MAPLE LEAF UP site (mapleleafup.org) was one of the first privately
funded internet sites devoted to the Canadian Army and for years a
terrific source of information,. Established in 1998, a year before
canadiansoldiers.com began life on the web, the site flourished until
Geoff's death in December 2010.
One of the features of
the site was an information page on researching veterans/family members
who served. The page is now gone, but copying the link into the Wayback
Machine internet archive will take the user to an archive copy. The link
Relevant material from
that page informs some of what follows here. There is an ongoing interest in genealogy and the study in particular of service
histories as they relate to ancestors and family members. This interest
has been aided by television programs with that theme, and the
proliferation of tools now available to amateur researchers, notably
through the internet. The canadiansoldiers.com website has always
focused on military, rather than personal or family, history, but due to
the overwhelming and ongoing number of requests, the following
information is provided in the hopes it may be useful.
Never Talked About It"
A common theme among
descendants of war veterans is the tendency of those veterans not to
have discussed their wartime experiences. There were many reasons for
this, depending on the individual.
Some didn't want their life to be
defined by their war service - Canada only had a few thousand men in
uniform in 1939, which grew to over a million by the end of the war.
Very few of those that served would have chosen the military as a
profession had it not been for the war.
Most, particularly combat veterans, saw
terrible acts of violence, and were compelled to take part in such
acts as part of the performance of their duty.
With so many Canadians in service,
everyone would have closely known someone that was injured or killed
during the war. For combat veterans, they would have vividly
experienced being witness to gruesome deaths and grievous injury.
On return to Canada, lack of mental
health supports would have been combined with a populace that had
not been exposed to the horrors unleashed in Europe, North Africa,
Asia and the Pacific. A common theme among returning veterans was
that no one, including close family, could relate to their
experiences of hardship and sacrifice.
Other factors including survivor's
guilt, not only among those who served in combat, but also in those
who served in relatively safe duties in Canada, the United Kingdom,
Families had been content
to leave things this way for decades. A few factors changed things in
the latter part of the 1990s and through the opening years of the 21st
Greater understanding of mental health
needs of veterans, in part to the experience of the U.S. in the
Vietnam War and a re-evaluation of how veterans of that period were
Renewed appreciation for the sacrifices
of war veterans, particularly in the wake of the film Saving Private
Ryan which created a renewed interest in the Second World War not
only in the United States, but in many other countries that
participated in the Second World War
The terrorist attacks of September 11,
2001 and campaigns in Afghanistan and Iraq which once again placed
Canadians and Americans in harm's way. The death of Canadian
soldiers in Afghanistan brought a renewal of interest in Remembrance
The knowledge that the population of
First and Second World War was dwindling due to 'natural attrition'
and that opportunities to talk to, and thank, those veterans would
eventually be gone forever.
A general societal shift, possibly
linked to the death of Princess Diana in August 1997. In particular,
the idea that grief should be a private affair was challenged in the
wake of her death, and popular culture, aided by new technologies
driving new social media, have encouraged a wider sense of openness
Despite, or perhaps
because of, the growing availability of digital records, families now
grapple with the mysteries of their ancestors' military service. The
following is offered as advice in the hopes it may be useful. One caveat
applies - one should be aware that our current ability to access
information was probably never imagined by soldiers living before the
Information Age. Researchers should be warned that some of what they
uncover may be unpleasant to read. The majority of wartime service
personnel were very young, and for combat troops especially with
legitimate reason to feel their lives could be cut short. Service
records may thus include references to venereal disease, disciplinary
infractions, criminal charges, and in some cases the relative that told
family and friends about the nature of his service career may be proven
by documentary evidence to have exaggerated his service in the belief
that no one would ever have opportunity to read his personnel records.
The best starting point
is to document all that is known about the subject. If there are any
documents such as commendations, discharge notice, paybook,
correspondence, etc. they should be assembled and examined. They will
often yield clues that will be valuable later on. The most important
piece of information will be the service number.
(see also main article on Service Numbers)
Canadian soldiers have
usually been assigned Service Numbers, particularly in wartime. This
number was unique to the individual and was used to help identify the
soldier in any official documentation. There are exceptions:
Officers in both world wars did not
receive service numbers, as their name was considered sufficient to
During peace time before 1945 service
numbers were not issued.
