Searching for the Service Files of Soldiers of the First World War

Database

You can find references to the service files of soldiers who served in the Canadian Expeditionary Force in our database Soldiers of the First World War: 1914–1918.

However, it is sometimes difficult to find a soldier for several reasons:

  • His given name or surname may be written in a variety of ways
    The information in the indexes is what was written in the archival records, which were often written by hand. There may also be an error in the database. The database search engine may find words with the same root. For example, “Worth*” will lead to a search for “Worth”, “Worthing” and “Worthington.”
  • Several soldiers had the same name
    To identify your soldier, you need to check the attestation papers (enlistment forms) because they contain personal information about him.
  • He gave an incorrect date of birth
    To be able to enlist in the army during the First World War, a recruit had to be between the ages of 18 and 45.

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Digitization of the Canadian Expeditionary Force Personnel Service Files – Update of December 2014

As of today, 101,452 of 640,000 files are available online via our Soldiers of the First World War: 1914–1918 database.

Summary of comments received in French between October and December 2014

Library and Archives Canada to Digitize 640,000 First World War Service Files

As part of the commemoration of the centennial of the First World War, Library and Archives Canada (LAC) announced in its News section that it is undertaking the digitization of 640,000 personnel service files of the First World War’s Canadian Expeditionary Force (CEF) members with a view to ensuring the long-term preservation of these frail paper documents.

Transferred to LAC about 20 years ago, CEF service files represent LAC’s most heavily consulted collection. A victim of its own success, the high number of transactions to which the collection has been subjected is putting strains on the mostly paper-based documents and is hastening their deterioration.

Many readers who have had the opportunity to hold these precious historical documents in their hands in recent years will certainly remember how some of the sheets are beginning to crumble. If LAC does not undertake action to preserve these files now, they are at risk. Once lost, they are lost forever.

To be able to perform this important undertaking, LAC will temporarily close portions of the service files. The first quarter, beginning with the letter A through D, will be closed as of March 2014 and will be available on-line as of Summer 2014.

While 75% of the collections will always be open, LAC will not be able to accept requests to consult documents in person, nor take orders for copies for a period of up to 4 months on the portion of the collection being digitized.

The files to be digitized will complement the approximately 13,500 service files and the more than 620,000 attestation papers already available on LAC’s website. At the end of the project, expected in 2015, Canadians will be able to research high-quality digital copies of the 640,000 newly digitized service files from the comfort of their own home and will no longer have to pay reprography fees.

LAC is pleased to contribute to the Commemorative Initiatives of the Government of Canada to honour the contributions and sacrifices made by Canadian men and women during the First World War. We wish to recognize Public Works and Government Services Canada’s support in this endeavour.

LAC appreciates your understanding and patience during the course of this extensive project.

For more information on this initiative, please consult the Fact Sheet: Digitization of Canadian Expeditionary Force Service Files.

From Enlistment to Burial Records Part II: The Canadian Forces in the Second World War

For many Canadians, Remembrance Day on November 11 is evocative of the selfless contribution of the Canadian Forces. The eleventh day of the eleventh month
brings to the forefront the memory of those who died while serving their country in the Armed Forces. Each year, Library and Archives Canada (LAC) receives countless queries about military services files of individuals who served after 1918 (including the Second World War).

Once again, our experts have put together some answers to many of the most frequently asked questions. Keep in mind that, in addition to consulting the content below, a great place to begin your research is on our Genealogy and Family History’s Military pages.

– Is the person still alive? When did he/she serve?

Access to personal information included in a person’s personnel file requires that his/her signed consent. If you served in the Canadian Forces, consult our Canadian Forces after 1918 section to find out how to request copies of your own service file.

Tip:

If the person is deceased, the date of death has an impact on what information is released.

If the individual died less than 20 years ago, limited information may be released to the 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 required.

Newspaper obituaries are a key tool in genealogy and help when researching military service files. Our online catalogue AMICUS can be searched to locate and borrow newspapers.

Consult our article “How to Find a Canadian Newspaper on Microfilm” for more
information.

If the person died while in service between 1939 and 1947, the service files are open to the public. References to those service files can be found in our Second World War Service Files: Canadian Armed Forces War Dead database.

Consult our article “How to Order Military Records from the Personnel Records Unit” to learn how to obtain a copy of these files.

– Beyond the service files:

Once you have a copy of the service file, some questions will be answered but other questions will arise: In what battles did the person serve? Where is he/she buried? Our previous article “From Enlistment to Burial Records Part I: The Canadian Expeditionary Force in the First World War” describes key sources that are equally relevant to post First World War research, such as War Diaries, Veterans Death Cards, and Medals, Honours and Awards databases.

