Canadian Military Genealogy
Canada has a vast and glorious military history that echoes with interesting and heroic tales. Commencing with the arrival of the first settlers and spanning centuries since our forefathers and foremothers served as volunteers and permanent members of organizations to protect our lands and our customs. The most interesting stories are those of our ancestors and we have an almost limitless source of resources we can call upon to research their place in our military history. To introduce you to how to find and use these sources I will lead you through the quagmire and establish some research habits and practices that will assist you in using international, national, and local resources. Whether you are an experienced genealogist or a novice aiming to find out about your family remember to; “Start at the very beginning… a very good place to start”.
Whether you use one of the many genealogy apps on your computer, or paper and pencil to record things, the process is the same. As technology and digitization combined with commercial desires to monetize our efforts has made our job much easier by consolidating and simplifying the collection and recording of data, I will address the automated approach while mentioning the paper resources that still exist.
FIRST THINGS FIRST
Get as much information on your ancestors as you can from living relatives and document your sources. Transcribe all the information to either your paper or digital records as you never know when you will need the information. The BMD (birth, marriage, and death) records are key but rank, service number, unit, occupation, dates, and residences will allow you to separate similarly named people.
DON’T FORGET GOOGLE
Although Google is not well known as a source for personal information there is always a possibility that there may be hits if your ancestor had a moment in history or was notorious for something. As well there are many google apps that can help you discover things related to your genealogical searches. WikiTree is a useful source to compare your trees with this global tree trying to link all the people on the planet!
MINE THE BIG FOUR
The next step is to mine the wealth of information available on the BIG FOUR? They are the major genealogy websites on the net… Ancestry, Family Search, MyHeritage and Find My Past. Most are commercial sites with varying charges, but you can manage them by using short term sign-ups and focusing your research on each for a limited period. Focusing on one app helps to avoid those well-known trips…” down the rabbit hole”. Each of them can add value as they focus on differing nationalities, countries, sources, and cover differing periods. Much of the information is similar but searching Find My Past, a UK based site, for British Regiments that served in Canada has more related material than say MyHeritage. Not all the apps allow you to create a private tree and sync your data. Some allow you to contribute your tree to a master and extract your information when you need access. Choose which you want to use.
Searching the Big Four for Canadian Census and Voter List records will contribute significant general information to your search. Voter List’s tie a name, address, occupation, and date to individuals and are key to finding ancestors born after 1931, the most recently released census. The census’ (1851-1931) are likely the most important documents. It provides names, ages, addresses, occupations, children, marriages, homes, languages, ethnicity, home type and many other details. The annexes include agricultural and social information.
EXPAND YOUR RESEARCH FOR YOUR THE MILITARY ANCESTOR
The Library and Archives Canada collection has over 5 billion megabits of digital information of Canada’s past and present. In your search for a military ancestor, it includes:
- Census information on all individual Canadians, including military, who were enumerated on the censuses, every ten years between 1851 to 1931.
- Personnel files of all the soldiers who served in the CEF in WWI. Personal files of all the deceased in WWII. The remainder of the WWII records are in the process of being digitized as well.
- Unit war diaries of most of the WWI and WWII units, which record the day-to-day operations and activities of units. Officer casualties and actions are often mentioned.
- Military Medals and Awards can be found by searching the Collection area of the LAC site.
By using the Collection input text box, you can soon find your way, or you can access the various guides to navigate the LAC site. There is a mass of data available on-line but if you find undigitized data you can request the item for physical viewing by completing the research request form while referring to the reference in the item listing. If you can access LAC directly there is an excellent reference room where all requested items will be brought to you for review.
The Directorate of History and Heritage, of the Dept of National Defence. Their focus is the Canadian Forces history and heritage, and their main function is the production of official histories of the Canadian Armed Forces. In support of this writing, it acts as an information centre on that history and provides research facilities for the public. Access to The Public Reading Room is by appointment only and details can be found on their website. Unfortunately, a recent reply from them indicated they do not have much information on individual soldiers or their careers in the military. They defer to Library and Archives Canada for this information. However, they do have a broad range of military history documents that would be useful to research specific battles or units. When you get to the fine details of a military career this office is worth a visit for the detailed information available here. Contact them prior to visiting to arrange for access to their resources and to view the documents. Their resources include.
- Book Collection. Official histories of allied and enemy forces, general histories, campaign histories and some technical works as well as numerous Canadian and British regimental histories. There is an extensive collection of officers lists and printed regulations and administrative orders, mostly Canadian – e.g. Admiralty Fleet Orders, Militia Orders, General Orders, Canadian Army Orders, Air Force Administrative Orders, Canadian Forces Supplementary Orders, etc.
- The Kardex and document collection. This includes papers from the Canadian Army and the RCAF, mainly 1939-64.
- Permanent reference files. These are working files of booklets, newspaper clippings, photographs, and materials. Files have been created for Bases in Canada and abroad, Canadian Units, Ships, Squadron of the RCAF and Canadian Forces, and aircraft types, both Canadian and foreign.
- Biographical files. Created for many Canadian servicemen and civilians, of all ranks and professions, and for some selected foreigners.
- Other records and information. Other information includes:
RCAF Second World War operations record books (ORBs) and unit diaries for squadrons and formations, Canadian Armed Forces Unit Annual Historical Reports.
Department of Veterans Affairs (DVA). DVA has the mandate to provide support and services related to veterans physical and mental health and wellness. However, their website provides some information applicable to genealogists as listed below;
Canadian Post-War Military and Dependent Graves. In accordance with departmental policy, service members and their dependents who died outside of Canada and the USA were not returned to Canada but were buried in either military cemeteries or, in the case of dependents, in gravesites leased from the local cemetery. A Web site has been created as a virtual memorial to the more than 1400 post-war military members and their dependents who rest in Europe.
