July 24th, 2015
More questions for you in your quest to shatter brickwalls. Have you:
Expanded your research into collateral lines of your family?
In this series of posts on the topic of brickwalls, you have read about my efforts to extend my research into collateral lines. I began my research into my Campbell line with an obituary for my great grandfather John Pratt Campbell, a copy of his marriage license, the one given to the bride and groom, with no parents’ names given, and a family group sheet for a James Campbell for whom I did not know the connection to my family. My Campbell grandparents were both death many years before, my father had passed away, my mother knew little and my one uncle on the Campbell side thought we were looking for money and did not have any genealogical information anyway. Fortunately the obituary gave information about each of John Pratt Campbell’s children and where they were living at the time of his death. Although as according to the time period, the daughters were listed as Mrs. James Campbell, Mrs. Joseph Young, Mrs. Sarah Colbert, Mrs. John Cameron, and Mrs. Leslie Plewes; I was able to track them in censuses and learn more about them. Once I had exhausted vital statistics records I then started to search for my great uncles and great aunts’ living descendants . My collection of pictures, copies of documents and family stories came primarily from these collateral line contacts that I was able to make.
Expanded your research to include neighbours and friends who migrated with your family?
After I had found my great great grandfather John Atkey in the 1881 Canada Census for Stisted Township, Muskoka District, did I bother to investigate his neighbours?1 No. It was only when I began extensive research on his wife’s Bolton line that I discovered that the William Harper family listed above them in the census was connected to the Bolton family. In fact William’s wife, Betsy (Nunn) Harper was a first cousin of Martha (Bolton) Atkey, John’s wife. Now, years later, I can check with descendants of the Harper line as to whether stories from the Muskoka District homesteading era passed down through the Harper family. Researching neighbours, especially those who lived close by may lead you to published stories that include information about your family.
James Atkey, sibling of my John, took in two British Home Children, George and Polly or Mary Singleton. I would not have know anything about their treatment if it was not for a neighbour who wrote that James and Ann his wife were “…kindness itself and gave these children not only a good home but a Christian upbringing.”2 The two children took the Atkey name maybe as a measure of respect for James and his wife Ann. Do check family histories, stories and diaries created by neighbours and friends.
Expanded your concept of potential research sources?
Many researchers check census records and vital statistic records and do not go much farther. Consider the following sources of information:
land records, wills, probate records, employment records, voters’ lists, newspaper articles, fraternal organizations’ records, military records, diaries, letters, court records, coroner’s reports, county and local histories, immigration records, border crossing records, funeral home records, interment ledgers, birthday books, funeral or condolence books, websites with historical background, and the list could go on and on.
Look at the timeline that you built based on my earlier recommendation and ask yourself “What records could exist for this family”? Alternatively find a genealogical research guide for the particular geographical area that you are researching and check to see what additional records are mentioned.
May your brickwalls be shattered!
Next post in two weeks: The Personals- More Than You Wanted to Know
1. William Harper family entry, 1881 Canada Census, District 131, Muskoka, S. District Y, Township of Stisted, p.1, Library and Archives microfilm, reel no. C-13244.
2. William G. Cheshire, Wiarton to Big Bay. Colpoy’s Range, As remembered by William G. Cheshire (Wiarton, Ontario: Wiarton Indexing and Mapping, 1974), p. 6. The copy that I accessed is held at the Owen Sound Public Library.
July 10th, 2015
Continuing in the same theme as the previous blog here are some more questions to hopefully trigger some avenues in your research to obliterate your brickwall.
Built a complete timeline of the individual or family that you are researching?
I like to build a timeline that includes births, marriages and deaths for the individual and all other members of the family. Then I insert census information such as year and geographic location. Add city or county directory entries which also provide the year and geographic location information. Add dated geographic information that is sometimes provided in obituaries for siblings of a person who has died. Add any information from military records, occupational records, in other words, any record that you can collect for this individual or family.
Next, look for the holes. What are you missing? Where might you find that missing record? Do the records before and after the missing record give any hints as to a geographical location in which you should search for this record? Share your timeline with other genealogists who might bring a new perspective to your research because of the record sets that they have searched in their own quest for information.