– Even more places to look!

Finding aids such as The Guide to Sources Relating to Units of the Canadian Expeditionary Force and our article on “Published Histories: Discover what individuals or military units did during the war” contain a wealth of information on military activities.

Questions or comments? We would love to hear from you!

From Enlistment to Burial Records: The Canadian Expeditionary Force in the First World War

Each year, Library and Archives Canada (LAC) receives countless questions on how to locate military services files, such as:

  • How do I find out more about a soldier (or a nursing sister) in the Canadian Expeditionary Force (CEF)?
  • When and where did he enlist?
  • How old did the soldier say he was? (Many underage soldiers gave an earlier year of birth when they enlisted)

A great place to begin your research is on our Genealogy and Family History’s Military pages.

To help guide you through the process, our experts have put together the following explanations.

Attestation papers

Also known as “enlistment” documents, these records indicate the date and place of birth, the marital status and the name and address of the next of kin.

The Soldiers of the First World War database contains references to more than 600,000 people who served during that conflict. Most of the corresponding attestation (enlistment) papers can be viewed online, including those of the Nursing Sisters.

To learn more, consult our article “Canadians and the First World War: Discover our Collection”.

Service files

These records contain key documents such as record of service, casualty form, discharge certificate and medal card. It also provides the name or number of
the unit in which the individual served overseas.

Find more information in our articles “What You Will Find in a Canadian Military Service File” and “Understand the Abbreviations Commonly Found in Military Service Files”.

War diaries

The War Diaries are a daily account and historical record of a unit’s administration, operations and activities.

Consult the War Graves page for information on the burial location of a soldier who was killed in action.

If the soldier survived the war, the Veterans Death Cards give information such as the next of kin, burial location and date of death. The digitized images, which are in alphabetical order, can be navigated in sequential order.

For the soldier who was decorated, a nominal index to medal registers, citation cards and records of various military awards provides further information on many soldiers’ achievements.

Our article “War Diaries: Discover what individuals or military units did during the war” can also guide you with your research.

Published histories

For an easy-to-read overview of the unit’s activities, we recommend starting with “published histories.” These books are often called “regimental histories” and our article Published Histories: Discover what individuals or military units did during the war” will give you more information.

Thematic guides

The Guide to Sources Relating to Units of the Canadian Expeditionary Force
lists references to records and files that complement the research in First World War records. This thematic guide further describes the contribution of most units in the CEF.

Other past articles of interest this Remembrance Day:

Questions or comments? We would love to hear from you!

What You Will Find in a Canadian Military Service File

As you may already know, military service files contain a wealth of information about soldiers, nursing sisters and chaplains. The files for the First World War have been reviewed and contain an average of 50 to 70 pages.  Later files however, such as the files for those who were killed-in-action during the Second World War, have not been reviewed by the Personnel Records Unit and might contain multiple copies of the same documents.  This is why these files are larger, and may contain up to 400 pages.

Do you really want to view all 400 pages, including duplicate copies?

Probably not. That is why Library and Archives Canada (LAC) created the “Genealogy Package”, which offers a selection of the most relevant documents in a file to help you discover the story of an individual during their service time.

You can read how to order the Genealogy Package in our online article “How to Order Military Records from the Personnel Records Unit”. However, in case you are wondering what kinds of documents are included in a Genealogy Package, we have included the following list outlining the most common documents for the army, the air force and the navy.

The Army

Attestation paper, dental record, discharge certificate, DVA counselling, interview report, medal card, medical record, occupational history form, part II orders, particulars of family, pay-related documents, personnel selection record, soldier qualification card, war bonds correspondence.

The Air Force

Dental record, discharge certificate, DVA counselling interview report, enlistment form, medal card, medical record, occupational history form, particulars of family, pay-related documents, personnel selection record, RCAF card/service card, war bonds correspondence.

The Navy

Dental record, DVA counselling interview report, enlistment form, medal card, medical record, occupational history form, particulars of family, pay-related documents, personnel selection record, record of service card, true certificate of service, verification form (medals), war bonds correspondence.

Are you interested in ordering a military service file? Did you know that you can help make a broader range of LAC holdings available to others? You can do this by choosing the PDF option (either the URL link by email or the CD) when you order a complete file—for example, a soldier’s file from the First World War. The images you request can then be repurposed for use on LAC’s website, whenever permissible. Help us build LAC’s digital collection; the URL link will save you money on shipping fees too.

