03 May 2012

Guide to CEF files

Very good news for researchers interested in the First World War is the appearance of Guide to Sources Relating to Units of the CEF a comprehensive index to files relating to each and every unit.

To search for the references included in all the finding aids relating to the CEF would be a long and exhaustive process since not all of them are yet online. The Guide provides a shortcut to finding the files relating to a particular Battalion, including records created in Canada, in England and at the Front. The Guide also has a brief history of each unit -- when authorized, where recruited, numbers, date of departure for overseas, name of the ship and much more. While this kind of information is available elsewhere, to have it all in one handy guide is a definite advantage.

One of the deficiencies is the challenge of finding a particular battalion. From his service file I knew my great-uncle served with the 28th Battalion. But you need to know that was an infantry battalion to use the guide. A battalion index would be a simple addition.

The Guide was originally developed over many years in the 1980s by Barbara M. Wilson, an archivist with the former National Archives of Canada. That was in happier days when the organization had specialist archivists. The guide has been updated with more recent acquisitions from official records, private papers and diaries, and by many other contributors.

Barbara Wilson, long retired but still with us, also produced a guide, handwritten, on Canadian military records for other periods which should receive the same treatment as this CEF guide. Her books include The half-million : the Canadians in Britain, 1939-1946, written with C.P. Stacey and originally published in 1987; and 
Ontario and the First World War, 1914-1918 : a collection of documents published in 1977 by the Champlain Society.

Thanks to Glenn Wright, author of Canadians and War, 1914-1919, for expert perspective.


Mike More said...

John, the vast majority of men in the CEF served in the infantry, so that would be the place to look first. And I believe that the Infantry was the only arm that did not identify themselves in their name. Other would have served in an Artillery Regiment or a Pioneer Battalion, etc.

BMD4_me said...
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BMD4_me said...

Great resource!!! Another online tool to help researchers put the pieces of the puzzle together!!! Thank you for posting this. Researching my family members who served, has been somewhat daunting at times.

BMD4_me said...
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Bill Russell said...

In a week of great darkness for LAC, the appearance of this Guide on-line is one narrow ray of light. The importance of the "Barbara Wilson Guide" (as it is affectionately known to those of us who have been using it in our research for decades) cannot be over-stated. It is the single most important tool that archivists at PAC/NA/LAC have created for the study of the First World War. It is the culmination of years of work by a dedicated professional archivist - an internationally-recognized specialist in her field.

It is a sobering thought that this kind of tool could never be created in the LAC that exists today. The current LAC management's untiring assault on the professional staff and on the specialist expertise that makes such guides possible has seen to that.