Current Status of the Digitization of the Canadian Expeditionary Force Personnel Service Files

In January 2014, we announced a project to digitize 640,000 Canadian Expeditionary Force personnel service files as part of the First World War commemoration activities of the Government of Canada. The goal of this project is to provide free access to high-quality digital copies of all service files in PDF format, anytime and anywhere.

Close to 100 years old, these personnel files are quite brittle. Additionally, over the years, service files have been consulted many times, so they are extremely fragile. It was time to take concrete steps to ensure their preservation for future generations.

To achieve this goal, Library and Archives Canada (LAC) will have to close portions of this collection as they undergo preparation, conservation, and digitization. The entire process is complex because each file must be examined: staples, paper clips and glue must be removed, and in some cases, the files must be treated for mould. After this preparation is completed, digitization is next, starting with box No. 1 and going up. Once digitized, the service files will be stored in a permanent, safe environment. We estimate that 32,000,000 pages will be available online once digitization is finished.

We are happy to inform you that we have started posting the digitized files online. They are accessible via our Soldiers of the First World War: 1914–1918 database. As of today, 76,330 files of 640,000 are available online. Regular uploads of about 5,000 files will take place every two weeks. All digitized files are searchable by name, regimental number and rank. We will inform you as more digitized files are added to the database.

7 thoughts on “Current Status of the Digitization of the Canadian Expeditionary Force Personnel Service Files

  1. Looks like a five year project. Given it is being done in alphabetical order I guess we can expect to see the “V” files in about 2018. May be they could humour us at the end of the alphabet by starting from both ends and working to the centre of the alphabet.

    Good project and will be superb to have online.

    • Kevin, the files are *not* being scanned in Alphabetical order. They are going by boxes (1,2,3 etc) There are a mix of surnames done already – some V’s, A’s and so on. So it depends what box your ancestor is in as to completion date

  2. Thank you for the update on this and the reminder of the size of the collection and the amount of work needed to prepare the records for scanning. Having worked with some of these files I know their fragility and am happy that they are being scanned and removed from use to secure storage. Please continue updating us on the progress you are making on this.

  3. It is wonderful to hear that the files are being digitized and I am very well aware of the amount of work that has to go into a project of this size. We must all learn to have patience. Keep up the excellent work

  4. From the LAC posting – “All digitized files are searchable by name, regimental number and rank.” How best can we do that? The Search fields include: Surname, Given Names, Regimental Number. And we have the option to search only for Digitized Files. According to the description, results for all the advanced fields will be incomplete but these are: Place of birth or attestation/enlistment; Unit, Box number. I want to find Chaplains and also Nursing Sisters (your abbreviation is NS). Tried entering various ranks/chaplain/sister, etc. in the Regimental Number field (as officers didn’t have #s -right?) Got one Captain only. ( If this will eventually let us search by rank, then the field name should be changed.) Then tried a work-around. A search in the unit field for Medical brings up all those in the Medical Corps; a search for NS brings up a man from Nova Scotia (only one?). Nursing brings up one doctor (with the Nursing sisters 1st Contingent) and Chaplain does bring up 3 Chaplains. I must have missed something…

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