After the creation of the Social
Insurance Number (SIN) in 1964, the number was also used by the
military, until Service Numbers were once again assigned beginning
in the 1990s (at this time referred to officially as Personal
Records Identifiers or PRI).
The Service Number (also
sometimes called a Regimental Number) was assigned from pre-arranged
blocks of numbers assigned to each military district and individual
units. The number generally followed the soldier to the end of their
career. The last three digits were often used in conjunction with the
soldier's name, particularly in cases of common surnames shared by
several soldiers in the same unit.
The term "serial number"
is sometimes used incorrectly to refer to these identifying numbers. The
term is used in the United States for that purpose, and in Canada a
"serial number" referred to lists of numbers assigned to identify units,
If you possess a
soldier's service number, it will make researching much easier.
A number of wartime
records have been digitized for free access by the public. The repository
for service records in this country is
Library and Archives Canada (formerly the National Archives of
Canada). The personnel files of all members of the Northwest Mounted
Police as well as the Boer War and the First World War have been
digitized and are available online at LAC. Military medal records from
1812 to 1969 are also available online at LAC. Unit war diaries have
been recently added as well.
Links to all these
collections can be found at the Military Heritage page:
Detailed research may be
a daunting task, particularly for those unfamiliar with the military.
There are two options on how to proceed:
research on your own using online and
engage the services of a genealogist or
archivist who, for a modest fee, will help you navigate the archives
and obtain the information you're seeking. LAC may be able to
recommend someone in the Ottawa area who can expedite requests for
The commonly asked
question of what a service member did on a day to day basis, where they
served, etc., is best answered by knowing the soldier's unit.
Each unit in wartime
was required to keep a war diary. As noted above, some have been
digitized. These are usually fairly dry reading, sometimes make
references to map coordinates rather than place names, and rarely go
into details of individual activities. They do however give a basic
summary of where the unit was and what in general was happening.
The Canadian Army
produced official histories of the First World War, Second World War
and Korea, but necessarily don't go into much detail on a
unit-by-unit basis. These official histories (discussed in the
article linked to in the left hand frame) provide a general overview
of the Army as a whole and put individual unit stories into context.
units, particularly combat units, have produced their own histories
over the years, and in many cases, more than one. These will all
give a good general overview of the war as experienced by those
specific units. Another link in the left hand frame will take you to
a partial list of these, but a search at Chapters or Amazon or other
booksellers/auction sites may yield dividends as well - in addition
to your local library, or the holdings of LAC.
Military Service Files
and Archives Canada
All Canadian service
personnel have their surviving records permanently retired to the
Library and Archives Canada, a central repository for all branches of
government. Before the First World War, with the exception of
contingents sent to South Africa for the Boer War, permanent personnel
records as we know them today were not created or kept. Earlier records
at the regimental or unit level, such as muster rolls or pay lists, were
kept, and these may be found in the LAC holdings. They do not contain
personal information, and are not indexed, meaning in order to research
the service of specific individuals, one would need to know which unit
they served in first. It may be possible to research the Militia Rolls
for specific counties, if one knows only the place of residence, by
access the Department of Militia and Defence series (Record Group 9).
soldiers serving 1900-1914:
Library and Archives
Canada maintains a South Africa War database which includes reference to
personnel records, medal registers, land grant applications and
correspondence that relates to Canadian soldiers who served in the Boer
War. The database may be found at the Library and Archives Canada
soldiers serving 1914-1918 (First World War):
LAC has posted the
Attestation Papers (the forms that a soldier signed on being recruited)
for every soldier that served in the Canadian Expeditionary Force from
1914 to 1918. This was the field force that served overseas during the
First World War. Note that many soldiers attested into units that were
broken up for reinforcements, and they therefore saw combat or other
service with units other than the one they originally joined. The papers
are not a complete service history, but one document among many
chronicling their service.
