Archive for the ‘General Posts’ Category

Finding/Researching Your Canadian World War I Soldier Ancestor

Tuesday, 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

Thursday, 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


Using Forms for Canadian Genealogical Research Now Available on CD

Saturday, November 1st, 2014

Susan Smart’s and Clifford Collier’s resource book Using Forms for Canadian Genealogical Research is full of useful forms to help keep you organized. These forms were developed specifically for research in Canada.

This book is now available on CD. All forms from the original book are printable to make using this resource even easier.Find it in our eStore:

How to Research Your Family History: Part 3

Saturday, September 13th, 2014

We now come to the two most difficult issues that genealogists must grapple with: Proof and Citing your sources.

Prove everything before going back another generation. Otherwise you may discover that you have spent much time developing a magnificent family tree of great value to someone else. The rule of thumb is that you should have three independent sources before accepting anything as fact, although you will quickly learn to judge the reliability of sources. This is because

  • A family story is rather unreliable
  • A family tree found on the internet is quite unreliable
  • Great aunt Minnie’s recollections of her childhood may be unreliable
  • A date of birth given on a tombstone may not be reliable
  • The age of an adult given on a census may be reliable, but be skeptical

Consistent age from several censuses is reliable. The date of a christening found in a church register is usually reliable but a date of birth in the same record may not be. A civil registration certificate is quite reliable and on its own can be regarded as proof.

What happens if you don’t find the evidence you are looking for?

First, remember the rule – Absence of evidence is not evidence of absence. Ministers sometimes forgot to put the entry in the record book. The person recording the information may have mis-heard the name and written down something else, a problem that often occurred when there was an unfamiliar accent. Becoming very creative about spelling may help you find the document you’re looking for.

For every fact you find – and accept – you should note the source so that someone else can go there to check your data. And of course you will want to return to that source too. You will be surprised how often you will want to re-check something a year or so later.

This rule particularly applies to information gathered from the Internet. Remember:
The Internet is a wide sea, but very shallow.

Unfortunately genealogies supplied on the internet rarely cite sources, so most of the information supplied on the Internet is only a starting point for your own research. The information is an interesting idea, worth slightly less than family legends, but requires you to verify the facts before it becomes valuable data.

Nothing is true until you have proven it true and cited your sources so that others can check your facts.

How to Research Your Family History: Part 2

Saturday, September 6th, 2014
Keeping Records

Once you start the process of researching your family history, it will quickly become evident that you are going to end up with a lot of information about a lot of people. At this point, you might be thinking that you should find and install genealogical software so that you can start building your tree as well as organize and store all of your data. As tempting as this idea might seem, hold off – for now.

Initially, keep it old school. Rely on good, basic record keeping principles to organize your records – and stick to pencil and paper as you start filling out your tree. (Please refer to an earlier post, Controlling the Chaos, for tips on how to organize your records) There are many excellent genealogy programs and you need to pick the one that fits your specific needs and style. Give yourself enough time to actually determine what these will be – otherwise whatever software you chose may end up frustrating you.

Keep paper records until you have data on about a hundred people; then start looking at the software. Do some research by asking other genealogists what they use – feedback based on hands on experience is invaluable. Also, check sites like Genealogy Software Review - here is their best of for 2014. And don’t forget, if you are on a Mac- it’s best to use software developed for a Mac – here is the Genealogy Software Review for Mac 2014.

There are two basic documents that you need to record two basic types of information.

  1. You need to know who the ancestors of a particular person are. You record this on chart called a Family Tree. Start with yourself, then work back to your parents – your four grandparents, your eight great grandparents, and so on.
  2. The second document is a Family Record – for information about a set of parents and all their children. At a minimum you should create a Family Record for each couple in your Family Tree.

These two forms are the only essential ones, although there are many other useful forms, charts and diagrams. A good source of forms with a Canadian orientation is the book Using Forms for Genealogical Research by Susan Smart (OGS 2005). It contains 42 forms which you can photocopy for your own use.

Visit the OGS eStore for other useful Genealogy Guides.