My “non” brick wall was that of one of my Sims ancestors, Israel, who lived in Hamilton,Ontario. No official death record seemed to exist for him. I built my timeline for him using city directory information from Hamilton. He was listed in the 1900 city directory as a wood turner. In the 1901 city directory, he was indirectly listed in the entry for his wife “Sims, Eunice (wid Israel)…”. Now I had a narrow window in which to search for other records of this death. With the help of the Hamilton Branch of OGS, I was able to get an obituary for him and funeral home records. Interestingly, according to his obituary and the funeral home records, he is buried in the same cemetery as his mother and two siblings but neither the cemetery records nor the stone on the family plot contain any information about him. This is a reminder that a researcher has to “cast the net” wide to catch as many different records as possible.
Given up too soon in a search for a particular document or the information that it might contain?
I personally do not consider a search for better records to ever be finished. I found an official Ontario birth record from 1870 that was inaccurate to the point of a female [one of my great aunts] being registered as a male using the father’s name as the name of the child. From all the birth dates that I found her in other records, I have settled on the one listed in my mother’s birthday book since this great aunt was my mother’s namesake and I figured that this aunt’s birth date was one that she was likely to get correct.
Don’t stop looking if an obituary or other record if it is not recorded in an index. First check to see if the index covers the time period or the geographical area in which the news item or record would be kept. I have seen situations where one county in a State is not included in an index for whatever reason. Many researchers are not aware that census records for parts of some counties do not exist for the 1851-52 Canada West Census. As a result, some Branches of the Ontario Genealogical Society have indexed assessment records for those years to at least have a head of household list of inhabitants of a given township. Do not assume that because an item in not in an index that it does not exist. Look at the original records if they still exist.
In my personal research, a William Campbell was referenced in his wife’s obituary as having died 24 years earlier.1 I was able to find his death notice which noted that he had died in an accident. The births, marriages and deaths index for the local paper, The Forest Standard, Forest, Ontario, did not have an obituary listing for William. I checked microfilmed copies of the Standard for the time of the accidental death and found a very descriptive story of his death in the Thedford news column in the December 2, 1915 issue of the paper.2 Don’t give up too soon!
Checked on-line or local indexing sources that change over time?
As many genealogical organizations are involved in ongoing indexing of records, do go back and check to see if your ancestor is listed in an index if it is not a static one.
Some indexing of records in on-line situations, such as that of Ancestry.com allows for correction of errors. A record that may not have been a “hit” in an earlier search might be a “hit” if a correction of terrible indexing has been made. I had a Sims ancestor indexed under the surname Wis. Never would I have considered that as an alternate spelling to use in my search.
Left your contact information in likely spots to encourage family contacts?
Leave “tracks” so that people can find you. Obviously, building family trees on any of the on-line software programs is a good route to make contacts. Having your DNA done by one of the companies which has a built in way to connect with people with similar DNA is another route. I have also had results via some of the “old” ways of leaving tracks. I left a query on a rootsweb surname list and had a “hit” nearly ten years later which opened up a collateral Campbell line that had been blocked by lack of information. I had an elusive Smith connection that was filled in simply because I had left my research interests and contact information on file at Grey Roots, the archive for Grey County, Ontario. One of the Smith descendants decided to visit the place where her great great grandmother lived and do some family research while she was there.
Although I know that some people don’t have much faith in placing queries in genealogical newsletters, I have had some luck that way. An article in the Ontario Genealogical Society’s Newsleaf resulted in a telephone call from a researcher on the very day I received my paper copy in the mail. A request for information about a family in an OGS branch newsletter resulted in an email with contact information for a live contact for the family in a matter of days. An article about British Home Children that was published in two Branch/SIG newsletters and also posted on the Global Genealogy website, brought several emails.
So the “bottom line” is that you use as many strategies as possible to let other researchers know who you are researching.
Look for the third post in this series two weeks from today.
1. Mrs. Shadrach Randall, 83, Dies in Bosanquet Township, The Sarnia Canadian Observer, 27 August 1940, p. 3.
2. Thedford news column, The Forest Standard, 2 December 1915, p. 5.
OGS # 12978
June 26th, 2015
In your attempt to break down your brickwall, have you:
Networked with family and collateral lines?
