Wednesday, November 26, 2014

Canadian Expeditionary Force Online Research Resources

On November 22, 2014 I gave an update of my talk titled "A Soldier of the Great War: A Research Case Study" to those that attended the Ottawa Branch of the Ontario Genealogical Society meeting. There I talked about the various resources I used to learn more about two Canadian soldiers of the First World War: Victor Sornberger and Samuel McKinlay.

For those that couldn't make it out to the meeting here are some of the resources I make use of when delving deeper into the lives of Canadian First World War personnel.

Library and Archives Canada (

This is the first place I visit when I learn that someone has served with the Canadian military during the 1st World War. There are many useful pages on the LAC site. LAC is currently working on digitizing all the serviced files of those that served in the Canadian Expeditionary Force. If the file isn't digitized yet, periodically (monthly) check the site for updates. Some highlights from their online collections are:

Commonwealth War Graves Commission (

Here you will find details on some of the 1,700,000 men and women of the Commonwealth forces who died in the two world wars. You may come across grave registration documents, registers along with photographs of the grave markers and cemeteries. (

Among the many collections on Ancestry there are some that directly pertain to those that may have served in the Great War:

Internet Archive (

The Internet Archive is one of those resource that keeps on giving. Here you will find archives of many web sites and also digitized books that are no longer in copyright. For example, searching using the terms nominal roll CEF returns 77 documents with titles as diverse as "Nursing Sisters Nominal Roll 1914" and "Yukon Machine Gun Section Nominal Roll 1915"

The Maple Leaf Legacy Project (

The Maple Leaf Legacy Project is a volunteer led effort to photograph of every Canadian War Grave from the various conflicts that Canada has been involved in. This includes the South African War (1899-1902), World War 1 (1914-18), World War II (1939-45), Korean War (1950-52), and all United Nations Peacekeeping Missions to the present day conflict in Afghanistan.

Canadian Expeditionary Force Study Group (

Many times when I can't find an answer to a question dealing with the CEF I may turn to the forums and documents made available by the Canadian Expeditionary Force Study Group. Often my question has already been asked and the participants of the CEF Study Group have provided a detailed answer on their forum.

World War 1 Trench Maps at McMaster University (

When I'm looking for a World War 1 trench map then I come here. They have digitized a number of trench maps for your viewing pleasure. You can zoom in on the map and actually read the names of the individual trenches. When combined with the battalion level war diaries found on the Library and Archives Canada site you may just be able to pinpoint where your ancestor fought in Europe.

Military History Research Centre (

This resource is available through the Canadian War Museum. In addition to being a physical library and archive the online presence has a catalogue of their holdings. Quite a few of their photographs have been digitized and are available to view via the Internet. Are you looking for the "Pigeon Service manual, Royal Air Force"? Then you are in luck since they have it in their collection. Many of the documents in the collection are available through interlibrary loan. Howveer, if you are in Ottawa and are planning on visiting the MHRC then call ahead or e-mail first to make arrangements since it is by appointment only.

Canadian Virtual War Memorial (

The Canadian Virtual War Memorial lists more than 118,000 Canadians and Newfoundlanders who have given their lives serving Canada or the United Kingdom. What is nice about this site is that you can upload your own images of your ancestors that fought in the various wars. That means you may also discover a picture that you had never seen before of the soldier you are researching.

Prisoners of the First World War (

The International Committee of the Red Cross has created a database of those that were held as prisoners of war during the First World War. If the civilian or serviceman was listed as a prisoner of war with their service record then checking this database and reading the information about life in the camps may shed some light into their life at that time.

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