Questions or comments? We would love to hear from you!

Canadians and the First World War: Discover our Collection

Did you know that there are several places on our website where you can find information about Canadians during the First World War? What pages to visit depends on what kind of information you are looking for. Below is a quick summary of frequently searched information.

Are you looking for:

  • Information about an individual soldier (for example, the soldier’s name, hometown, medical information and medals)?

If so, you will need the soldier’s service file. To locate this information, you may search a solider’s name and/or regimental number in our Soldiers of the First World War (Canadian Expeditionary Force) database . If you would like more information, please visit the Military page on our Genealogy and Family History website.

  • What battles a soldier or unit fought in?

This information is not in the service files of individual soldiers. You will need to look at a published history of the unit or at the unit’s war diary. To find a published history, search for the unit’s name in our Library Search database. To find a war diary, start with our Genealogy and Family History website.

  • Other information that Library and Archives Canada might hold on the First World War?

Start with our online exhibition, entitled Canada At War: A Guide to Library and Archives Canada’s Websites Recalling the Canadian War Experience.

  • A more detailed guide on researching Canadians in the First World War?

Legion Magazine published an article entitled “Researching War Veterans: 6 Steps to Discovery”. It is a step-by-step guide to researching veterans. Also of interest, may be a book entitled Canadians at War 1914–1919, A Research Guide to World War One Service Records, published in 2010 by Global Heritage Press.  Both publications were written by historian Glenn Wright.

Questions or comments? We would love to hear from you!

Summary of comments received in French up to September 30th, 2013

  • Additional information about an article written by Glen Wright was provided. This article was published in Legion Magazine, September/October 2011, (vol. 86, no 5, pages 18-22).

War Diaries: Discover what individuals or military units did during the war

Are you curious to discover what battles an individual fought in? Or what a unit did during the First or Second World War? Or maybe what regions a person travelled through with their unit?

In the first post, we suggested Published Histories. If there is no published history, or it is not detailed enough, then War Diaries may help.

War Diaries are the day-to-day log of a unit’s activities. For the Army, the official term is “War Diary.” For the Navy, the official term is “Ship Log” and for the Air Force it is “Operation Record Book.”

The Advantages of War Diaries

  • They provide the most complete first-hand record of how and where the unit was deployed;
  • They provide information that may not have been included in a published history.

To search for War Diaries, please use our Archives Search database.

For more details on War Diaries, visit our Military Heritage website.

Remember

  • War Diaries are not personal diaries. They rarely record information about individual soldiers.

Questions or comments? We would love to hear from you!

Published Histories: Discover what individuals or military units did during the war

Are you curious to discover what battles an individual fought in? Or what a unit did during the First or Second World War? Or maybe what regions a person travelled through with their unit?

If so, you have two main options, Published Histories and War Diaries. This post will focus on Published Histories.

For an easy-to-read overview of the unit’s activities, we recommend starting with Published Histories. These books are often called “regimental histories.” They cover the history and activities of the unit. The level of detail varies for each history. Some books include a variety of information such as pictures, maps, lists of unit members, and quotes from unit members.

The Advantages of Published Histories:

  • easier to read than War Diaries
  • contain a variety of information
  • can usually be sent to your local library via interlibrary loan*

You can search for these on our Library Search database by using the unit’s name.

For other suggestions of books on military units, we recommend our online exhibition, entitled From Colony to Country: A Reader’s Guide to Canadian Military History.

Our next post will discuss your second option: War Diaries.

(*) Update: End of Interlibrary Loan (ILL) Services

ILL services at Library and Archives Canada (LAC) will end in December 2012. Users of LAC‘s current services should note the following dates:

  • November 13, 2012: End of loan requests from international libraries.
  • November 16, 2012: End of renewals. All items loaned after this date will be non-renewable.
  • December 11, 2012: End of loan requests, location searches, and ILL-related photocopying services.

LAC‘s ILL listserv (CANRES-L) and Canadian Library Gateway will also be archived in December 2012.

LAC will continue to facilitate interlibrary loan activities among other institutions through the ILL form in AMICUS, and through ongoing administration of Canadian Library Symbols.

Through our modernized service channels, LAC will emphasize increased digital access to high-demand content. LAC is working with Canada’s ILL user community in order to inform this approach to accessing the institution’s unique holdings.

For more information, please visit “Interlibrary Loan at Library and Archives Canada“.

Questions or comments? We would love to hear from you!