03 July 2011

Book Review: A Call to the Colours

A Call to the Colours
Tracing Your Canadian Military Ancestors
By Ken Cox

A Genealogist's Reference Shelf Book
May 2011
344pp, Paperback
$26.99 CAD, £17.99

It's a common experience to have a parent or grandparent who served during one of the world wars but know little about that time in their life.  You may have medals, photographs, perhaps a cap badge or letters. and if you're really lucky a diary. Typically you won't have heard them recount their experiences.

So the genealogist setting out to research an ancestor who served with Canada's military during this period may have clues but need to fill in details.

For those who discover an ancestor who served in earlier conflicts relics are rare and the task of filling in the story all the more challenging.

Fortunately Ken Cox provides this highly accessible guide leading you to a surprising wealth of resources.

The book is organized chronologically, starting, briefly, with the Loyalists, moving through the war of 1812, the 1837-38 rebellion up to the Second World War, followed by chapters on women in the military, the air force and navy.

In most chapters there is a good overview description of the war, the major battles and regiments which participated. You will learn about the records available, mainly at Library and Archives Canada, how to identify medals, uniforms, and drawing on other sources to tell the story of your ancestor's experience. The whole is illustrated by numerous examples. If you want to understand the event and gain an understanding of your ancestors place in it this book is recommended.

I did notice a few errors, and I'm far from being an expert on Canadian military history. For example.

Referring to the fatalities with no known grave, on page 131 it is stated that "there names are commemorated on the National War Memorial in Ottawa..." Anyone visiting to see an ancestor's name will be in for a considerable disappointment, there are none.  

Page 176 gives erroneous information about the accessibility of WW2 service records where the important time fame is 20, not 25 years as stated, and as long as you can show the person has been deceased for 20 years the file is open to all, not just next of kin.

The book is crammed full of websites, references and facts, has an index, lists of abbreviations, and is up to date as of the end of 2010.  However, I'd recommend using the information with care; much may be correct but you would be wise to treat it as you would unsourced genealogical information -- as a lead.

The book can be purchased at a discount from Amazon where there is a generous preview for you to browse. Go to http://www.amazon.com/Call-Colours-Ancestors-Genealogists-Reference/dp/1554888646


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