WWI and OGS Member in the News

Saturday, August 16th, 2014

A recent Toronto Star article details a recent discovery made regarding the bodies and belongings of 16 lost Canadian soldiers of the Great War. The whereabouts of 14 of those sets of remains are still unknown today, but through the work of Genealogist and OGS member Janet Roy, two of them have at last been accounted for.

Read the Star’s article here


Brickwalls: Seeking Information on John Heard of Angus, Ontario and Reginald Lorenzo Heard

Wednesday, May 21st, 2014

Brickwall #1 -

John Heard/Hurd b abt 1921 England (parents listed on marriage certificate Thomas & Sarah Heard) with possible middle name of Freeman. Have never found arrival date or origins of birth in England. Heard is too common a name. Marr #1 Sarah Jane Thompson 18 Oct 1875 parsonage Barrie = 15 children. Marr #2 Rebecca Harvey born USA 2 Mar 1847 Whitby Ontario = 6 children. John Heard died 30 Dec 1895 Angus Ontario, will probated 1898 and on son William’s death 1933 it says father born Plymouth, mother born Ogdensburg New York (have traced this family) but can find no proof of John Heard & Plymouth. Anyone know which way to go on this one?

Brickwall #2 -

Heard, Reginald Lorenzo born 5 Nov 1913 Essa Twp. Registered 8 Jan 1914 (my copy dated 28 Apr 1982) no
parents named but genealogy of the family – his parents were Wilfred Charles Heard and Ida May Alexander
of Simcoe County. Reginald married Edith Elizabeth M. M. Barker (7 Sept 1912-28 Apr 1975) on 2 Jan 1937 in
Oshawa, Ontario = 3 children lived, twins died at birth. Reginald had no siblings.

Have a card re: War Service Badge GS 1070441 for Heard, Reginald Lorenzo with rank & serial numbers
issued June 26, 1985. For years city directories listed him as soldier, and for some he lived with his
mother Ida May Heard in Oshawa.

Family information from late daughters – Reg married Elizabeth Mae DeAmbroise using name Reginald
Larribee Hurd 9 Oct 1943 & had 3 children.

From copy of marriage certificate Reg then married Jean Murray Stover as Reginald John Heard 8 Aug 1964
in village of Sombra County Lambton by license as a divorcee. Here is the questioning part – statement says his
parents were Wesley Duncan Heard and Mary Alice Lander both born Texas as was he ? (He had an uncle named Duncan Wesley).

Reg died 11 March 1983 Edmonton Alberta not long after his daughters found him. So who was this man really?
I could find no connections on Ancestry & Family Search to this American family. Any suggestions?

If you think you can help Marie-Jeanne, she may be reached directly at:

Upcoming Heritage Event: Celebrating the Battle of Bannockburn

Thursday, April 17th, 2014

Battle of Bannockburn poster image

Join the St. Andrew’s Society of Toronto on Saturday, June 21, 2014, as they celebrate the 700th Anniversary of the Battle of Bannockburn.

The Battle of Bannockburn: ”Scotland Then and Now” Symposium    

Date: 21 June 2014

Time: 2:00 p.m. to 5:00 p.m.

Location: St. Michael’s College, University of Toronto


  • Prof. Graeme Morton –   “The National Story Since Bannockburn.”
  • Brigadier General Julian Chapman –   “The Mechanics of War in 1314.”
  • Dr. Mairi Cowan – ” ‘The Saints of the Scottish Country Will Fight Today’.”
  • Prof. Andrew McDonald – “Bannockburn, Barbour’s ‘Bruce,’ and the  Reign of Robert I.”
  • Prof. Barbara Murison – “Bannockburn: a talisman for Scottish independence?”
  • Tickets: $20.00 In advance

Click here to download the full size poster

Buy your tickets here

Bannockburn Celtic Concert

Date: 21 June 2014

Times: Doors: 7:00 p.m., concert starts at 8:00 p.m.

Location: El Mocambo, 464 Spadina Ave., Toronto



Tickets: $25.00 In advance

Click here to download the full sized poster

Buy your tickets here

For more information about these, and other St. Andrew’s Society events, please visit their website at: