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Using Canadian Military Records for Family History and Genealogy

Glenn Wright

Ottawa Stake Family History Fair - May 10, 2008

Archival Records

All of the military records referred to in the presentation are available at Library and Archives Canada (LAC) in the original, on microfilm or in digitized format. The LAC website (www.collectionscanada.ca) is the place to begin a search. Researchers should familiarize themselves with the online research tool, “ArchiviaNet”, and the databases for the South African War, 1899-1902, the First World War (attestation papers, war diaries and courts martial records), 1914-1918. Two other databases, “General Inventory” and “Government of Canada Files” are also useful and contain numerous references to military events and service. The Canadian Genealogy Centre (www.collectionscanada.gc.ca/genealogy) has a useful summary of some of the major collections of records relating to Canadian military service.
A summary of archival records relating to Canadian military history can be found in two articles by Glenn Wright: “Nineteenth century military records in the National Archives: an introduction” (Families, volume 33, no. 4, 1994, pp. 213-221) and “Standing on guard for us: documenting Canadian military service in the twentieth century” (Families, volume 33, no. 2, May 1994, pp. 85-97). While in some respects dated (no reference to digitized records, for example), the articles provide a useful overview of the kinds of records available at LAC that will help one document military service.

Books

Books, journals, newspapers and other published material is best accessed through AMICUS, Canada’s national library catalogue, on the LAC website for material available in Ottawa and in libraries across the country. The holdings of the Ottawa Public Library (www.biblioottawalibrary.ca) include a broad selection of books on Canadian military history and should not be overlooked as a resource centre.

The most accessible resource to published material is available online at the LAC website. “From Colony to Country: A Reader’s Guide to Canadian Military History” includes extensive bibliographies on Canadian military history generally, the War of 1812-1815, the Rebellions of 1837-1838, the Northwest Rebellion, 1885, the South African War, 1899-1902, the First World War, 1914-1918 and the Second World War, 1939-1945.

Other Online Resources

There are innumerable websites dedicated to Canadian military history – official government websites, units and regiments, communities, individuals and so on. Listed below are several referred to in the presentation that offer authoritative and accurate information on Canada’s military history, databases and links to other sites.
Canadian Military Gateway (www.cmhg.gc.ca) is an excellent access point to archival, published and online resources relating to Canadian military history from the days of New France to the present day.
Directorate of History and Heritage, National Defence (www.forces.gc.ca/hr/dhh) includes reference material in all aspects of Canadian military history as well as a number of books, several long out of print, in digitized format.
Canadian War Museum (www.warmuseum.ca) contains reference material and summaries of the major events in Canadian military history, as well as a number of searchable databases. And for local histories, which can be a valuable source of information on the men and women from a particular locale who served in the military, these two websites are essential viewing: “Our Roots/Nos Racines” (www.ourroots.ca) and “Our Future, Our Past” (www.ourfutureourpast.ca), the latter site devoted to the history of Alberta.

Remembrance and Commemoration

Several people asked about resources relating to soldiers who died while in service, especially in the First World War. I would suggest the following:


Commonwealth War Graves Commission (www.cwgc.org) has a searchable database of all British and Commonwealth military personnel who died during the First and Second World Wars and who are buried in a CWGC cemetery.


Veterans Affairs Canada (www.vac-acc.gc.ca) website features several databases relating to our military history, including the Books of Remembrance, the Virtual War Memorial, and the Canadian Merchant Navy War Dead among others.


Maple Leaf Legacy Project (www.mapleleaflegacy.org)


First World War Cemeteries (ww1cemeteries.com)
The following archival records will also be of interest for the First World War:


War Graves Registers (LAC, Record Group 150, accession 1992-93/314, finding aid 150-6)


Circumstances of Death (brown binders) (RG 150, acc.92-93/314, boxes 145-272)


Grave Registers (black binders) (RG 150, acc. 92-93/314, box 39 - 137)


Burials in the United Kingdom (RG 150, acc. 92-93/314, boxes 138 - 144)


CEF Burials, Canadian Cemeteries (RG 150, acc. 92-93/314, boxes 1 - 38) [includes war-time and post-war burials to about the mid-1930s]


Admission and Discharge Registers, Canadian Army Medical Corps (LAC, Record Group 150, volumes 511- 652, finding aid 150-7)


For the Second World War, the service records of all Canadians “Killed in Action” (about 40,000) are available for research purposes at LAC without restriction. A nominal finding aid will be on the web site of the Canadian Genealogy Centre in the near future.


And books on the subject include:


Herbert Fairlie Wood and John Swettenham, Silent Witnesses (Toronto: Hakkert, 1974)


G. Kingsley Ward and Edwin Gibson, Courage Remembered: The Story Behind the Construction and Maintenance of the Commonwealth’s Military Cemeteries and Memorials of the Wars, 1914-1918 and 1939-1945 (Toronto: McClelland and Stewart, 1989)


Glenn Wright, May 2008

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