Or try using the Name search, enter the person’s surname and select the relevant collection from the drop down menu.

If a record isn't listed, or hasn't been digitised you can contact the NAA using their Ask us a question online form.

On the Australian War Memorial website you can search the following indexes -

  • Honours and Awards
    Compiled from the London and Commonwealth Gazettes this website provides the names and gazetted dates of Australians who were granted honours and awards in conflicts from the Boer War to the Vietnam War.
     
  • Honours and Awards (Recommendation)
    Details of recommendations for military honours and awards to Australians.
     
  •  Roll of Honour
    Lists the details of Australian armed forces personnel who died during or as a result of warlike service, non-warlike service and certain peacetime operations.
     
  • Commemorative Roll
    Lists the details of Australians who died during or as a result of warlike service, non-warlike service and certain peacetime operations, in the service of Allied nations, the Merchant Navy, and with civilian organisations.|
     
  •  Malayan Emergency Rolls and Awards Registers
    Lists the details of roughly 4600 personnel.

  • Indonesian Confrontation Rolls and Awards Registers
    Lists the details of approximately 3100 personnel.

See also -

  • London Gazette Archive
    Covers Gazette editions from the war years (1914-1920, 1939-1948) and all London Gazette honours and awards in the 20th century. There are citations for some awards but generally not for awards of Military Medal or Mention in Despatches.
  • It's an honour
    Search the Australian Honours Database for a list of medals and recipients. Imperial war medals, Campaign medals and Active service medals are not included. For details regarding these medals, please go the Department of Defence website.

For further information on WW1 medals, please go to our Australians in World War 1 research guide.

In May 1917, the Imperial War Graves Commission (now known as the Commonwealth War Graves Commission) was established by Royal Charter. It had the responsibility for identifying and maintaining war graves for British Commonwealth countries.

The Commonwealth War Graves Commission has  two databases related to war casualties on their website - Find War Dead  and Find Cemeteries & Memorials. You can search the databases on their website.
The databases list  the 1.7 million men and women of the Commonwealth forces who died during the two world wars and the 23,000 cemeteries, memorials and other locations worldwide where they are commemorated.  Information can also be found on the Department of Veterans' Affairs website.

See also the Office of Australian War Graves (OAWC).  Previously known as the Anzac Agency of the Commonwealth War Graves Commission, OAWC is responsible for locating and maintaining Australian war graves. It also assists people to  locate graves.

The Australian government commissioned the creation of official histories for the First and Second World War, and the conflicts in Korea and South East Asia. They are an excellent source of information for researchers as they provide a detailed, chronological account of each service and conflict.

On the Australia War Memorial website you can access digitised copies of -

Copies of the following Official Histories can also be found in the State Library's collection -

More information on WW1 Official histories can be found on our Australians in World War 1 research guide.

Australian War Memorial

Digitised images of selected original war diaries, for the following conflicts, can be accessed through the Australian War Memorial website.

They also hold -

 

National Archives of Australia (NAA)

The NAA holds Air Force unit histories ( A9186).
To find a relevant entry to their RecordSearch page and conduct a basic search for 'RAAF unit history [unit name]'.

 

State Library Victoria

Some out of copyright World War I unit histories held by the State Library have also be digitised. They can be found by going to our World War 1 Unit Histories collection page.

We hold many other unit histories in our collection. Search the Library catalogue for the name of the unit or battalion.

National Archives of Australia

Most of the official Defence Force records, including auxiliary services, are held at the National Archives of Australia. Click on each of the above tabs to display a list of the key records held.

 

 Four Australian Soldiers On Camels In Front Of Pyramids

 Four Australian Soldiers On Camels In Front Of Pyramids, Egypt, World War I. H99.166/72

More information can be found in the following publication -

Some of the key Australian Army records held at the National Archives of Australia include -

  • Applications to enlist in the Australian Imperial Force (MT1486/1) This series consists of records for those individuals who applied to enlist in the Australian Imperial Force, and were either rejected, discharged while still in training, or went on to serve within Australia only [usually as depot troops or camp guards]. The most common reason for rejection is on medical grounds.
  • First Australian Imperial Force (1st AIF) Personnel Dossiers, 1914-1920 (B2455)
  • Second Australian Imperial Force Personnel Dossiers, 1939-47 (B883)
  • Citizen Military Forces personnel service records 1937-47 (B884).
  • PMF (Permanent Military Forces) and Army Militia Personnel dossiers, 1901-1973. (B4717) - includes Australian Army Nursing Service (AANS), representatives of philanthropic organisations (eg the Australian Red Cross, the YMCA, and Salvation Army) and accredited journalists and war correspondents (1939 to circa 1945).
  • Medical Documents - Army (Department of Defence Medical Documents) (A13860). Service documents for personnel who served in the Australian Military Forces (AMF) during the Second World War.
  • Lists of Army Personnel (Australian Military Force and Second Australian Imperial Force) (A828)
  • Army Personnel Files - multiple number series (B2458). This series consists of personnel dossiers maintained by the agency for ex-service personnel who were allocated service numbers after the re-organisation of numbering in 1947.

To find a record go to the NAA RecordSearch page. Select the Advanced search option, click on the Series box and enter the series number (listed above). Or try using the Name search, entering the person’s surname and selecting the relevant collection from the drop down menu

All World War 1 and many World War 2 records have been digitised. If the record hasn’t been digitised you can order an online copy. Find the relevant item then select the  'request copy' link, which appears on the right side of the screen above the item title. Follow the prompts.

More information can be found on the NAA's Defence and war service records website. If you need help locating material you can contact the NAA using their ask us a question service.

