Something that seems to be a hot topic lately with Remembrance Day around the corner is genealogy, as people want to discover their own family's involvement in wartime. If this is something you've never looked into before, or at least haven't done in a few years, then this is the post for you!
Family history is something I've gotten pretty well acquainted with in the past year, so I thought I would pass along some of the things I've learned in the hopes of making other people's searches easier. I cannot stress enough to people how much this field has changed in the past ten years, so even if you consider yourself an expert, you should really try seeing what else is out there. With digitization and the number of different resources available, you will be very surprised at the kinds of things not only available for access but possible to view online and at home. In all my experiences both working in an archives and conducting my own searches, I've never met a curator who wasn't enthusiastic, supportive, and helpful with genealogical questions of any kind, and they really do work tirelessly to preserve these records. They may have all the information you're looking for, and they get excited when they have someone who's interested!
Before you start out on this seemingly daunting journey, there are some things you should think about and ask yourself. Depending on where you're looking, it's not quite as easy as going into an archives and saying "I'd like to see anything you might have on the .... family." It's important to make the most of your search by doing your homework beforehand and figuring out what holes need to be filled. Plus, if you've ever looked up the visiting hours of an archives, you'll know that your window of opportunity can be pretty limited, so you want to ensure that your session is worth the trip!
Step One: Who are you Looking For?
Who arethe people you're interested in researching? A great first step in your search is to start with what you do know, rather than what you don't. Your assistant and all search engines are most reliable when you've provided as many details as possible, so I really recommend doing your homework! Genealogy Services at Library and Archives Canada has researchers fill out a pedigree chart before beginning the search (one for each of your parents). These trace your family tree back at least five generations, and once you've filled in as much as you can you'll be able to identify what needs further research.
Step Two: What are you Looking For?
While this may sound broad, it's the first thing an archivist will ask you, and you'll want to have the answer narrowed down beforehand. What's important for a potential researcher to know is that there are different archives and resources for different types of information, and the person you're meeting with will need to assess whether or not your question can best be answered through their collection. Are you interested in immigration, census data, land records, military, birth/marriage/death records?
Step Three: What is the Geography of your Search?
This question is essential for deciding the best place to visit in order to have your questions answered. If your question involves information with a national focus (military, census, immigration records), then Library and Archives Canada would be your source. However, the LAC is not recommended as a resource for specialized local study. If you're looking for information specific to a city, town, municipality, church, etc., you'll need to look into where the local archives are housed as well as any other historical societies or libraries which may also have some records.
Step Four: How Will you Go About your Search?
Based on the general audience of this blog, I'm assuming that your searches will be conducted in and around Elgin County, so this part will be specific to those readers. If this doesn't apply to you, I encourage you to investigate what the equivalents would be for your own area! Elgin County is very fortunate to have an extensive municipal archives which are housed in the basement of the Elgin County Administration Building at 450 Sunset Drive, St. Thomas. You can visit them from Tuesday-Friday, 10am-4pm to have your local questions answered, or email email@example.com. Their website is also located here: http://www.elgincounty.ca/archives. If your search includes the western end of Elgin County with the Townships of Dunwich and Aldborough, the Backus-Page House Museum is also home to a variety of helpful sources. Lastly, local library branches are also great resources! Most libraries have paid subscriptions to Ancestry.ca, which is something I recommend everyone take advantage of (these subscriptions can cost thousands!) This provides access to census data, most notably the 1921 Canadian Census, which was fully digitized in 2013 and is the largest source of Canadian genealogical information found online.
How the heck will you get the national information without making the trek to Ottawa?? Well, you've got a couple of options here. As I mentioned before, there is a great deal of information available to access online, which you should check out first. However, from my experience, it can be difficult to maneuver if you aren't totally comfortable with online database searches, and even if you are, the LAC website is definitely not user-friendly. So, I will make myself available for assistance should anyone need help finding something from the LAC. You can always send me an email at firstname.lastname@example.org and I'll do my best to get you the links!
In terms of military records, the process can be mildly to extremely frustrating for researchers. If you're looking for someone who fought in the First World War, all records have been made fully available for consultation. However, the Second World War records are not so easy, which I found out last week. If you're looking for information on a WWII veteran, living or deceased, you have to send away an application for military service information to the LAC's ATIP and Personnel Records Division. If the veteran is living, you must have his or her written consent to do so. If the veteran is deceased, you must have proof of their death as well as proof of your relationship (an obituary was recommended). Once you've filled out the form and provided this information, you can request a Genealogy Package, which includes copies of the significant documents which summarize their service, and takes about 4-8 months to receive. This will not give specific details of campaigns and battles they served in, and you must then use their service number and regiment information to track them through the LAC military records. If this is something that you would be interested in doing, I have received copies of the necessary form from the LAC and can send you a digital copy for printing, just send me an email with a request! Also, for anyone who has completed this step and would like to have their relative traced to see the campaigns their veteran was a part of, I would be more than happy to go to the LAC and have that done for you. Our local veterans deserve to have their stories told and remembered with accuracy, and if I can be of any help with that I will do my best!
I've tried to include a guide for useful online resources which will be of use in your searches, courtesy of Library and Archives Canada:
-Automated Genealogy (census indexes) http://automatedgenealogy.com/index.html
-Canadian Gravemarker Gallery www.rootsweb.ancestry.ca/~cangmg/
-Canadian Headstone Photo Project www.canadianheadstones.com
-Ellis Island (passenger lists, New York, 1892-1924, includes transit to Canada) www.ellisisland.org
-FamilySearch (Family History Library) https://familysearch.org/
-Legion Magazine's Last Post Death Notices http://legionmagazine.com/en/last-post/
-Obituary Daily Times www.rotsweb.ancestry.com/~obituary/
-Our Roots (local histories online) www.ourroots.ca
-Ontario Cemetery Finding Aid http://ocfa.islandnet.com
-Ontario Cemetery Ancestor Search http://ogs.andornot.com/CemeteryIndex.aspx
-Ontario Vital Statistics Project www.rootsweb.ancestry.com/~onvsr
-And of course, Library and Archives Canada http://www.bac-lac.gc.ca/eng/discover/genealogy/Pages/introduction.aspx
Hopefully this helps with any family history hesitation you may have! As always, feel free to ask questions.
Thanks for reading,