Finding/Researching Your Canadian World War I Soldier Ancestor

March 24th, 2015

Much of this information is taken from an article that was published in Lambton Lifeline, Lambton County Branch, Vol. 31, No. 1, March 2014. Permission has been granted by Lambton Branch and the authors, Alan Campbell and Ann Hentschel, to reproduce it here.

The title of this post is almost misleading because a number of the men who joined the Canadian Expeditionary Force had just come from England a few years before. Some of them were British Home Children.

Of the valuable websites for researching Canadian WW I soldiers, that of Library and Archives Canada stands out.

Library and Archives Canada

The Canadian Expeditionary Force Service Files database can be searched by surname, by surname and given name and/or by soldier registration number. If you are fortunate enough to know the soldier’s registration number you are lucky as that information lets you key in on his records quickly.

Be aware that some soldiers signed up using alternate names or nicknames. Some soldiers lied about their age because they weren’t old enough to enlist or would have been considered too old to enlist.  Some soldiers were dishonourably discharged then went to a different enlistment office and signed up under a different name. I searched for one of my collateral line ancestors, with the name that was on other records for him, David Edward Best. I did not find him until I searched on his last name only. I opened every one of the Best files until I found him indexed under the name Theodore Best, although he was listed as Theodore David Best on his attestation form. He listed his next of kin as Eliza Bell Best (wife) of Wiarton, Ontario, one of my great aunts, so my search was over.

For help in interpreting the World War I Soldiers’ Files check out the list of the abbreviations and their meanings. There is also help for reading the Record of Service or Casualty Form.

Library and Archives Canada is in the process of digitizing the records in this database. As of March 13, 2015, 129,271 of 640,000 files were available online. I have downloaded the digitized file for some of my Bolton family members. I was surprised to find that some of them never saw action at the front, instead they spent their enlisted time in Canada and England.

Circumstances of Death Registers

The Circumstances of Death Registers hold information about the battlefield deaths of soldiers. Do not expect a great amount of information. George Gray’s record [service number 81334] held the information that he was “Killed in Action” in the “trenches in the vicinity of Festubert”. The record contains no information about where George was buried as the location was unknown to the record keepers. These records do seem to give a more precise location of death.

The digitized images of each soldier’s record can be searched by browsing. In the help section you will find a chart that tells which digitized microfilm contains the surname that you are seeking. Then you have to browse. Fortunately the records are in alphabetical order. I tend to jump sections by guessing at what record number the particular surname will start at and enter a page number. If you go past where you should be, you can backtrack by entering a smaller page number. Don’t forget to record the page numbers of the record when found if you plan to find the document again without so much work!

Commonwealth War Graves Registers, First World War

The research strategy noted above is used for the Commonwealth War Grave Registers as well. These records provide information about the death of a soldier and next of kin information over a period of time. Sometimes the next of kin changed.

Veteran Death Cards: First World War

The Veteran Death Cards were used to track soldiers who died post war. Next of kin information can be quite complete on these cards. You might not find a soldier that you are looking for as I had some for whom I could not find a card. Perhaps contact was lost with them over time.

These records are accessed in the same manner as the Commonwealth War Graves Registers by checking the listing of links to the digitized microfilms which are organized by surname. The research process is the same browse method as noted above. These cards provide limited information at times and at other times they are a goldmine of next of kin information.

War Diaries of the First World War

Once you have the name of the unit that your soldier fought with, you can search the War Diaries database. The diaries do not contain a lot of soldiers’ names but will verify where a unit fought.

Medals, Honours and Awards

The Medals, Honours and Awards database can be searched by surname, given name, and service number. I would suggest that it not be the first database that you search unless you have a service number for your soldier.

As I noted at the first of this post, there can be a lot of information about your soldier on the Library and Archives website.

Next Post: More websites for finding information about WW I soldiers


Using the “Between” Records – County and City Directories

March 12th, 2015

Library and Archives Canada’s recent announcement that the digitized collection of County and City Directories, Canadian Directories Collection,  had more directories added to it was welcome news to this family history researcher. Directories are a great source of information for the years between censuses and especially the years after the 1921 Canada Census, the last one released to date.

Caveats to consider when  researching in county and city directories

  • county directories were generally created in the late 1800s and the early 1900s.  City directories became more the rule as early as the 1920s.
  • directories in the early years tended to record working people, such as farmers, tradesmen, doctors and lawyers. City directories collected information about employed citizens with fixed abodes. Note that most women, although productively employed in managing households, did not rate a mention in the early city directories. Female milliners [hat makers] and dress makers might get listed along with the occasional company owner or professional like a doctor.
  • the information provided in a directory listing might not be up to date since a 1920 directory would probably be published the year before. People also moved mid year.
  • some of the time you will be dealing with a nominal entry with no other family members to be found in the listings. You will need to have some idea of where your ancestor lived in order to ferret out the correct person.