I have found that collateral line family members, like second and third cousins, often had information that was of value to me in my research. How do you reach these knowledgeable resource people? With the advent of Facebook, and social media routes like it, you have a chance of making contact with a cousin. If the contact is not made on a genealogically driven page or group, and the person does not appear to be interested in genealogy, then go the next step and ask to be “introduced” to the family historian in his/her family. This can work whether it is by old fashioned letter or just by chance meeting. Carry “business” cards with you containing your contact info for cases like that.
The posting of a family tree on one of the online sites like Ancestry.com will bring you into contact with cousins. I “mine” Ancestry.com trees for information. A lot of errors you say. That can be true but as I move through the many interconnected trees, I often find a date, place or name attached to an ancestor which helps me focus my search for that person . Sometimes I contact the poster to ask how they came by the fact- family lore? an obituary? Not all posters respond but a number do.
Collected artifacts from family and collateral lines?
I try to get as many copies of original documents and photographs as I can. Many of mine came because I corresponded with collateral line family members. I received my first picture of my great grandfather John Pratt Campbell from a contact made with a centenarian in Saskatchewan. He even remembered seeing my great grandfather when he was a small child. Don’t harass people but do ask more than once for materials. It took me almost five years to find out which of her three children had my one aunt’s genealogical papers. Then it took a cheque to get it shipped to me for copying.
After my mother’s death, my siblings and I cleaned out her house and discovered many family history related items. I asked that I be able to take them initially and make copies of them. It wasn’t until at least two years later that I found out that my oldest sister had taken my mother’s Saskatchewan birth certificate. Anyone who has researched in Saskatchewan knows that the land designation for a rural place of birth pinpoints an exact spot that is easy to track through records. I had done the research the more rigourous way in the meantime.
Assessed your assumptions?
Be careful that you don’t make assumptions that deter you from doing research that will bring additional records to your attention. My great grandfather, noted above, was living in London Township, Middlesex County, Ontario, as of the 1871 Canada Census. By the time of the 1881 Canada Census, he was living in Manitoba. Early in my research, I made the mistaken assumption that he had gone from London Township to Manitoba. Wrong! It was only because I picked up an index that included gazetteer entries, after my planned research was done at an archive, that I found an entry for him in 1877 for Lambton County. I was able to find out via the assessment records that he had been in Lambton County between 1872 and 1878. As well, in the land records I found court summons and sales of property that involved members of his family including his wife. Don’t forget to check the between the censuses records!
Assessed your understanding of the geography of your family-especially changing boundaries?
If you are researching in Ontario it pays to have access to maps which show the progression from Districts to Counties through history. A search for vital records [births, marriages and deaths] can lead you through church records, district records, county records and provincial records. Be sure to educate yourself about where to look when.
Be aware that in Ontario some townships were first in one county and then in another. Records may be found in two different places depended upon the era.
One of the valued books in my collection is Townships of the Province of Ontario, Canada which is available from The Ontario Genealogical Society. The authors noted the changes in townships over the years. When I am researching, I find it a great resource when I come across a vital record in an Ancestry.com database and I don’t recognize the township that is noted as a place of birth. Sometimes it helps eliminate unlikely “prospects” when you are seeking a particular individual because the event occurred at a great distance from where the family lived.
Another valued book in my collection is Genealogy in Ontario-Searching the Records also available from The Ontario Genealogical Society. Yes, you can probably find a lot of this information on the Internet in various places but I find it good to have it all in one place. This book contains maps of Ontario through history and good descriptions of the records that were kept, what they contain and how to access them.
Checked your family stories against a historical timeline?
See my blog post of May 27, 2015, “Family Stories – Truth or Fiction?” for an example of the need to put your ancestor in a historical context [related to my ancestor Andrew Sims].
Analysed the documentary material that you already have?
I find that it pays to go back and check the copies of the original records that you have taken over the years. Reading them carefully will steer you away from false assumptions in some cases. In re-reading a homestead record for my grandfather James Percy Sims I discovered that I had missed the notation that initially he had lived with his brother Andrew while he cleared and plowed his land. I was able to pin down another ancestor’s location and the historical records he left behind because the document gave the land designation for his brother’s farm.
