This weekend, we commemorate the 100th anniversary of an event of massive importance - the 1916 Easter Rising.

There will be a wealth of great reading material and documentaries available that provide a variety of takes on the violent insurrection. The Rising kick-started a chain of events that ended with the creation of the Irish Republic, and is certainly worthy of our remembrance and attention.

But as scholars debate the rights and wrongs along with the causes and effects, we can't help but think about our ancestors (or our ancestor's Irish brethren, if they had already immigrated to America) who lived in these turbulent times.

What can we learn about the innocent civilians caught in the crossfire; the common people swept up in the fever of rebellion; or even the soldiers tasked with quelling the Rising? What are their stories?

Normally, we have to hope historians provide those stories for us - access to the evidence that makes up the fabric of history typically requires a physical presence in archives and libraries.

But thanks to our most recent release, we're giving you the unique opportunity to explore rare historical documents - for the first time ever - from the comfort of your couch.

Exclusive Easter Rising history free all weekend

Featuring extraordinarily detailed on the ground coverage, these 75,000 records reveal the War of Independence as it was experienced on the streets of Ireland's cities.

Our records include eye-witness accounts, interviews with civilians, daily intelligence reports, and details of the trials and executions of the leaders of the Rising, and much more.

Special feature: Browse

This record set is so amazing that we couldn't pass up the opportunity to add a special feature.

You are able to browse the records in this collection, as opposed to searching for names only (most genealogy records only offer you the ability to search for specific names).

Make sure you give it a try while it's still free to access - there are not many online databases of such historical significance with this feature. It's very easy to use.

Browse the collection

To browse a set of documents, simply enter WO35/ followed by the reference number of the set. Keep reading for a sample of different perspectives you can explore.

Documents are grouped together by type, and each set has its own number. In order to browse a set, simply enter WO35/ followed by the piece number. For a full listing of what is contained in each set and the corresponding piece number, scroll to the bottom of the record set home page.

Once you enter the number, click the camera icon next to the result to view the images:

You will be able to easily turn the page, zoom in, print or download the image.

© Crown Copyright Images reproduced by courtesy of The National Archives, London, England.

In the document viewer, you can easily navigate between pages, zoom in or download the image.

Here's a handy trick if you don't want to flip through the record set one page at a time. Let's say you want to fast forward to page 56, here's how to do it.

Go to the address bar on your web browser and look at the URL of the web page. At the very end, you'll see a snippet of text that reads something like f00003 - this is how our database refers to the page number.

The text surrounded by red is what you'll want to edit to navigate more than one page at a time.

To skip to a certain page, simply edit the page number. Replace the necessary digits with whatever page you want.

For instance, if you want to skip to page 53, just edit the snippet to read f00053. If you want to skip to page 153, change it to f00153 and hit enter - voila! You're there.

Real history online for the first time

The Rising from different perspectives

The beauty of this record set is that it captures first hand accounts of nearly every different type of person the Easter Rising affected. Let's take a look at the various perspectives you can explore, and which sets are best to find them in:

Irish Civilians

Perhaps the greatest tragedy of the Rising was that over half of the casualties neither Rebels nor Royal forces, but civilians.

Piece 69, Events of Easter Rising Week in our collection (WO35/69) includes detailed reports of unarmed civilians killed or wounded by rebels throughout the week of the Easter Rising. The first few pages of this set detail an overview of the staggering numbers, and many individual reports follow.

Civilians were also negatively affected in the years that followed, as authorities sought to hunt down those involved in the Rising and general rebel activity. These intrusive raids had the opposite effect as intended - they actually increased support for the Rebel cause.

Raid and search reports can be found in pieces 70-85, 86a and 86b - military intelligence agents and police frequently raided houses of suspected rebels. In many cases, they made arrests based on hearsay, even when they discovered nothing incriminating:

"Constable 69.E. stated he knew this man to be a Sinn Feinder. Farrrell (sic) was in Manchester at the time of the 1916 Rebellion.

