The Minute Book
Tuesday, 20 January 2015

If Patience is a Virtue
Topic: LAC

If Patience is a Virtue, then CEF Researchers are Headed for Sainthood

It is by a varying stroke of luck that one of the most valuable resources for researching Canadian soldiers of the First World War still exists. That resource is the collection of service records maintained by Library and Archives Canada (LAC). Held variously by the Department of National Defence, Veterans Affairs and the Archives over the past 100 years, the massive collection of files was, luckily, never purged of files after the deaths of veterans because no department ever had the money and manpower to do so.

The variety of people who have delved into this collection of files in recent decades has included genealogists, researchers of military units, and collectors of military medals, among others. They have accessed the files either by visiting LAC in Ottawa (the lucky few), by ordering photocopies of files from LAC (a slow process that added up in financial terms if regular requests were made), or by paying one of the local researchers to visit and photograph files (a highly convenient and somewhat more economical solution for serial researchers). But over the past year access has dwindled, and now has ceased completely.

Early in 2014, word got around that a project to scan the service records of the CEF was beginning. With the intent to place the results freely on line, this was heralded as an excellent step and welcomed with praise. As 2015 opens, over 100,000 of 640,000 files have been scanned, and the rate of completion — about 5000 files coming on line every two weeks, roughly in alphabetical order — anyone waiting for W–X–Y–Z will be well into 2016 before they see results.

Despite the wonderful concept and the huge, and hugely useful, resource about to be created and made available to everyone, the timing is a tragedy in itself. The centennial years of the First World War, 2014 to 2018, will likely create the biggest demand for these records. Unfortunately, we are looking at them being partly or completely unavailable for up to half that time period.

I'd like to suggest that perhaps LAC could throw researchers a bone to chew on while we wait.

I've always been impressed with an added utility offered by the Canadian Virtual War Memorial (CVWM). The CVWM permits users to submit images to be added to a virtual record for any of the listed casualties. These may include photographs of the individual, copies of documents, or even images of text, which can range from newspaper clippings to items created by the submitter.

Example – Lieut.-Col. Henry Campbell Becher

The CVWM's ability to accept these submissions is limited to Canada's official casualties. If a similar utility were created by LAC as an addition to the Soldiers of the First World War database, then the collection of images and information could be extended to all soldiers who served in the Great War. And it might give interested and dedicated researchers something to work on while they wait for those service records.

Researching Canadian Soldiers of the First World War


Posted by regimentalrogue at 12:01 AM EST
Wednesday, 14 January 2015

LAC Research Guides
Topic: LAC

LAC Research Guides

From the Library and Archives Canada Blog, these links to research guides may help you in your ongoing research into the service of Canadian soldiers.:

Guide to Sources Relating to Units of the CEF (LAC Blog link)

The Guide to Sources Relating to Units of the Canadian Expeditionary Force is an indispensable starting point for researching the records that document Canada's participation in the First World War. It is a unique finding aid that brings together references to records and files scattered throughout several different archival fonds, which relate to almost every unit in the CEF.

The Guide was originally developed over many years by Barbara Wilson, an archivist with the former National Archives of Canada, now Library and Archives Canada. The guide has subsequently been updated with more recent acquisitions from official records, private papers and diaries, and by many other contributors from Library and Archives Canada. The guide was reviewed and updated with references to the Ministry of Militia and Defence records and daily orders, which are described by Library and Archives Canada as Record Group 9 or RG9.

New Research Guides (LAC Blog link)

Library and Archives Canada has announced two new guides: Guide to Sources Relating to the Canadian Militia, 1855 – 1988 and Guide to Sources Relating to Canadian Naval Vessels, 1909 – 1983. The guides were originally compiled over many years by the late Barbara Wilson (1931 – 2014), an archivist with the former National Archives of Canada, now Library and Archives Canada.

 

Guide to Sources Relating to the Canadian Militia, 1855 – 1988

This guide is an indispensable starting point for researching the records that document Canadian militia units. It is a unique finding aid that brings together, by militia unit name, references to records and files scattered throughout several different archival fonds held at Library and Archives Canada.

