‘Just Ask’

For many Australians Anzac Day is a time of reflection and sadness as we remember all those who have served our nation.

20 April 2020

It is also a time to acknowledge their service and sacrifice, and recognise their bravery.

More than two million Australians have proudly served our nation since federation and tragically, more than 102,000 Australians have died in wars, conflicts and peacekeeping operations.

Anzac Day is a day that often prompts people to start wondering about family members who may have served, and piquing their curiosity about their service. One way to commemorate our service personnel is to learn more about their service history and share their story. This is something everyone can do, as all you need to do is ‘Just Ask’.

Finding out more about your family’s military history is relatively simple and you do not need to be an expert or spend hours researching. A simple first step is to go to the Australian War Memorial and National Archives of Australia online and just search by your relative’s name. Many visitors are amazed how much they can find out and in many cases the fascinating story about their family’s service history they discover.

Give your relatives or family friends a call and find out if they are aware of an ancestor that is one of the two million Australians who have served. In most cases, it will assist you to find out your ancestor’s name, when and where they were born, and their parents or grandparents details. These are all clues that you can use to begin your online research.

Once you have some basic clues, you can use family history websites such as Ancestry, My Heritage, Find My Past and Family Search to fill in any information gaps. This Anzac Day, Ancestry.com.au will be offering free access to their service records from 21 to 26 April 2020. Family history websites have catalogued archives from all over the world, such as: certificates for births, deaths and marriages, electoral rolls, census data, immigration information and military service records.

There are also some remarkable online resources which you can use to find more information about your ancestor’s service history. Military service records in Australia are generally held by the National Archives of Australia, and more recent files are retained by the Department of Defence. You can also search for information using the Department of Veterans’ Affairs Nominal roll or the Australian War Memorial’s search for a person tool.

The Commonwealth War Graves Commission also has casualty and cemetery databases. You can find the details and commemoration location of every casualty from the First and Second World Wars that the Commission is responsible for.

Don’t stop your research once you have found your ancestor’s service details, learn about where they served. Use the Australian War Memorial’s search tool and see what comes up. There might be photographs or diaries from their unit. When you are searching, you also might need think outside the box – think about where your ancestor came from and where they served.

The National Library of Australia is another useful resource. On their platform, Trove, you can find historical newspapers (including local ones),  books, photographs, maps and archives. You can also research broadly (e.g. a significant battle) or specifically (your relative’s name). Bear in mind, people weren’t necessarily known by their full name in the past, so it’s worth using their family name and town of origin or their unit name.

Finally, don’t forget to share what you have found, because their story is your story. You can do this through posting on Facebook or joining the global conversation on Twitter by using the hashtag: #AnzacAtHome. You can also email us with your story: social.media [at] dva.gov.au.

For more information visit the ‘Just Ask’ page on the Department of Veterans’ Affairs website.

For more information on what you can do to mark Anzac Day 2020, see the Anzac Day 2020 page on the Department of Veterans’ Affairs website.

Discover your military ancestors

Discover your military ancestors - steps 1 to 8

Step 1 - Just Ask

  • Start with your own family

Step 2 - Nominal Rolls

  • Department of Veterans' Affairs
  • Australian War Memorial

Step 3 - Military service records

  • National Archives of Australia
  • The National Archives (UK)
  • Archives New Zealand
  • Australian War Memorial

Step 4 - Family tree websites

  • Such as Ancestry.com.au

Step 5 - Search for a commemoration

  • Office of Australian War Graves
  • Commonwealth War Graves Commission

Step 6 - Look further afield

  • Newspapers (Trove)
  • National Library of Australia
  • Anzac Portal
  • State libraries and archives

Step 7 - Local resources

  • Council libraries
  • War memorials
  • Returned & Services League

Step 8 - Share your story

  • Facebook
  • Twitter
  • dva.social.media [at] dva.gov.au