Do You Have a Military Ancestor?
Canada has a long history of military service and accomplishment. Just the mention of the words \”Vimy\”or \”Juno\” can make a Canadian stand a little straighter and feel a sense of pride. In more recent years, we are known the world over for our peace keeping missions. And then, of course, are the Loyalist ancestors.
The best place to start researching your military ancestors is the Library and Archives Canada (LAC) website\’s section on the military:
From this page you can navigate very easily the huge amount of information they have. The best thing for the frugal genealogist is that it is free. A great deal is available online, but not everything. You may need to schedule yourself a research trip. LAC does offer inter-library loan, but the rules are stringent. By scrolling to the bottom of the page and clicking on Services and Programs, you can find the conditions that have to be met for inter-library loan.
A huge ongoing project of the LAC is their digitization of the WWI service files. There are 640,000 personnel files relating to soldiers, nurses and chaplains. They expect to have it finished in late 2018. The files are being digitized in more or less alphabetical order, and in their last progress report, they have digitized up to Mahony. Once digitized, the personnel file is free to download. These files are an incredible source of information. A service file I downloaded for George Henry BOORMAN is 116 pages long! Not only did it have a record of his military service, but there were detailed reports of his injuries at Vimy Ridge and the subsequent medical care from them. His attestation paper gave a physical description, as well as next of kin. I found out his home address, his pre-war occupation, and his employer\’s name and address, Not all files have as much detail as George Boorman\’s. But you never know what you might find. Another file I downloaded was for my great uncle Jules MALLEY. He ended up dying from Spanish flu in 1918. In an account of his medical history, he stated that his mother (my great grandmother) had been diagnosed with Tuberculosis! Now that\’s a nugget of information I might otherwise never have known. Her own death was many years later, and had nothing to do with TB.
The usual suspects in online research can also help you research Canadian military records:
- Familysearch has limited amounts of information
- Cyndi\’s List http://www.cyndislist.com/canada/military/
So what do you do if your ancestor fought more recently than WWI? Due to privacy laws, WWII and Korean service files are only able to be accessed under strict guidelines. You may have to \”think outside the box.\”
One way to go about finding information on your military ancestor is war diaries and unit histories. If you know what unit they fought in, you can search to see if they are available for that unit. LAC has some. Try googling your ancestor\’s unit to see if another archive has them. For instance, I googled \”1st Battalion Canadian Guards\”, of which my great uncle served in Korea. In the results was The Canadian Guards Association. The website has several links, one of which is the unit\’s history.
If you\’re lucky enough to live in the same area as your ancestor, try contacting your local historical or genealogy society. They are very dedicated to preserving local heritage, and may have a collection of your area\’s contributions to Canada\’s war effort. Don\’t overlook your local public library as well. For instance, here in Lindsay, Ontario where I live, they have 3 databases online. The first two have been contributed by the Royal Canadian Legion\’s Memory Project on local soldiers. The third database has newspaper clippings of local WWII vets.
And of course don\’t forget to check out local and provincial archives. The Archives of Ontario has an online exhibit right now called \”Eaton\’s Goes to War\”. The T. Eaton Company Ltd. were a major supporter of the war effort in WWI. To help with enlistment, John Eaton offered all married men their full salary for the duration of their military service, on top of what they would receive from the military. Single men would receive half wages. As a result, over 3,000 Eaton\’s employees enlisted. The online database has a list of Eaton Employees, and most have photographs. You can read all about the incredible contribution of both John Eaton and his employees here:
Newfoundland is the exception to the usual routes of Canadian military research. They did not become a Canadian Province until 1949. To research Newfoundland military ancestors, you may have to look to British sources.
Military research can be a little frustrating, and you may have to go at it in an unconventional manner. But the rewards are worth it. And this week, what better way to remember them?