The service files of the
soldiers who served in the C.E.F. are archived at LAC, and an electronic
index to finding them has been provided online:
The files include all
pertinent documentation regarding when and where they enlisted, which
units they served with, and may include other information regarding
medical history, medals and awards, personal evaluation reports, dental
history, and other miscellaneous information. Many families report that
their relatives did not talk about their military experiences,
particularly those who served in war. Service records are not
'sanitized' for the consumption of family by LAC, and prospective
researchers are warned to be prepared for the possibility that relatives
may have concealed or even fabricated elements of their personal
histories. Adverse reports, medical conditions (including venereal
disease), disciplinary actions and other potentially embarrassing
revelations may all await the researcher.
serving after 1918:
Library and Archives
Canada holds military service files for those who served after 1918,
however, except for those who died in service during the Second World
War, there is no online database for these records because of access
restrictions. There are no access restrictions on the service files for
members of the Canadian Army who died in service between 1939 and 1947,
including those killed in action, those who subsequently died of
injuries related to service and those who died as a result of accident
or illness while in service. As with the First World War, there is an
For all other military
service files (1919-1997), including Second World War (not killed in
action), access restrictions apply.
Requests for medical and dental records only of Canadian Armed Forces
members who were released from service or who died in service more than
five years ago are handled by Library and Archives Canada. From the LAC
How to Send an
Inquiry Concerning Your Own or Another Individual's Records
We try to answer inquiries within 30 days; however, due to the large
number of inquiries being received, we are currently experiencing
delays in our response times. Clients who submit a written request
should expect to wait six months for a response. Priority service is
given to people who require documentation to prove that they qualify
for pensions, allowances, claims and other benefits, therefore,
these types of requests should be clearly identified.
For projects involving research in a large number of files, the
request will be assessed by our staff to determine if current
resources can accommodate such an extensive commitment.
Your request must
To identify a
file, we require surname, full given name(s), date of birth, and
service number or social insurance number.
If you do not
know the date of birth, service number or S.I.N. (social
insurance number), secondary information (e.g., the names of
next of kin, postings, dates of service, place of enlistment)
can assist in identifying the correct individual.
section below on Access Restrictions.
what document(s) you require. If you are doing family history
research, we recommend that you request a "genealogy package,"
which will include copies of selected documents from the file
that highlight/summarize the individual's service.
We do not accept
email inquiries for these records. Inquiries must be sent by
mail or fax.
Your request can
be written as a letter or you can print off a blank copy of the
Application for Military Service Information form available in
PDF or RTF format, which should be filled in, signed and sent by
mail or fax.
Inquiries should be
sent by mail or fax to:
ATIP and Personnel Records Division
Library and Archives Canada
395 Wellington Street
Ottawa, ON K1A 0N4
Access Restrictions for info
on soldiers serving after 1918
personal information relating to an individual who is still
living requires that person's signed consent.
If the individual
has been deceased for less than 20 years, limited information
may be released to immediate family. Proof of death and
relationship must be provided.
There are no
restrictions on access to information relating to an individual
who has been deceased for more than 20 years. Proof of death is
Proof of Death: A
copy of a death certificate, newspaper obituary, funeral notice or
photograph of the gravestone. Note that proof of death is not
required if the individual died while in service.
Proof of Relationship: A document that clearly demonstrates the
relationship between the individual concerned and the person
requesting the record. Both names must appear on the document. A
newspaper obituary, baptismal certificate or full-form birth
certificate are acceptable. A wallet-sized birth certificate that
does not indicate parents' names is not accepted. Please do not send
original documents; photocopies are acceptable.
Immediate Family: A parent, spouse, child, sibling or grandchild of
Should you wish to submit a formal request under privacy
legislation, see: Records of the Government of Canada.
Records not Held by Library and Archives
Rejected for active Canadian Armed Forces service on medical
grounds: Library and Archives Canada does not hold military
personnel records of these individuals. These records are no longer
in existence; they were destroyed under a Treasury Board Authority,
dated 7 May 1964.
Called up for Canadian Armed Forces service during the Second World
War (1939-1945) but never enrolled: Library and Archives Canada does
not hold military personnel records of these individuals. These
records are no longer in existence; they were destroyed under a
Treasury Board Authority, dated 7 May 1964.
Pacific Coast Militia Rangers: These military personnel records were
never placed in Library and Archives Canada's custody, and it is our
understanding that they no longer exist.
Members of the Royal Newfoundland Regiment who enlisted for active
service but did not go overseas, Newfoundland Forces (Artillery, and
Forestry Corps), Navy and Royal Air Force (Newfoundland Enlistments)
all during Second World War (1939-1945): For records of these
individuals, you should write to:
Archives of UK
Surrey TW9 4DU
Personnel files after 1918 and the personal information contained in
them are protected by the provisions of privacy legislation. For the
same reason, the database and indexes that are used to identify the
files cannot be made available on our Web site. Only staff may