Some of the key Royal Australian Navy (RAN) held at the National Archives of Australia (NAA) include -

  • Service cards for navy officers 1911-1970 (Series A6769)
  • Service cards for petty officers and men 1911-1970 (Series A6770)
  • Record of service - Citizens Naval Forces 1897-1912 (Series CT190/1)
  • Volumes of service records of officers of the Royal Australian Navy 1912-1931 (Series A8363)
  • Confidential reports - naval officers 1912 onwards (Series A3978)
  • National service cards for Royal Australian Navy Reserve, 1950-1965 (Series A12907)
  • Naval personnel files, 1969 onwards (Series A2440)
  • Punishment Returns, HMAS ships. 1912-1959
  • Log books of HMC [Her Majesty's Colonial], HM [His/Her Majesty's] and HMA [Her Majesty's Australian] Ships, 1855-1956

All navy service cards (series A6769 and A6770) have been digitised and and can be found via the NAA RecordSearch page. (Select the Name search option, enter the person’s surname and select Navy personnel records from the drop down menu).

Crew details can also be found in the Ships' ledgers, Her Majesty's Australian ships 1911-56 (Series A4624). To use these records effectively you will need to know the name of the vessel and the approximate period of service of the individual.

If the record hasn’t been digitised you can order an online copy. Find the relevant item then select the  'request copy' link, which appears on the right side of the screen above the item title. Follow the prompts.

More information can be found on the NAA's Royal Australian Navy website. If you need help locating material you can contact the NAA using their ask us a question service.

Records from 1970 onward are held by the Department of Defence. Please submit a 'Defence service after World War II' enquiry regarding access to specific records..

Some records for the Royal Australian Naval Reserve from 1897-1912 are held at the National Archives of Australia and copies of Australian Naval Forces service records from 1901 to 1913 are held at the Australian War Memorial . Contact these agencies regarding access to these collections.

Australian Merchant Navy

Information on the Australian Merchant Navy can be found here.

The Royal Australian Air Force (RAAF) was created in 1921.

RAAF Service records are held at the National Archives of Australia (NAA). Records relating to the Australian Flying Corps, which preceded the RAAF, are included  in the collection of first Australian Imperial Force (AIF) records.

Some of the key RAAF records held at the NAA include -

  •   RAAF officers personnel files 1921-48 (Series A9300)
  •   RAAF personnel files of non-commissioned officers (NCOs) and other ranks 1921-48 (Series A9301)
  •   RAAF service records, all ranks 1949 onwards (Series A12372)
  •   RAAF casualty files 1922-60 (Series A705)
  •   RAAF unit records 1937-61 (Series AA1969/100)
  •   RAAF unit history sheets (Series A9186)

Service records can be useful for finding a person's age, next of kin, marital status, postings, training and promotion. They often contain additional information including - enlistment forms, records of leave,conduct sheets, and a photograph.

Casualty files (1922-1960) list those killed or severely wounded. They include details of the incident, reports from survivors, eye witnesses etc

Over 40,000 RAAF service records have been digitised, with more being added each week. Search for records by going to the NAA RecordSearch  page. (Select the Name search option, enter the person’s surname and select either Air Force personnel records or RAAF accident reports  (for casualty files) from the drop down menu).

If the record hasn’t been digitised you can order an online copy. Find the relevant item then select the  'request copy' link, which appears on the right side of the screen above the item title. Follow the prompts.

Australian War Memorial

Australian War Memorial

If you'd like to research the military history of an individual even further, take a look at the Australian War Memorial website.

  • Click on the Collection tab to access official histories, rolls and war diaries.
  • Click on the People tab to search for records relating to an individual. You might find digitised copies of WWI embarkation rolls, nominal rolls, honours and awards.
  • Explore their online research guides. Go this this page then scroll to the bottom of the website to find a list of their guides.

Shows several soldiers from the 8th Contingent on a train

A.I.F. troops from the 8th Contingent on trains], H98.101/1652

Women in the Australian Military

Three women from the Women's Auxiliary Australian Air Force assembling aircraft

Assembling Gipsy Major aircraft engines. H98.105/435

Go to our Australians in World War 1 research guide for information on Nurses and Women's war work during the First World War.
Official records for various women's Defence Force services, including the Women's Royal Australian Naval Service (WRANS), Women's Royal Australian Army Corps (WRAAC), Women's Royal Australian Air Force (WRAAF), Australian Army Nursing Service (AANS) and the Australian Women's Land Army (AWLA) are held at the National Archives of Australia. See the Military records section of this page for further information. Please note that not all personnel records have survived.

A brief history of each of these services together with a list of archival resources can be found on The Australian Women's register.

 A girl from the Land Army member standing in a field

 Australian Women's Land Army member harvesting millet, H98.105/653

Newspaper articles

Newspapers can be an excellent source of military information, reporting on events in Australia and overseas. They can be used to trace the military career of an individual or find articles on their departure, arrival home, family life etc.

The Trove Digitised Newspaper database provides full text access to a range of Victorian newspapers, published between 1803-1954. It includes the Weekly Times which often featured photographs of service men and women.
Try searching Trove for a name, or add the name of their hometown, a battalion, a battle or an event. Use quotation marks around keywords to search as an exact phrase, i.e. "Eric Chinner" Fromelles or Bowes Frankston.

Home again. Standard. 10 April 1942, p. 3.

 

If the newspaper isn't on Trove you may need to explore the collections held in the State Library's Newspaper & Family History Reading Rooms.

Newspaper databases

Our Library subscribes to a wide range of current and historic Australian and international newspaper databases including - Service Newspapers of World War Two.

They are available in the Library and many can be accessed offsite by Victorian residents who are registered State Library members.

More information can be found in our Newspapers research guides.

Ratings crowded round Australian newspaper. H98.100/3264