Structure of a Directory 

County Directories in Ontario listed farmers alphabetically by township, since they were the predominant business men of the era, and also provided a lot and concession number. Tradespeople and professionals like doctors and lawyers were usually found in the small and larger towns and were listed there, usually without any further location information such as a street address. The lot and concession number provides the key information that you need in order to access land records in Ontario’s counties.  My great grandfather, John Pratt Campbell was captured in the Lambton County Directory for 1877, Bosanquet Township:

Campbell, Pratt, f……..7 16 [Source: Belden’s Illustrated Historical Atlas, County of Lambton, Ontario, 1880, Edited and Published with Additions by Edward Phelps, Sarnia, Ontario, Canada, 1973]

In the entry, the 7 refers to the concession number and the 16 refers to the lot number. The “f’ notes that he is a freeholder or owner of the land. In this case, the term was legally incorrect as the land was owned by his brother- in- law.

City Directories generally consisted of at least two parts. One part was the alphabetical listing of people in the city, usually those who were employed. Some of the later directories would list a wife’s name in brackets behind the husband’s name. In some cases, I have seen a notation following the name of a widow such as “wid[ow of] Andrew” which can help in establishing that you have the correct person. The second part of the directory, was a street listing of homes which generally provided you with the name of the owner of the premises. Checking both sections of the directory can lead to you finding family members living together. If they still use their common surname you can track members of a family in the alphabetical listing by checking for similar home addresses. Remember that this listing will only include the ones who are employed. The street listing of homes could catch the fact that a brother or sister is living in a married sister’s home. The same could apply to parents moving in with a married daughter. Look for connections.

Searching the Canadian Directories Collection on the Library and Archives Website

The collection is broken into two parts at this time,  the first of which is a searchable database. Make sure that you check the  available editions in the database so that you don’t waste time looking for an ancestor who did not live in any of the geographical areas covered by these directories. The second part which covers Hamilton, Ontario; Kingston, Ontario; London, Ontario; and Southwestern Ontario Counties, is only available in pdfs which can be searched individually. Each of the latter directories is broken up into several pdfs, so you will need to do some searching to find the section that gives you what you want. I downloaded the pdfs to my computer because I found that the searching was a lot faster that way.

Obviously it helps to have some idea about where your ancestor lived in any given period of time. Sometimes, the names of employed family members in the same geographical area will help identify an individual as the one you are seeking. Enjoy the search!

Alan Campbell OGS # 12978


Call for Speakers – Genetic Genealogy

December 15th, 2014

Toronto Branch is planning a one-day workshop on 6 June 2015 on Genetic Genealogy and its uses in family history research.

We are looking for speakers who would like to be take part. The workshop will deal with the main types of DNA testing that are used by genealogists as well as how the results from genetic testing are used in conducting or supporting genealogical research. We hope to offer lectures for audiences at the beginner level as well as for people with a more advanced level of knowledge who have used DNA testing. You’ll find our detailed call for presentations at

The deadline to submit a proposal for this workshop is Saturday, 17 January 2015.

Message from OGS President: Vigilence is Needed to Preserve Ontario Cemeteries

December 13th, 2014

In My Own Backyard!

Vigilance is necessary regarding unregistered cemeteries. I was reminded of this recently when bulldozing of a stand of trees on a farm at 8947 Petrolia Line, Brooke Township, right in my own county of residence, Lambton, resulted in damage to a pioneer cemetery. Dana Thorne, Archivist at the Lambton County Archives, provided the following article about this Methodist Episcopal Cemetery for the Lambton County Branch of the OGS newsletter, Lambton Lifeline [December 2014 issue].

Alan Campbell President

Click here for the full article.

National Genealogical Society’s 37th Annual Family History Conference

December 11th, 2014

Registration is now open for the National Genealogical Society’s 37th Annual Family History Conference – Crossroads of America, which will be held 13–16 May 2015 at the St. Charles Convention Center in St. Charles, Missouri. Conference highlights include a choice of more than 150 lectures, given by nationally known speakers and subject matter experts on a broad array of topics. The conference will open with The Tales of Pioneer Paths: Rivers, Roads & Rails given by J. Mark Lowe, CG, FUGA, a full-time professional researcher and educator, and former APG president.

