Our First World War project is now in full swing, with research under way on 300 people with Deseronto connections who served in the war. There are excellent online resources available for such research and this post explains more about the ones we have been using for our project.

Attestation paper

Library and Archives Canada

Service files of individuals are rich sources of information about the war service of Canadian men and women. Library and Archives Canada (LAC) are in the process of digitizing all of the World War I service files they hold and many are already available. There’s a helpful LAC Cenotaph research guide to interpreting these records, which explains the military organizations, the abbreviations used in the records and has a timeline of the major battles Canadian troops were involved in.

Attestation papers are available online for nearly all veterans of the war. These documents give the name of the enlisting person, their next of kin, their place of birth, occupation and home address. They also hold information about the individual’s height, chest size, and hair, skin and eye colour. Attestation papers also carry the signature (in some cases just the mark) of the enlistee, which we have been using in our project to illustrate each blog post.

War diaries for the various military units are also available at Library and Archives Canada – these have all been digitized and can be read online. These are invaluable for finding out more about where a particular battalion was and what it was doing at a particular time.


Public libraries in Ontario have subscriptions to the library edition of Ancestry, the commercial genealogical site. Ancestry holds a number of digitized record groups which are useful for researching First World War veterans, including:

War Graves Registry Circumstances of Death records

These records from Library and Archives Canada provide details of the circumstances of a soldier’s death, if known, and information on his burial or memorial site

Ontario vital statistics records

Births, marriages and deaths in Ontario from the Archives of Ontario. These are useful for establishing who a veteran’s parents were and whether the veteran was married.

Canadian census records

Provided to Ancestry by Library and Archives Canada. Useful for discovering dates of birth (particularly the 1901 census), family members, locations, ethnicity, and occupations of veterans.

Ancestry also holds copies of the attestation papers from Library and Archives Canada.

Canadian Great War Project

This site brings together information about many of the men who died in the First World War. It includes links to the Canadian Virtual War Memorial and the Commonwealth War Graves Commission entries for individual soldiers.

Canadian Virtual War Memorial

A site maintained by Veterans Affairs Canada which commemorates fallen Canadian soldiers from all conflicts. Users can upload digital materials about a soldier.

Chronicling America

Digitized local American newspapers from 1866 to 1922, free to access in a service provided by the Library of Congress. This site is useful for finding reports on some of the airmen who died in the Royal Flying Corps camps.

Commonwealth War Graves Commission

This site holds information on cemetery locations, graves and memorials. For individual solders, there are digitized registers with brief details about each man and information about what was recorded on their headstones.

Find a Grave

This site has many veterans’ graves listed, particularly those in the European war cemeteries. Several have photographs of the headstones.


This UK-focused site requires a subscription. It holds records relating to men who served in the Royal Flying Corps and Royal Air Force in the First World War.

Royal Air Force Museum Storyvault

Allan Walton Fraser RFC casualty cardThe Storyvault contains freely-accessible* digitized records of death and injury reports relating to the Royal Flying Corps and the Royal Air Force between 1914 and 1928. For the period of operation of the two Royal Flying Corps pilot training camps near Deseronto, these records are extremely helpful in explaining the causes of the accidents which befell the young men who died in training during the First World War.

[*Update, January 29th 2015: Low resolution copies are still accessible, but you now have to pay £3.00 for high-resolution images.]


There are articles in Wikipedia on most of the military units which took part in World War One. The site also holds information on military campaigns, ships used to transport soldiers between Canada and England, and information on the diseases suffered by soldiers on the Western Front.