Virtual War Memorial This site contains a registry of information about the graves and memorials of more than 118,000 Canadians and Newfoundlanders who served valiantly and gave their lives for their country. Included on this site are the memorials of more than 1500 soldiers who died in service to Canada since the Korean War, including peacekeeping and other operations. The site also contains digital images of photographs and personal memorabilia about individual Canadians. The purpose of the Canadian Virtual War Memorial is to recognize and keep alive the memory of the achievements and sacrifices made by those who served Canada in the defence of freedom and so have contributed to the development of Canada as a nation.
The Commonwealth Graves Commission is another source for burial and grave information for those who died in the major conflicts since the WWI. The Commonwealth War Graves Commission was established by Royal Charter of 1917 and has the mandate to mark and maintain the graves of members of the forces of the Commonwealth who died in the two world wars, to build and maintain memorials to the dead whose graves are unknown and to keep records and registers. The Canadian Agency of the Commission can trace the burial location of all Commonwealth war dead worldwide. Traces are most easily completed if your enquiry has as much of the following information as possible: full name, rank, serial number, date of death, hometown, next of kin. The address is: The Commonwealth Graves Commission, 66 Slater St, Ottawa, ON, Canada K1A 0P4, PHONE: 613-992-3224 FAX: 613-952-6826.
The Canadian War Museum has a tremendous collection of military artifacts and is a resource for researching military units and their histories. They do not handle queries regarding individuals but do have an extensive collection of equipment, books, documents, artifacts and medals. The Military History and Research Centre focuses on the history of Canadian Forces and collaborates with Ancestry and other sites for the dissemination of the available information. Over the years they have interviewed hundreds of veterans with very interesting results covering personal stories and experiences. It is well worth a look for your ancestors to a see if they have contributed?
Many current and prior units of the Canadian Forces have museums, associations, and websites to remember and honour those who have served. The Organization of Military Museums of Canada (OMMC) provides support, advice, and assistance to many of the museums across Canada and provides the means by which they can be contacted. Check out their provincial members directory to find those that might be related to your ancestor. Many are run by volunteers and are open limited hours or by appointment so be sure to contact them before visiting. Good hunting!
Ottawa Area Repositories The information on this page is a listing of major repositories in the Ottawa area all of which are worth consideration depending on where you are in your search for a military or other ancestor. Browsing these sites may provide further ideas related to the individual you are researching.
canadiansoldiers.com is a privately funded source of information regarding the history and material culture of Canadian soldiers in the 20th Century, providing images and information for serious historical researchers, filmmakers, re-enactors, modelers, gamers, and anyone interested in the Canadian Army between 1900 and 2000. Serious contributions to site content, such as information, photos, or anecdotes, are welcomed and will be fully credited. This site is proud to be a member of the small but growing community of those interested in this diverse and important subject area. A work in progress, this site is continually being updated and improved. This site does not contain personnel information but is a compendium of information relating to the Canadian Army including; history, organizations, tactical units, Regiments, Corps/Branches, ranks, uniforms, insignia, weapons, and equipment. A truly vast and informative collection of facts and information.
Maple Leaf Up Route. Follow in the tracks of 1st Canadian Army in WW2, and the Canadian Corps in The Great War 1914-1918. This site shares the horrors and experiences of war, and our war veterans’ stories reveal how ordinary men and women lived through extraordinary times. A collection of interesting stories and photographs of Canadians during WWII. The site does not appear to have been updated in a while but still contains interesting information. It still appears to have a active Facebook page with several thousand followers.
List of Canadian Military Operations Since 1947, the Canadian Armed Forces have completed 72 international missions. More than 3,600 soldiers, sailors and Air Force personnel are deployed overseas on operational missions. On any given day, about 8,000 Canadian Armed Forces members Royal Canadian Air Force, Royal Canadian Navy, and Canadian Army (one-third of the Canadian deployable force) are preparing for, engaged in or are returning from an overseas mission. Included is a list of all currently active and past Canadian Armed Forces operations both within Canada’s borders and internationally.
Maple Leaf Legacy Project It is committed to creating a web site, in both official languages, that is dignified and professional and honours those men and women who have given their lives in the service of Canada and the cause of peace and freedom around the world. The Maple Leaf Legacy Project is an enormous volunteer endeavour to procure a photograph of each Canadian War Grave from the South African War (1899-1902), World War 1 (1914-18), World War II (1939-45), Korean War (1950-52) and all United Nations Peacekeeping Missions to the present-day conflicts. These photographs will are available to anyone via this site on the world wide web. It is also hoped to have touch-screen interactive computer kiosks at prominent historical locations across the country so that any visitor to these locations, such as the House of Commons, the Canadian War Museum, and provincial and territorial Legislatures, may be able to look up a photograph of a war grave and be able to print out a copy of the photograph on the spot. In this way we hope to create a virtual National War Cemetery so that the thousands of relatives and descendants of Canada’s war dead, who may not be able to visit the grave in person, because of the great distances involved, will at least be able to see a picture of the headstone and the inscription. The Maple Leaf Legacy Project is being produced by Canadians, for Canadians, with the help of people from many nations. It is truly an international co-operation. To access the photographs, click “Search for a Photo” at the very top of the screen.
BOOKS AND NEWSPAPERS
By spending a few hours scanning the multitude of available regimental histories, personal stories, newspapers, and sites can be very rewarding and interesting leading to many new discoveries. Be sure to expand your search to lesser-known references and always review bibliographies to open new sources…but beware of those rabbit holes…! Remember to record your information as you go along and make sure your sources are detailed.