Monday, May 10, 2010

Genealogy Challenge #19

The Genea Bloggers’ “52 Weeks To  Better Genealogy Challenge #19” is to examine genealogy and military records that are available at the US National Archives. For non-U.S. folks (that’s me!) we can examine the military records at our own National Archives. The Canadian Archives! - Yikes now that’s a challenge- Eh!

The National Archives is based in Ottawa. Its taken me several years to get comfortable with a web site built by government bureaucrats . John D. Reid in his blog “Anglo-Celtic Connections” has been following the ongoing tale of what the Archives does and does not do. Mostly not do!

There are several data bases that are useful and free.

“Faces of War” is an online collection of photographs of the men and women who served in the Second World War.

“Soldiers of The First World War” is a data base containing the attestation papers of over 800,000 Canadians who served with the Canadian Expeditionary Force. This data base duplicates what is on Ancestry.  You can access this by either surname (hopefully its not Smith), or if you know it, a service number. Regardless you will need that number to pursue your research any further. If you are lucky your ancestor’s battalion is also listed. Don’t get too excited as many of the battalions were broken up in England as reinforcements for the front.

“The Canadian Virtual War Memorial” contains information on the Canadians who are buried overseas. Canadians from the First and Second World Wars are included.

“War Diaries of the First World War” is a data base containing the battalion diaries. Now this data base is heavy going. If you know which battalion that your ancestor served in  (that is the trick) then these diaries can give you a feeling for their lives on the Western Front. But do not expect to find your man unless you are prepared to spend hours going through the diaries. Even so, lots of luck.

The Canadian National Film Board although not part of the National Archives, but nevertheless a government agency, has “Images of a Forgotten War” of photographs of the Western Front.

So you want to find information on your relative? The first place to start is with “Soldiers of the First World War” either by using the government data base or Ancestry.  If it is the government data base use the search option and enter Surname and Christian names or the regimental number if you know it. The results will give you the information that the individual answered on the form. Do not believe everything you read. Keep track of the regimental number as you will need it.

If the individual died in Europe you can search The Virtual War Memorial by using the regimental number.

If it is one thing that the military is it is a bureaucracy - it produces a ton of paper work!. Service files are not online. For the First War these service files can come in several forms.

There is the Record of Service which can show you  the name of the ship that the serviceman arrived on in England or France, the battalion he was sent to, as well as promotions, transfers, injuries, etc.

If a casualty there is the Casualty Form.

If you are lucky pay sheets ( $1.50 a day). But not what they spent it on - that is another story.

There could be as many as 30 to 60 documents in a file. To order the file use the order form from Library and Archives Canada. The cost is $.40 per copy plus taxes if applicable, and could take as much as 4 weeks to arrive. If sent by Canada Post tack on another week. Be aware that not all of the records are available as there was some damage to some of them in the past.

On a personal note I ordered the service records of both my father and his younger brother who were in the Royal Canadian Air Force in the Second World War. Ordering these records are a little bit different as some of the servicemen are still alive. If not you need to provide proof of death or in my father’s case I was able to get him to sign for permission to access his files. Use the same order form as above. What I received 4 weeks later were two tomes. My father’s files (largely I think because he was a Prisoner of War for a year and a half) generated an amazing amount of paperwork. What I have is an incredible record of his service from 1940 to 1945. In an aside, I also found out that he was engaged while in England. Boy did I query him on that one!

The above images are all from Library and Archives Canada

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