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Online and Free : International Red Cross : WW1 Prisoner of War records : all countries : military a

Were any of your family Prisoners of War - either civilian or military - in any country during World War 1?

Thanks to the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) in Geneva, you can search five million individual World War 1 (WW1) Prisoner of War records online for all the combatant countries. There is no charge to access the records.

ICRC logo for blog article on war records for military and civilian participants in World Wars by Your Family Genealogist

According to the ICRC, approximately 8 million servicemen and two million civilians were captured and interned in camps for several years during the supposed "war to end all wars".

The ICRC’s database, titled International Committee of the Red Cross : 1914-1918 : Prisoners of the First World War : Historical Archives, holds details about military personnel and civilians from the following 13 country groups which participated in WW1:

Britain and The Commonwealth

America (USA)

Belgium and France

Greece

Russia

Italy

Portugal

Germany (including Chileans and Uruguayans)

Astro-Hungary

Turkey

Serbia

Bulgaria

Romania.

Each of the country groups break down into categories for both military and civilian records, namely:

British and Commonwealth

  • Main file of the British Army and Commonwealth

  • French, ­Belgian and British servicemen and civilians interned in Switzerland

  • British servicemen interned in Switzerland

  • British servicemen in the Macedonian front

  • Servicemen missing in Gallipoli (Dardanelles)

America (USA)

  • United States Army Task Force Main File

Belgium and French records (including those of Charles de Gaulle):

  • French Army and Belgian Army main file

  • French, Belgian and British servicemen and civilians interned in Switzerland

Greece

  • Greek Army Main File

Russian records

  • Russian servicemen in the Western front

  • Italian Records

  • Main file of the Italian Army

  • Italian prisoners of war dead in captivity

Italy

  • Main file of the Italian Army

  • Italian prisoners of war dead in captivity

Portu­­­­gal

  • Portuguese Army main file

German records (including Chilians and Urguayans):

  • German Army main file

  • German sailors in American custody (USA), Chilians and Uruguayans

  • German and Austro-Hungarian soldiers missing on the Romanian Front

Austro-Hungary

  • Austro-Hungarian prisoners of war in French and British custody

  • Austro-Hungarian prisoners of war in Russian custody

  • Austro-Hungarian prisoners of war in Romanian custody

Turkey

  • German, Austro-Hungarian and Turkish civilians

Serbia

  • Serbian Army main file

  • Main file of the Entente civilians

Bulgaria

  • Soldiers of the Bulgarian Army

Romania

  • Main file of the Entente civilians

Using the database

The database is very easy to search. Some of the index cards contain cross-reference details and the listed numbers are also searchable and lead to related information either about your ancestor's incarceration or their family members seeking any information as to their whereabouts.

To search the database, visit the website, enter a name in the large circular button and click <<Start Search>>:

In the next screen, choose the prisoner's nationality and the corresponding dataset. In the example below I am looking for Mr Rooney, a member of the British and Commonwealth forces in the Australian Army.

Click the red <<Validate>> button and the system will return a list of potential matches.

Above: search results screen for surname Rooney

The black column to the left of the screen (the "tag list") contains an alphabetical list of names to help you jump quickly to the correct index card. The number in brackets after the name indicates the number of card files for that name. To view the card files, use the white scroll bar on the right hand side of the screen. When you have found the correct person, hover the mouse pointer over the index card to see options for printing, downloading, sharing etc.

Charles de Gaulle's WW1 Prisoner of War index cards

One of the more famous people represented in the ICRC index cards is Charles de Gaulle, then a Captain in the French Army's 33rd Infantry Regiment who spent most of the war in a German prisoner of war camp before going on to become his country's President. He is an example of someone who had multiple index cards (five) in the database.

Image of Charles De Gaulle's ICRC index card in Blog about WW1 prisoners of war Red Cross records by Your Family Genealogist

Above: One of Charles de Gaulle's index cards. Note the cross-reference numbers to other index cards.

The ICRC website has an abbreviations glossary to help interpret the index cards. Once you have determined where your prisoner of war was interned, it is worth checking whether any camp reports have survived and are available on the ICRC website.

ICRC WW1 Camp Reports image in blog by Your Family Genealogist

There are also personal written accounts of prisoners about their comrades missing in combat and some prisoner obituaries.

ICRC WW1 Prisoner of War Personal accounts of prisoners about missing comrades and obituaries - in blog by Your Family Genealogist

Access to other ICRC records

The ICRC has also made the following records available online:

  • General ICRC files dating back more than 50 years, including minutes of the decision-making bodies; and

  • Recruitment Commission Minutes which include staff files containing personal or medical information dating back over 100 years. Note: The ICRC has a 50-year closure period on these files unless the individual’s permission is available.

How did you go?

Were any of your family prisoners of war or internees during WW1? Let me know in the Comments Section below if you found this online and free resource helpful.

Therese Lynch

Your Family Genealogist

Related Blog Post : British Red Cross WW1 Volunteers : Online and Free

Pictures : courtesy of the International Committee of the Red Cross