One of the most useful records for finding out about a Canadian person’s experience of World War I is their service file. These records are looked after by Library and Archives Canada, who have been busy converting 640,000 of these paper files into digital form over the past few years. In this post, we take a look at what types of information these files contain, using the file of Gerald Cecil Burton as an example.

Attestation paper p.1 Gerald BurtonAttestation papers are the form that people signed when they enlisted. (Click on the image for a closer look.) On the front page, information about the individual’s date and place of birth, address, next of kin, occupation, and military experience were recorded. This page was also signed in two places by the enlistee. In the Deseronto First World War project we have been using these signatures to illustrate the blog posts about each Deseronto veteran, as very often we don’t have photographs of the people, but there is nearly always a signature. Towards the top right of the form, the soldier’s regimental number was noted. This is a unique identifier which is helpful in distinguishing between two men of the same name. In our group of records, for example, there were two Jacob Greens (644773 and 636686) and two Wilbert Brants (785039 and 636958). The military unit that the individual initially joined is usually noted at the top of the form, although often this is not the unit that the person ended up serving with in Europe.

Attestation paper p.2 Gerald BurtonOn the back of the form, details of the recruit’s physical appearance were recorded, including apparent age, height, colouring, chest measurement and any distinguishing marks, such as tattoos or scars.

Attestation papers were the first World War I records to be digitized by Library and Archives Canada. They were not taken from the service files, but from a separate series of Attestation Registers (RG 9, II B8). Some people (about 50,000) are missing from that series, and for those individuals the newly-digitized service files provide the first glimpse of their attestation paper information.

Record of Service forms like the one below are very useful for determining the course of an individual’s wartime career. These forms are copies of army orders relating to the person. They record transfers between military units, arrivals and departures,  injuries, and penalties. Extract from service record for Gerald Burton

For example, the card above shows that Gerald Cecil Burton arrived in England on the SS Mauritania on November 30th, 1916. It also notes that he was sentenced to a year of hard labour for stealing a revolver and holster.

Service files often contain detailed medical records: some even have x-ray photographs of injured limbs.

Medical report on Gerald Burton

In this example from Gerald Burton’s file, details of a diagnosis of bronchitis are noted. The files also usually have information on the dental health of recruits, with details of fillings and extractions.

The service files are a wonderful resource for First World War research, and digitizing them has been an enormous project for Library and Archives Canada. Thank you very much to everyone involved in the effort!

Norman Bruce 'Nipper' ScottOur colleagues at Elgin County Archives hold the Norman B. ‘Nipper’ Scott fonds, which includes materials relating to Scott’s career as a pilot during the First World War. Scott trained at Camp Rathbun in Deseronto, among other places, before joining the Royal Flying Corps’ No. 11 Squadron in France.

Elgin County Archives have digitized Scott’s pilot log book and made it available online [PDF]. It is interesting to see the flights logged by a trainee pilot at Camp Rathbun, and Scott’s subsequent activities on the front line in France.

Norman Bruce Scott's pilot log book

This page shows the flights taken by Scott this week in 1917: his third week as a cadet. You can see that he was already taking solo flights in this week, and getting a good tour of the local sights: Napanee, Belleville and Kingston all feature in his log.

The serial numbers of the Curtiss JN4A aircraft Scott flew are listed. We have two photographs of one of the planes, C593, in our digital collections. Let’s hope Nipper Scott wasn’t responsible for this particular landing.

Curtiss JN4A C593 upside-down

2011.20 (11) George Edward Munk’s album

Moving archivesA significant change to the operation of the Deseronto Archives will be happening in September 2016, as we are moving the collection into the new Community Archives of Belleville and Hastings County in Belleville. From September 12th, the Archives will be available for research in Belleville.

This increases the availability of the collection, which will now be open to the public from Monday to Thursday, 9.30 to 12 and 1 to 4pm instead of the limited hours we have been open in Deseronto.

Donna Fano labelling shelvesThe Town of Deseronto was the first municipality in Hastings County to provide a staffed archive service, back in 1997. Now it is joining the City of Belleville and the County of Hastings in taking advantage of the facilities of the new Community Archives of Belleville and Hastings County. There our local records will be kept in climate-controlled conditions in a brand-new facility.

Amanda Hill, the Deseronto archivist, has also relocated to the new archives at Belleville, which will provide a continuity of care for the Deseronto materials and knowledge of their contents.

This website will continue to be updated with news from the Deseronto First World War project, and Deseronto Archives images will remain available from our Flickr account.

The email address to contact the Archives is now and you can also call 613-967-3304.

Grateful thanks are owed to Frances Smith and all the staff at Deseronto Public Library for providing a home for the Deseronto Archives, and also to the Deseronto Archives Board and the Corporation of the Town of Deseronto for their support of the Archives over the past 20 years and their continued dedication to the service as it enters this new phase.

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.

Cyril BettsThe Deseronto Archives Board would like to express its deep sympathy to the family of Cyril Betts, who died this morning. Cyril was a long-serving member of the Board and an influential supporter of the Archives and its work. Board meetings attended by Cyril always went on too long as Cyril had an apparently endless supply of highly entertaining stories, accumulated during his long career as an Anglican minister.

You can still hear some of these stories in the interview Cyril gave us for the ‘About Deseronto’ project on September 10th, 2010.

We are hugely grateful for Cyril’s contributions to the work of Deseronto Archives and will miss him very much.

