Military ancestors seem to be found in just about every family history, and their research has become increasingly popular in recent years. At the Coldwater Branch - just like at all other Royal Canadian Legion branches across the country, people often come with questions about a relative who has served in the military. It could be about the great-grandfather rumoured to have served in Africa during the Boer War, or the mysterious great-uncle that no one seems to know the whereabouts after his return from the Great War. There's also the mother, father, aunt or uncle that can be seen on an old photograph wearing some kind of wartime military uniform, but left this world without ever whispering a word to their children about that period of their life.
While in some families the stories of military ancestors and relatives are well documented and preserved, in others they remain much of a mystery. If you happen to be in the latter group, here's some good news. It is now easier than ever to track down information about your Canadian military heritage, thanks to modern tools such as the Internet and digital imaging technology.
The Internet has opened the door for lots of new resources now available to the amateur genealogist, many of them free of charge. On the Library and Archives Canada site (www.bac-lac.gc.ca) you can now find attestation papers for the vast majority of Canadian soldiers of the First World War. Attestation papers are forms that soldiers filled at the time of their enrollment with the Canadian Expeditionary Force (CEF). They provide the basic information about the individual including age, place of birth, residence and enrollment, previous employment, and a brief physical description. Until a few years ago, Attestation Forms were all that was available on-line. But very soon, the entire service records for those soldiers will also be posted on-line. The LAC is now half way through the process of digitizing all 620,000 files of CEF soldiers, with the objective of completing the project by 2018.
Another useful site for amateur researchers is Veterans Affairs' Canadian Virtual War Memorial (www.veterans.gc.ca), a site that lists all Canadian military personnel who died in wars and operations around the world since Confederation. The site provides a searchable registry of the more than 118,000 names inscribed in the seven Books of Remembrance located in the Peace Tower in Ottawa.
Indeed, whether it relates to military personnel or civilians, the Internet has opened the door for amateur genealogists to access digitized copies of documents that were traditionally handled by professional researchers, including census and birth, death, and marriage certificates. More specific to military history, unit's War Diaries of the First World War are now on line, and the new Canadian Military History Gateway site (www.cmhg.gc.ca) offers links to several other resources.
Of course, we, at the Coldwater Legion, are always happy to help you with your search for your military roots. We may not have all the answers you're looking for, but we can certainly steer you in the right direction. Happy digging!