Considered what other documents could exist because of your ancestor’s job, religion, interests, and membership in organizations?
Was your ancestor a church layman? Did he run the Sunday school program for a church? Was he a member of a fraternal lodge? Do records exist because he had a job for which records were kept? Even the progress of a farmer with his land was noted in the yearly assessment records of a municipality. There are a number of listings to found in books and probably on the Internet of the various record sources that exist. For a presentation at an OGS Conference, I sought information about women’s organizations and my final bibliography ran to ten pages!
I often wondered how my great aunt, Jane (Sims) Hobbs survived after being widowed some five years after her marriage in 1881. I got part of the answer when I found an article in the OGS journal, Families, that described how the Ancient Order of United Workmen #88, a fraternal organization which her husband had joined, would pay out a sum of money between five hundred and two thousand dollars to a member’s widow.1 There is value in seeking out every possible record!
1. Helen Schmid, The Ancient Order of United Workmen, Families, Vol. 21, No. 2, 1982, pp. 67 and 70. OGS members can access digitized copies of all previous issues of Families in the members only section of the website.
OGS # 12978
June 12th, 2015
Genealogists new to the hobby often make the mistake of looking for exact names and excluding any names that are not. I learned my lesson regarding how names can change when I traced the life of Angelina Rowell born 4 October 1876 at Barrie, Ontario, to parents, John R. Rowell and Angelina Hennam.
Birth, Marriage and Death Records Cause a Debate
As I traced Angelina’s life, I found her marriage to Samuel Campbell 13 July 1898 at Springfield, Manitoba. Her parents were noted as John Robert Rowell and Eva. The witnesses were Thomas G. Colbert, Margaret Colbert, and Ida Huston.
Angelina died 8 July 196l, age 89, at Delta, British Columbia. Her son, W. S. Campbell, provided that information that her husband was Samuel Simon Campbell and her parents were John Robert Rowell and Angelina Hennam. This last record would seem to sum up Angelina’s life. Then a genealogical “speed bump” occurred. A second cousin, when presented with the above records, argued that she had met Samuel Simon Campbell’s wife and her name was Erris. She was adamant so I did not argue with her but recorded the information and restarted my research into Angelina’s life.
The Value of Genealogical Queries
A response to a ten year old rootsweb query, from a researcher in California, resulted in me meeting his parents who were living near Toronto. His father, a grandson of Angelina or Eva, remembered mail coming into their house addressed to Erris Campbell when she had moved in with them after Samuel’s death. The grandson assumed that it was a nickname for Angelina. He and his wife provided me with a copy of an obituary for Samuel Campbell that noted that he had married an Eva Colbert. I had tracked John Rowell and his second wife into Manitoba, then most of the family disappeared. I found John in Seattle, identifiable by his trade of lather. Where had Angelina or Eva gone? I looked back at her marriage record and decided to search for the Thomas and Margaret Colbert who were witnesses to her marriage. In the 1891 census for Manitoba, I found an age appropriate Aris Muriel Colbert living with a Thomas and Margaret Colbert. Ida was one of their children. This would seem to explain the Eva Angelina Rowell who was an Eva or Erris Colbert prior to her marriage to Samuel Campbell.
An Open Mind is an Asset
Why was Angelina’s name changed? I haven’t yet met the cousin who can explain the change. Having learned my lesson about keeping an open mind about name changes through a person’s life, I felt that I should share the story with my readers to alert them to the need to keep that open mind.
May 29th, 2015
Many genealogists and family historians have been told or have “inherited” stories about their ancestors. The quandary for them is how much of any story can be believed. The sad truth is that no story can be taken at face value and must be confirmed with documentation. The historical plausibility test can be applied in order to test a story as well.
Checking historical timelines can help you decide whether or not an ancestor could have been involved in a particular war, migration or similar historic event. I was told that a collateral line member of my family had a rifle used during the war of 1812 by my 2X great-grandfather, Andrew Sims. Unfortunately for the story teller, my Andrew did not even come to Lower Canada from Ireland until the 1830s, well after the war of 1812 was over. Now if the story teller was to say that the rifle was used in the 1837 rebellion of Lower Canada, he would have a better chance of being correct, as an Andrew Sims served in the Two Mountains Loyal Volunteer Cavalry according to payroll lists. At the time of the rebellion, Andrew was living in St. Jerusalem d’ Argenteuil, a township in the District of Two Mountains, Quebec.