Guide to Sources Relating to Canadian Naval Vessels, 1909 – 1983

This guide is an indispensable starting point for researching the records documenting Canadian naval vessels that served with the Royal Canadian Navy. It is a unique finding aid that brings together—by ship's name—references to records and files scattered throughout several different volumes of archival fonds of the Department of National Defence.

Researching Canadian Soldiers of the First World War


Posted by regimentalrogue at 12:01 AM EST
Updated: Wednesday, 14 January 2015 7:20 PM EST
Monday, 22 July 2013

Abbreviations used in Service Files
Topic: LAC

Once someone has acquired the service record of a Canadian soldier, sailor or airman of the First World War or the Second World War from Library and Archives Canada, there remains the challenge to decipher the contents. That the military has a cryptic and steadily changing system of abbreviations for unit titles, personnel statuses and training establishments probably surprises none, but the bewildering variety can be a daunting hurdle for any genealogical researcher to untangle as they try to figure out where Uncle Albert trained and with what units he served.

But, no need to be downhearted as one stares at page after page of cryptic notations, for others have trod this path and dug solid trench-lines through the layers of hen scratching left by staff officers and clerks. To start with, the Library and Archives Canada maintains a page of abbreviations that they have compiled to assist us:

In addition to the LAC list of abbreviations, various other reference lists can also be found on line throgh searching for your mystery abbreviation. A few of the available resources are:

If all else fails, whether you are unravelling the story of a soldier of the Great War or the Second World War, or of a set of medals or other artifact, posing your questions on an appropriate military history message board may help when the compiled lists fail to answer your question.

Researching Canadian Soldiers of the First World War


Posted by regimentalrogue at 12:01 AM EDT
Updated: Thursday, 20 June 2013 5:06 PM EDT
Wednesday, 3 July 2013

The LAC Research Guides for the CEF
Topic: LAC

With increasing interest in reasearch of the Canadian Expeditionary Force of the First World War, Library and Archives Canada has taken the step to share a set of research guides compiled by one of its own researchers. For research beyond the service records of individual soldier, these thematic guides provide a comprehensive instricution to the holding in the LAC for CEF units.

Guide to Sources Relating to Units of the Canadian Expeditionary Force

Library and Archives Canada holds multiple records and files for the First World War (1914–1918), mostly for the Canadian Expeditionary Force (CEF). It is necessary to consider all of these records together in order to fully understand the Canadian contribution to this war. The Guide to Sources Relating to Units of the Canadian Expeditionary Force is a unique finding aid that brings together references to records and files scattered throughout several fonds, which relate to almost every unit in the CEF.

The guide was originally developed over many years by Barbara Wilson, an archivist with the former National Archives of Canada, now Library and Archives Canada. The guide has subsequently been updated with more recent acquisitions from official records, private papers and diaries, and by many other contributors from Library and Archives Canada. The guide was reviewed and updated with references to the Ministry of Militia and Defence records and daily orders, which are described by Library and Archives Canada as Record Group 9 or RG9.

The guide is an indispensable starting point for researching the records that document Canada's participation in the First World War. Researchers can begin their search with the military personnel service files, but this is just the beginning. The guide can point to many other primary sources such as the daily orders, private papers and diaries.

For researchers interested in a specific unit, the guide is particularly helpful since it brings together information about the unit as well as access to the most relevant files that have been identified and listed. Please note that more information on particular units may be also found in records of higher formations (e.g. corps, divisions, or brigades) and general subject files, for example, HQ 683 – 1 – 12 in Record Group 24. Another source to consider is the publication The Canadian Military Experience 1867–1967: A Bibliography by O.A. Cooke (Ottawa, 1979, second edition, 1984).


Posted by regimentalrogue at 12:01 AM EDT
Friday, 10 May 2013

Service History links at the LAC
Topic: LAC

In the archived internet content at Library and Achives Canada can be found this directory to content on service histories of the Royal Canadian Navy, the Canadian Army, and the Royal Canadian Air Force.