Thomas Farrell's house was raided 4 years after the Rising and even though no arms, ammunition or even banned literature was found, he was still arrested based on an accusation of a local constable. The entirety of his raid report can be found in WO35/75, and is an example of how little was often required to make an arrest.

Irish Rebels

Of course, not all of those raided and searched were innocent. Although the stated reason for this search was merely "general suspicion" the search party's intuition turned out to be right. The following items were discovered in the household of Thomas Hanrahan in County Kilkenny in 1920:

2 automatic pistols, 3 bombs and detonators, maps and ammunition were discovered in this raid.

© Crown Copyright Images reproduced by courtesy of The National Archives, London, England.

The dramatic story of this raid is captured in the report:

"Stewart offered cadets cigarettes. On being searched a fully loaded Webley & Scott automatic was found in the same pocket as his cigarettes."

© Crown Copyright Images reproduced by courtesy of The National Archives, London, England.

Can't you imagine this scene playing out as if in a dramatic movie?

The entire household waits with baited breath as the suspicious soldiers enter the room. One of the men present slyly attempts to casually offer cigarettes to the intrusive guests, but the bluff doesn't work - upon searching him, the soldiers discover an automatic pistol in the very pocket he just reached into! Amazing.

The full 3-page report can be found here in WO35/75 along with many other thrilling stories.

Royal soldiers

It's easy to view the Royal soldiers as villains in this story, and indeed some were - but it's important to remember that many of them were just young men recently drafted into military service or simply trying to earn a living.

Here we have the testimony of a member of the 14th Royal Fusiliers during the Court Martial of Peter Slattery. The soldier recounts his harrowing experience (his full quote is transcribed below the image)

2nd Lieutenant A.D. Chalmers was captured and nearly killed by the rebels. Read his full statement below.

© Crown Copyright Images reproduced by courtesy of The National Archives, London, England.

"I was taken prisoner by the rebels in Dublin on the 24th of April. I was seized inside the General Post Office. I was kept prisoner there until Friday night the 28th April... On Friday night I and about 16 others about 6 p.m. were taken outside into Moore Lane, formed up two deep and told to run, or they would shoot us. I started to run but was shot by one of the rebels with a Mauser pistol. They used us as a screen from the troops' fire. A private in the R. Dublin Fusiliers was also shot dead beside me."

This, and many other first hand accounts of the guerrilla warfare can be found in the casualty reports and testimony during the hundreds of courts martial cases contained in our records.

Royal Intelligence

Don't finish your browsing without checking out an enthralling report on the difficulty Royal forces had in gathering intelligence about the Rebels.

The Report on the Intelligence Branch of the Chief of Police, Dublin Castle (WO35/214) is an early exploration of the issues encountered by a traditional military facing asymmetrical warfare and insurgency. The experience of Royal intelligence is jarringly similar to what many modern militaries have faced in recent times.

Undoubtedly, the difficult situation combined with heavy-handed tactics was a major factor in galvanizing support for Irish independence. Some interesting observations include:

  • There were no physical characteristics to distinguish the loyalists from the rebels.
  • Finding Irish spies was next to impossible - unlike traditional espionage, agents of the rebellion did not need to travel into the country under alien status, and they didn't need to rely on the mail to transmit information. It could all be done by word of mouth or personal courier.
  • Royal forces couldn't use their traditional methods of gathering intelligence on enemy battle plans - there were no troop movements to monitor, no long-distance communications to intercept, and no questions to answer pertaining to the resources of a country.
  • On the other hand, the Rebels could easily monitor British troop movements and quickly communicate information through their extensive, secret and loyal networks.
Truly, the Royal army was fighting an entire community, not just an opposing military force. Framing the conflict this way, it is easy to see how the Royal forces were simply trying to fit a square peg into a round whole. Not surprisingly, they wound up doing far more harm than good, causing the Rebellion to grow in size rather than shrink.

Conclusion

What we have covered here is only the tip of the iceberg. There are 75,000 documents in this record set, and this is the first time these are available digitally.

Explore away, and make sure to let us know if you make any amazing discoveries - we're certain you will!

Browse the Easter Rising records

Read more: How to search the Easter Rising records