Documents about millions of soldiers and civilians captured during World War I are now available free on the Prisoners of the First World War website, created by the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC).
Eight million soldiers and 2 million civilians were sent to detention camps during the war. The combatants would periodically submit lists of prisoners to the ICRC’s International Prisoners of War Agency, established in 1914. The agency received documents recording prisoners’ names, capture, transfers between camps, and deaths while detained.
Staff made an index card for each prisoner, with references to records about that person, and filed the cards by nationality and military or civilian status. Here’s one for Albert Smith, a British soldier, giving his date of capture, rank and unit:
It also indexed relatives’ correspondence—since destroyed—requesting information on their captured loved ones. Part of the ICRC’s mission was to help prisoners find their families after the war. Here’s a correspondence index card for Albert, with information about him (including his birth date and place), the person who inquired about him with a home address, and his transfer between prisons:
According to the ICRC, 90 percent of the 5 million cards on prisoners and 500,000 pages of records associated with these cards are now searchable on the Prisoners of the First World War website.
You can search for names with the person’s nationality (British and Commonwealth, French or Belgian, Romanian, German, American, etc.) and military or civilian status. If you find a relative’s card, hover over it to click a link for “More information about this person.” Then you’ll be able to enter one of the reference numbers on the card to see the associated document, or click a link for help reading the card.
When I selected the letter code PA and typed the 35004 that appeared on Albert’s card, I saw this prisoners list (he’s at the bottom):
Researching an ancestor (male or female) who fought or volunteered in the Great War? See the July/August 2014 Family Tree Magazine for more top World War I genealogy websites and resources.