Troops and Traditions

Service Histories

A strong tradition of official history in Canada has greatly influenced the writing of histories of individual armed services. Although the Canadian Militia had an historian, in the person of Brigadier-General E.A. Cruikshank, it was not until the appointment of Major (later Colonel) C.P. Stacey in 1940 that modern, critical military history in Canada really took form. Stacey's work has profoundly influenced every writer on Canada's military history since that time. For this reason, the chief official histories of each of the services are listed here, even though individual volumes record only one period or part of a single period in the history of each service.

To understand the organizational makeup of a service — the relationship of the ships of the navy, the regiments of the land forces and the squadrons of the air forces — a number of useful general guides exist and are listed at the end of the section on the specific service.


Posted by regimentalrogue at 12:01 AM EDT
Thursday, 18 April 2013

Library and Archives Canada; Courts Martial - First World War
Topic: LAC

Among the digital collections accessible on line at Library and Archives Canada is the database listing Canadian Soldiers of the First World War who were convicted by Courts Martial while serving overseas.

Searchable by surname, regimental (service) number, unit and offence, the database will let you see if your ancestor was a bad boy, and exactly what he may have done to contravene the expectations of the military justice system.

When checking search results, keep in mind that soldiers moved through a variety of holding and administrative units on their way to the front lines, so a listing with an unfamiliar unit should not be disregarded as being the wrong soldier.

Looking at the Courts Martial details for The Royal Canadian Regiment, out of about 4700 who served overseas with the Regiment, there were about 170 Courts Martial, some may be yet to be counted if they were serving with another unit titles at the time of their convictions. This gives a general estimate that one in 27 soldiers, or about 3.5% of the CEF may have been sentenced by Court Martial once or more (for the infantry that is, your mileage may vary in other Corps).

The offences as detailed in the King’s Regulations and Orders can also be researched further. As with many official orders and regulations, it is often the detailed context that is paramount to understand the nature of the offence and how it relates to what may sometimes seem to be a random award of punishment. Luckily for researchers, the 1907 edition of KR&O can be found online. The LAC search help page also provides a brief outline of the offences.

The LAC Courts Martial Database can also be the starting point to order a copy of the Court Martial transcript for more detailed research. See the file reference which forms part of each detailed record on the database and the search help page for guidance on ordering a file.

Researching Canadian Soldiers of the First World War


Posted by regimentalrogue at 12:01 AM EDT
Thursday, 11 April 2013

Library and Archives Canada: Commonwealth War Graves Registers
Topic: LAC

Among the digital collections accessible on line at Library and Archives Canada are the Commonwealth War Graves Registers for First World War burials. These cards provide the compiled notes on battle field burials, recovery and move of remains to established Commonwealth War Graves Commission cemeteries, and any contact with families that occurred.

ALTTEXT ALTTEXT

Click images to see the full size Grave Register (front and back) for 477783 Private William Henry Roberts,
The Royal Canadian Regiment.

Organized in 106 sets of image files with, in many cases over 1000 images per set, these cards can provide valuable information when researching a Canadian soldier of the First World War who died overseas. The cards are, however a challenge to search, requiring the researcher to identify the set with the desired surname, then to patiently move back and forth through the image stack until narrowing down to the desired record. See Researching Canadian Soldiers of the First World War: Part 5: casualties, for a table giving the first surname in each image set. Keep in mind that the alphabetization is not perfect in the image series, so some experimentation once you are in the right area may be required.

One of the challenges that cards present is that they provide location information based upon the military maps of the day, with a grid system that is no longer in use. It is possible, however, to decipher these grid reference, match them to available online battlefield maps, and then to match the terrain to Google maps for a modern perspective on the locations in question.

See Researching Canadian Soldiers of the First World War: Part 7, Deciphering Battlefield Location Information for a guide to translating the wartime grid references, finding the locations on battlefield maps from the war, and then Part 9: Matching Battlefield Locations to the Modern Map to match the details to Google maps.

When the Grave Registration card provides detailed information on burials, especially when they tell a tale of an immediate battlefield burial and later transfer to a cemetery, the information can help fill in gaps in a soldier’s story, matching his unit’s history and War Diary to better understand his last days or hours. Poignantly, it is those cards which relate a battlefield burial by comrades, but which end with the remains never being found on a shattered battlefield that leave that research trail tantalizingly without closure. In such cases, a name engraved on the Vimy Memorial or the Menin Gate become the last vestige of that soldier’s service and death.