Elements of Truth
It has been my experience that there is an element of truth in most family stories. According to one of the family stories I was told, the daughter of a great aunt married a second time and traveled with her family to Ontario, Oregon. She was diagnosed with tuberculosis and was deported from the USA on the basis that she could become a burden on the state. I was able to find information that she had spent her last few years at Ninette Sanitorium in Manitoba. I did not find an actual deportation record but did get a copy of her visa from USA immigration. The family also turns up in the Ancestry database, Aliens precleared in Canada. Many of the facts of the story could be proven.
On the other hand, I read numerous stories about female children being “adopted” by some of my collateral line Campbell families and then marrying into the same family. I found children taken in but the rest of the elements did not follow the storylines. An Alma Neta Campbell was taken in by her aunt Amy (Keeler) Switzer and then married Roderick McKenzie. Another female, Eva Anglina Rowell was taken in by a Colbert family, who changed her name to Eris Muriel Colbert, and she later married one of my great uncles, Samuel Campbell. Each story had that small element of truth but that was all.
The lesson learned in all of this is to accept nothing at face value and to attempt to find documentation that proves or disproves a family story. If you do decide to share the story with others without documentation, please be ethical and note that it is an unproven family story.
May 15th, 2015
When you look at a baptismal or marriage record, you may not pay attention to the name of the officiant at the event unless you think that he/she is a relative. If the officiant is a relative in whom you are interested, where do you get information about him/her?
A disclaimer, I have done more research into protestant, Wesleyan Methodist ministers and Congregationalist ministers so will not pretend to have research experience with other faiths. Perhaps someone who does will be prepared to offer me a blog post with research tips about researching other religions’ leaders. I will speak to research primarily in the mid to late 1800s.
If you are really lucky, your ministerial ancestor left a diary or was well known enough to have a book or article written about him. I went to the Dictionary of Canadian Biography website and entered the word “minister” in the search box and had 2279 hits on the word with information about many ministers of various faiths being returned. You can search this site using the person’s name. I also did a Google search on the name of a local “saddlebag” preacher, affectionately known as Uncle Joe Little, who travelled around Lambton County, Ontario, Canada, on horseback to spread the word of God. I was able to find books about him that I could download for any potential research that I wanted to do. A Google name Search is not always a successful route as I did not get any good hits on some of my other names.
Local histories sometimes have sections about the religious faiths that were in the geographic area. Most of these are not in depth but may provide dates a minister was at the given church. A caveat in these histories, is the fact that they were often compiled by the families who stayed in the area. Any minister who moved on after a few years might receive little mention. Many Canadian local histories can be found at the Our Roots website in digital form [a free site]. Ontario Genealogical Society Branches may also hold or know of the location of local histories for their geographic areas.
Many churches published church histories, sometimes more than one. You can do Internet searches on a church name or by using the name of the faith with a geographical locality in order to try to find books or blog posts about it. Don’t forget that you can search for books on Worldcat.org ,which searches library collections and can tell you the closest locality that holds a copy of a church history. Contacting the local Ontario Genealogical Society Branch in your area of interest is also a way to find out about access to information about a particular church. A number of Branches have done inventories of places of worship in their geographic areas. Local archives often hold collections of church histories as well. On the Ontario Genealogical Society website, in the members only section, there is a collection of digitized histories of churches in the Roman Catholic Diocese of London. Look under the tab OGS Databases.
Sometimes books filled with information about a particular religion can be found. I have a copy of Cyclopaedia of Methodism in Canada containing Historical, Educational, and Statistical Information, dating from the beginning of the work in the Several Provinces of the Dominion of Canada, and extending to the Annual Conferences of 1880 compiled by the Rev. George H. Cornish, which is a Global Heritage Press reprint [Global Genealogy ].