Continuing NGS’s goal of providing quality educational opportunities to its participants, the conference will feature a variety of lectures for all skill levels from beginner to advanced. Lecture topics covered at the conference will include: researching in many Midwestern states; national and regional migration paths; land, military, immigration, and naturalization records; ethnic and religious groups including African American, German, Irish, Jewish, Native American, Polish, and Scots-Irish; methodology, analysis, and problem solving; and the use of technology including genetics, mobile devices, and websites useful in genealogical research. The Board for Certification of Genealogists’ Skillbuilding track will again be an integral part of the conference and presented over the four days of the event.

Registration is currently open. To register online, visit the NGS website at and complete the registration form.

The online searchable program is available at and the PDF brochure is available at The brochure includes an overview of the sessions, tours, pre-conference events, registration times, and rates, as well as general conference and hotel details. Attendees are urged to visit the conference blog, which will feature tips on local and regional research facilities as well as things to do in and around St. Charles and updated information on hotel availability and local restaurants.

Founded in 1903, the National Genealogical Society is dedicated to genealogy education, high research standards, and the preservation of genealogical records. The Arlington, Virginia-based nonprofit is the premier national society for everyone, from the beginner to the most advanced family historian seeking excellence in publications, educational offerings, research guidance, and opportunities to interact with other genealogists.

All OGS Members Welcome to Our First Webinar of 2015

December 6th, 2014

In Search of Your Scottish Ancestors
Tuesday, Jan. 6, 2015 @ 7:00 p.m. ET

Speaker: Christine Woodcock:

While many people want to know more about their Scottish heritage, they don’t know where to begin. Fortunately, researching our Scottish ancestors is a fairly easy task. Knowing where to look is usually where we get tied up. This talk will get you started in researching your Scottish ancestry as well as how to make the most of your research.

Christine Woodcock was born in Scotland and raised in Canada. She is a genealogy educator with a particular expertise in Scottish records. She is also a lecturer, writer and blogger with a focus on Genealogy, Using Online Resources, Connecting through Social Media, and, of course, Scottish ancestry. She runs Scottish research trips to the Scottish Archives in Edinburgh to help genealogists discover their Scottish heritage.

OGS webinars are free to OGS members. Up to 100 people can access this webinar at one time. The room will open 10 minutes before the session is scheduled to start. It is no longer necessary to pre-register for webinars.

Volunteers Wanted: Guaranteed Access to OGS Webinars for Volunteer Technical Hosts

December 6th, 2014

In preparation for our 2015 Webinar series, we are working to grow our team of Technical Hosts.

Webinar Technical Hosts work alongside the Webinar Co-ordinator to run each Webinar. They arrive early to set up the Adobe Connect virtual room and make sure the Speaker and Co-ordinator are set up online. They assist members as they sign on for the Webinar and they are present for the talk and work with the Co-ordinator to mute and unmute microphones for questions.

If you are interested in assisting with this, please contact the Executive Director at

Full training will be provided. No one will be expected to handle all webinars.

More Unregistered Cemeteries Sent to the Registrar

December 6th, 2014

OGS, spearheaded by our unsinkable provincial cemeteries committee, has been advocating for many years for the registration of all cemeteries in Ontario

The joint OGS and OHS Cemetery Committee continues to compile comprehensive information about all Ontario cemeteries and then to send our records of unregistered cemeteries to the Registrar of Cemeteries, Michael D’Mello whose department is charged with working to get these cemeteries registered.

Registration is the highest form of protection a cemetery can have in the current environment.

This week we sent to the Registrar details of unregistered cemeteries for the counties of Halton, Hastings and Huron so that they can be registered and protected.

Many thanks also to all of the Branch Cemetery Volunteers who have worked so hard to add to our records.

We are working through the Ontario Counties alphabetically.
The modern information we seek includes:
• Street addresses
• GPS coordinates
• Property ownership information

For more information about the Ontario Genealogical Society’s continued efforts to identify and protect Ontario’s cemeteries, please visit the Unregistered Cemeteries section of our website at:

If you have information about local cemeteries, please share this information with your local branch chair or branch cemeteries committee.

Notice for Niagara Peninsula Branch Meeting – Streaming

December 4th, 2014

Join Niagara Peninsula Branch for a Wonderful night of sharing Family History Stories and getting back to the basics of Genealogy. There will also be finger foods and time to socialize with those who share a passion for Genealogy.

Date: Thursday, December 11, 2014

Time: 7:00 – 9:00 pm

Location: First Grantham United Church, 415 Linwell Road, St. Catharines, ON

Contact Info:

Notice for Sault & District Branch Meeting

December 4th, 2014
Date: Wednesday, December 10, 2014
Time: 7:30 -10:00 pm
Location: Rosedale Public School, 90 Chapple Ave., Sault Ste. Marie, ON (map)
Activities: Brief business meeting; Meet researchers; Q & A; Guest Speaker