Researching Canadian Soldiers of the First World War


Posted by regimentalrogue at 12:01 AM EDT
Friday, 5 April 2013

Veterans Death Cards (First World War)
Topic: LAC

Above is shown the Veteran's Death Card of Sergeant George Webb. A long service soldier and First World War veteran of The Royal Canadian Regiment, George returned to halifax after the War. He continued serving in the Regiment until 1926, when he retired to pension.

Library and Archives Canada (LAC) continues to add digital collections to its on-line resources. With the approached centennial of the First World War, and the likely surge in genealogical interest surrounding soldiers of that conflict, it is good to see the new work being done by LAC to make resources available and accessible. Where requests for file copies can take weeks, or months, to get through their work flow for production of photocopies, any efforts they make to digitize and share new material both reduces their workload for simpler request and increases the immediacy of information available to researchers.

Among the newest resources now available are the "Veterans Death Cards" for First World War Soldiers. While casualties of the War were recorded in detail and the information has been available through the Canadian Virtual War Memorial and the Commonwealth War Graves Commission, it has always been more difficult to determine when, where and how a soldier who survived the war later died. This information an often be a key starting point to work through rebuilding the story of his post war life.

The Veterans Death Cards provide that start point. With varying amounts of information, they can provide the location, date and cause of a veteran's death, offering one more point of contact to available information in the research of individual soldiers.

Researching Canadian Soldiers of the First World War


Posted by regimentalrogue at 12:01 AM EDT
Monday, 18 March 2013

Library and Archives Canada - Faces of War
Topic: LAC

Second World War photos on line at the Library and Archives Canada (LAC).

One of the greatest challenges with the ever increasing accessibility of LAC holdings via on line databases is keeping track of what is available. While much of the searchable nature of the LAC catalogue leads to file references that must be ordered (either locally for viewing by yourself or a hired researcher, or through the LAC for copying), there is an increasing amount of items that have been scanned and made available for direct viewing.

One of these collections is Faces of War. This collection displays nearly 2500 images of Canadian soldiers, sailors and airmen from the Second World War.

The Basic Search Page allows searching image descriptions by any key word (or words) you enter.

The Advanced Search Page supports a more detailed filtering approach. Selecting a button for Army – Navy – Air Force will bring up a selection list to choose a unit, ship or squadron. Clicking the Geographical button lets you choose applicable locations. You can also sort for images by the photographer's name.

Faces of War is an excellent resource introducing Canadians to some of the photos held by LAC of Canadian service members in the Second World War. Hopefully, over time, resources will be available to expand this database to include more of their holdings.


The three faces shown above were cropped from the following LAC images, see the full images at the links:

LEFT:

  • Title: Private D.B. MacDonald of The Royal Canadian Regiment, who carries a Bren light machine gun, near Campobasso, Italy, October 1943.
  • Location: Campobasso, Italy (vicinity)
  • Date: October 1943.
  • Photographer: Smith, Jack H., Photographer
  • Mikan Number: 3226037

CENTRE:

  • Title: Able Seaman Carl Carlson with one of the hull plates of H.M.C.S. QU'APPELLE which was pierced by a German shell during an action in which H.M.C.S. QU'APPELLE, H.M.C.S. SKEENA, H.M.C.S. RESTIGOUCHE and H.M.C.S. ASSINIBOINE sank three German armed trawlers. England, 16 August 1944.
  • Location: England
  • Date: August 16, 1944
  • Photographer: Arless, Lt Richard Graham., Photographer
  • Mikan Number: 3374382

RIGHT:

  • Title: Groundcrew servicing a Hawker Hurricane IIB aircraft of No. 402 (City of Winnipeg) Squadron, Royal Canadian Air Force (R.C.A.F.), Fairwood Common, Wales, March 1942.
  • Location: Fairwood Common, Wales
  • Date: March 1942.
  • Photographer: Unknown., Photographer
  • Mikan Number: 3199522

Posted by regimentalrogue at 12:01 AM EDT
Updated: Monday, 4 March 2013 12:54 PM EST

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