My personal success story relates to searching church annual reports. I was able to track an ancestor, Rev. Charles Bolton, over about 10 years by reading digitized Canadian Congregational Year Books [annual reports], which I found via a Google books search and on archive.org. I found out the name of the religious based program he graduated from, when he was ordained, where he was placed as a minister and the dates , and even was able to read some of his reports on his ministry with particular congregations. The ultimate success was to find a picture of him in one of the year books. Another bonus was finding a list of the periodicals published by Congregationalists at that time:
Canadian Independent monthly
Canadian Messenger monthly
Montreal Witness monthly
Of the above, I have accessed the Canadian Independent and have copies of the death notice and obituary for James Atkey, my great great grandfather, originally a lay preacher and teacher to the Indians in Keppel Township, Grey County, Ontario, for the Wesleyan Methodists. He joined the Congregationalists after a falling out with the Wesleyan Methodists. The Canadian Independent can be searched through Canadiana.org, a part free and part fee based site. Unfortunately I found that the Canadian Independent was covered by the fee based portion of the site. Fortunately I was able to talk with a representative of Canadiana.org at an OGS Conference and he offered to find the items for me and send me digital copies of them. A large educational or library institution might have a subscription to Canadiana.org that you could use as access. I found that there were no South Western Ontario access points like that when I checked. Some Toronto based institutions might well have subscriptions. I have not yet searched for any of the other periodicals on-line to see about accessibility.
Newspapers, especially weekly ones, would probably be a good source of articles about new ministers, beloved ministers leaving a congregation and of course obituaries which might be a source of information about the said minister’s career. Keep in mind that it would be a good idea to search newspapers not only in the geographic location where the minister died but also ones that covered areas in which he was previously posted to a church or where members of his family lived at the time of his death.
I would be interested in hearing from readers about other sources of information for men of the “cloth”.
April 24th, 2015
The value of having photocopies of original documents was driven home to me recently. While “surfing” records on the pay site www.Ancestry.com, for my great grandfather, John Atkey, I found a May and June 1874 militia payroll record for the 10th Royals raised at Toronto, Ontario, with his name as part of the list. Since the payroll records only contain dates of service, location of service, names of officers and militiamen, and their signatures; how do you prove it is a record for your ancestor?
Then an “Ah Ha” moment struck me as I looked at the signature of this John Atkey as it seemed familiar to me.
In my collection of materials for “my” John Atkey, I have a statement made and sworn to by him in support of his application for a patent for the south west ¼ of Section 32, Township 22, Range 3, of the 2 Meridian [a section of land in the North West Territories of Canada, now part of Saskatchewan] 31 October 1896. I compared this signature to the first one.
Without a doubt they were very similar and I felt that I had connected the two documents. A further check of my documents indicated that I had been lucky indeed because another document in my possession did not have John’s signature, instead his lawyer had signed it on his behalf. More documents rather than fewer would seem to be the best idea if you wish to make these document connections!
The Genealogical Proof Standard
Having only signatures and names to connect the two documents, although seemingly good proof, does not, according to Brenda Dougall Merriman in her book Genealogical Standards of Evidence-A Guide for Family Historians , represent a “reasonably exhaustive research for all information…” that would connect the two John Atkeys. Could I find any records of my John Atkey being in proximity to Toronto in the time period of his enlistment in the 10th Royals?
John and his known brother, Alfred, labourers, were captured in the Lovell’s Province of Ontario Directory for 1871, living at 156 Terauley Street in Toronto. Terauley Street was the section of present day Bay Street running north from Queen Street and ending at College Street. Family lore holds that John married Martha Rachel Bolton 27 July 1874 at Uxbridge, Township of Uxbridge, Durham Region, Ontario. An official record of this marriage has eluded me so far as has an 1871 Canada census record for John. By 1876, John and Alfred were captured in the Gazetteer and Directory of the County of Ontario living in Uxbridge, about 20 miles north of Whitby at the time.
Next steps will be seeking directories that locate John Atkey for the years between 1871 and 1874 and renewed efforts to locate the marriage record which may provide information about where John was living at the time of the marriage.
As noted earlier, more documents rather that fewer better tell the story of an ancestor.
