Tuesday, February 23, 2010

An easy-to-use, step-by-step guide to researching Canadians who served in World War One

For a recent activity in an archives class, we were asked to compile a pathfinder to assist those researching Canadian family members who served in World War One (1914-1918). It was a very useful and informative exercise, and I hope that anyone interested in researching former Canadian servicemen/women will find this pathfinder helpful in their research!

Database #1: Soldiers of the First World War – Canadian Expeditionary Force

This database contains the personnel files of the 600,000 Canadians who enlisted in the Canadian Expeditionary Force during World War One. The database can be found on the Canadian Library and Archives (LAC) website at: http://www.collectionscanada.gc.ca/databases/cef/index-e.html

To begin your search:
• Click on the “Search” button on the toolbar that is located on the left-hand side of the page.
• Enter as much information as you know about the person you are looking for in the required fields.
• E.g. for a soldier named Joseph Robert Doyle, “Doyle” would be entered under the “Surname” category, and “Joseph Robert” would be entered under the “Given Names” category.
• As demonstrated in the case of Joseph Robert Doyle, I do not know his regiment number, but by merely entering his naming and clicking “Submit,” the database will generate a return.
• On the Results page, the record of a Joseph Robert Doyle is offered; to access this record, simply click on the soldier’s underlined name.
• As you will see, this generates his regiment number, date of birth, as well as where in LAC his records can be found.
• For more information, click on the “Front of Form” icon, which will provide you with detailed information regarding the soldier.
• You are now able to view and print this page for free.

Database #2: Canadian Virtual War Memorial

This database is particularly useful in finding grave and memorial information about soldiers who died in any conflict that Canada was involved in. This database can be found on the Veterans Affairs Canada website, at:

To begin your search:
• Enter as much information you know about the soldier in the fields requested. As noted above, the more information you enter, the more accurate your results will be.
• Using the example of Joseph Robert Doyle, “Doyle” would be entered under the “Surname” category, and “Joseph Robert” would be entered under the “Given Name” category.
• When you have entered all available information, click on the “Search” button.
• On the “Results” page, clicking on the surname, which is highlighted in the color blue, will give you information about Joseph Robert Doyle, including his service number, birthday, parents’ names, and finally, his burial information.
• At the top of the page, his memorial information is centred and in bold font, allowing viewers to easily see the name of a soldier and the date of their death.
• If you choose, you will be able to view the soldier’s name in the First World War Book of Remembrance, which has been digitized and put online. This is free, and if you wish to order a copy of the page, you are able to do so for a small fee.
• This database also includes a “digital photo collection of the soldier”, if applicable. In the case of Joseph Robert Doyle, there is both a newspaper clipping and picture of him.
• The database also includes information about the cemetery where the deceased soldiers are buried. In the instance of Joseph Robert Doyle, he was buried in the “Ontario Cemetery, Sains-les-Marquion,” in Nord-France. The cemetery plan is offered on the website, as is a brief description of the village it is located in, Sains-les-Marquion.

Database #3: Commonwealth War Graves Commission

This database compiles the death and commemorative information of the 1,700,000 men and women of the Commonwealth forces (Canada, Australia, United Kingdom, etc.) who died in the two World Wars. The database can be found on the Commonwealth War Graves Commission website at http://www.cwgc.org/default.asp

To begin your search:
• Click on the “Search our Records” button on the toolbar on the left-hand side of the page.
• You are given the option of searching for a casualty or a cemetery. For example’s sake, we will search for the casualty of Joseph Robert Doyle and attempt to find information about what cemetery he is buried at.
• After selecting “Casualty” from the drop down menu, enter as much information as you know.
• Enter “Doyle” into the “Surname” category and enter “J R” in the “Initials” category (be certain to include a space between initials).
• Tip: be certain to ONLY enter the initials; in the case of our example, entering “Joseph Robert” yields zero results, yet entering “J R” yields four results.
• Joseph Robert Doyle is the second result given. By clicking on his orange name, you will be able to see his casualty details.
• You are able to click on the name of the cemetery for more information about it, and by clicking on the “Certificate” button located at the bottom of the records page, you will see his tombstone information, as well as a photograph of the cemetery.

Additional Resources:
Feel free to browse the Library and Archives Canada website, as well as Cyndi’s List, a website that lists free and searchable databases relating to genealogy. The most useful information relating to Canadian military history can be found here:

1 comment:

  1. Don't forget the War Diaries, all you need is the battalion # and know the date of death (if it is an officer, high chances of seeing his name mentioned the day he dies).


    Also, cross-reference with the Canadian Letters and Images Project, you never know if the person you are researching has a collection of letters from the front, diaries and photos on there. www.canadianletters.ca