My Sources of Information
Active Militia Annual Drill Acquittance Roll, Company 3C, 10th Royals Battalion of Active Militia for their Drill Pay for the year ending 30th June, 1874, Department of Militia and Defence, Accounts and Pay Branch, Nominal Rolls and Paylists for the Volunteer Militia, 1885-1914, R180-100-9-E, formerly RG9-II-F-6, Library and Archives Canada, downloaded from www.Ancestry.com 3 September 2014.
Statement made and sworn to by John Atkey in support of his application for a Patent for SW ¼ of Section 32, Township 22, Range 3, of 2 Meridian, dated 31 October 1896, homestead file no. 252255, Saskatchewan Archives Board.
Brenda Dougall Merriman, Genealogical Standards of Evidence-A Guide for Family Historians (Toronto, Ontario: Dundurn Press and The Ontario Genealogical Society, 2010), p. 9.
Lovell’s Province of Ontario Directory for 1871 (Montreal, Quebec: John Lovell, 1871), p. 58. This directory can be found at the Library and Archives Canada historical directories collection.
Gazetteer and Directory of the County of Ontario for the Year 1876 (Uxbridge, Ontario: J. A. Crawford, Publisher, 1876), p. 101. This gazetteer was found on the www.Ancestry.com website.
April 10th, 2015
A second website that contains information about soldiers who made the ultimate sacrifice is that of Veterans Affairs Canada. At this website you can find the Canadian Virtual War Memorial and the Books of Remembrance.
The Canadian Virtual War Memorial
This database is searched by surname and given name. If you have used some of the other websites, you may find nothing new here except for an image of the soldier’s name on a monument and a description of the cemetery. You can add photos, newspaper clippings, poems, and obituaries to any name on this website.
Books of Remembrance
The names of all the WWI casualties can be found in the pages of the Books of Remembrance. The page (certificate) where your soldier’s name appears can be printed off at home or you can order the beautiful coloured certificate free of charge. Note that you can only request one at a time.
The Commonwealth War Graves Commission is another good site to check. The Commission’s mission is to ensure that those who gave the ultimate sacrifice are never forgotten and that their graves are maintained.
The Commonwealth War Graves Commission
Find War Dead
This database can be searched by surname and given name but provides many other search options. If you have used the Library and Archives website in depth, you may not find any new information here.
There are a number of other sites related to World War I soldiers:
The Canadian Expeditionary Force Study Group
The Canadian Expeditionary Force Study Group is dedicated to the study of the Canadian Expeditionary Force in the Great War of 1914-1919.
The Regimental Rogue
Michael O’Leary’s website provides information about researching Canadian soldiers of World War I.
The Canadian Great War Project
The Canadian Great War Project is another site that is collecting additional information about soldiers of World War I. Registered users can add information like letters from the front.
The C.E.F. Paper Trail: An Unofficial Guide to the Official Canadian Army Service Records from the Great War
You can also check out the C.E.F. Paper Trail: An Unofficial Guide to the Official Canadian Army Service Records from the Great War which identifies the various documents and shows examples of them.
Research and Background Books for World War I
There are a number of books that are available but I will note the ones with which I am familiar. The following are research guides:
Michael O’Leary, Researching Canadian Soldiers of the First World War, 2010 (available from Amazon as a Kindle book)
Kenneth G. Cox, A Call to the Colours-Tracing Your Canadian Military Ancestors (Toronto, Ontario: Dundurn Press, 2011) chapter five, The Great War: I Believe My Ancestors Fought with the CEF, pp. 130-174. This book is available from the Ontario Genealogical Society.
Glenn Wright, Canadians at War, 1914-1919: A Research Guide to World War One Service Records (Milton, Ontario: Global Heritage Press, 2010). I found this book quite comprehensive. You can get it in print or electronic form from Global Genealogy.
In terms of understanding what the conflict in World War I was like for the soldiers in the trenches, I highly recommend Tim Cooks’ two books:
Tim Cook, At the Sharp End – Canadians Fighting the Great War 1914-1916 (Toronto: Viking Canada, 2007).
Tim Cook, Shock Troops – Canadians Fighting the Great War 1917-1918 (Toronto: Viking Canada, 2008).
These books are available from Indigo, Amazon and Global Genealogy.
I hope that with the help of this and the preceding post that you will have success in “fleshing out” the story of your World War I soldiers.
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
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