More than 80 people gathered in Belleville’s Quinte Sports and Wellness Centre on Saturday for a day exploring historical aspects of European and First Nations attitudes to “the land that supports our feet”. The Warden of Hastings County (and Reeve of Tyendinaga Township), Rick Phillips; the Chief of the Mohawks of the Bay of Quinte, R. Donald Maracle; and the Mayor of Deseronto, Norman Clark, all gave official welcomes to the group.

Nathan Brinklow introducing the Opening AddressThe traditional Six Nations Opening was performed by Nathan Brinklow, who provided an English translation of his words so that everyone could understand. As Nathan explained in his introduction, the Opening is all about the relationships between the land, waters and living things, so it was a particularly appropriate way of starting a day of proceedings focused on human interactions with land.

The keynote address was given by Marlene Brant Castellano, who gave a moving account of the way that her formal education in the Tyendinaga Mohawk Territory, Shannonville, and Belleville had failed to include the history of the Six Nations or traditional teachings. She told us that when she came to the stories and teachings later in life, it was like learning a new language, but also that “it was a language that was already written in my heart”. Marlene’s talk centred on the three beads of the Two-Row Wampum belt, representing Peace, Friendship, and Respect.

The archival component of the day was made up of a series of readings from documents which were written in the first fifty years of settlement in the Bay of Quinte region. They focused on what life was like for the Mohawks who came to this area at that time, and on how the attitudes of the Government toward the native population changed in that period.

Alfredo Barahona led the group in the Blanket Exercise. This is an interactive telling of the story of the interactions between Europeans and the aboriginal population of Canada, using blankets to represent the land available to native peoples and readings which relate laws and impacts of policies on their communities.

At the start of the exercise, everyone was free to move around the blankets and talk to each other.

Beginning of the Blanket Exercise

By the end, only isolated groups are left, with the size of their blankets constantly being trimmed back by the Europeans.

End of the Blanket Exercise

Marlene Brant Castellano, Mike Bossio and Keith SeroMark Brinklow and Ed FileAfter lunch, a panel session examined some different perspectives on land issues. Mike Bossio talked about how native and non-native communities worked together to resist the expansion of the Richmond landfill site. Keith Sero discussed the process of forming new forms of governance for First Nations, such as the management boards for wildlife and water in Nunavut.  Mark Brinklow described his work with teenagers at risk of offending, explaining how reconnecting them to activities on the land can give them a renewed sense of self-confidence and identity. Ed File is a retired professor of social science who has taken an active role in social justice movements involving First Nations in Canada.

The final activity of the day was a chance for people to join discussion groups with as much geographical diversity as possible. People were asked to reflect on what they had learned from the day and on what they thought they might be able to do next to move the conversation forward.

Discussion groupd

Lynn Brant rounded off a fascinating day with a deeply moving song and the Closing Ceremony.

Thanks to everyone who came and to all those involved in organizing, presenting and catering for the event. Special thanks are due to Paul Robertson, chair of the Deseronto Archives Board, who originally conceived the idea for the symposium, and who performed the role of Master of Ceremonies on the day, and to Marlene Brant Castellano, who took on a hugely active role in galvanising support for the event and in putting together the programme, as well as giving the keynote address and chairing the panel session. Edgar Tumak, Sharon and Nick White and Niamh Hill all worked incredibly hard on the day: sincere thanks to you all!

Regular readers of this blog will probably be aware by now that here at Deseronto Archives we have fairly advanced views about opening up our collections and making as much of them as possible available online, both through this blog and through our Flickr account.

Tay Bridge, Dundee

At the moment I am in Dundee, Scotland, at day one of a conference with the theme ‘Democratising or Privileging: the Future of Access to Archives‘. The programme is absolutely packed with talks about providing online access to archives and the role of digitization in making materials available to as wide an audience as possible.

Some of the most intriguing perspectives have come from users of archives. Dr Alan MacDonald spoke of his frustration about lack of published policies on what materials will be chosen for digitization and the lack of clarity over charging for access to online archives. (In the UK it is much more common for archives to charge genealogists for searching and reading records than it is in Canada.) He called for consistency in access to materials and for as much as possible to be open and free for all uses. A website designed for family historians, for example, may not be useful for other researchers if the only access to it is by name indexes.

Chris Paton is a professional genealogist and his pleas to archivists included a request for free wi-fi in archives, permission to take digital photos, longer opening hours and simpler user registration and photocopying policies. He also thought it was important for archives to make use of social media tools like Facebook and Twitter. Both Chris and Alan emphasized that although digitization is useful for accessibility, detailed online [item-level*] cataloguing is even more so, especially in a time of financial constraints for researchers (and everyone else!), although they both recognized that this is much harder to get funding for than ‘sexy’ digital imaging projects.

There is a strong Canadian contingent at this conference and Sara Allain from the University of Toronto Scarborough gave an interesting analysis of what she termed the ‘Digitization Rhetoric’ currently being advanced at Library and Archives Canada as the solution to the problem of access to materials there. Jenny Seeman of Memorial University of Newfoundland also looked at digitization, wondering about whether selectively digitizing a collection unfairly privileges one narrative about its contents over others, using the case of the Dr. Cluny MacPherson collection as her example.

Professor Wendy Duff of the University of Toronto talked about social media use in archives and ways of using elements of gaming theory to encourage public engagement with archival material online. I particularly liked the mental picture of online archives as rhizomes, providing multiple entry points to the material and different paths through it, which would vary from user to user. She also described archivists as walking finding aids, a point also echoed by Alan MacDonald, who agreed that the knowledge of archivists is priceless, and that it is hard to replicate that in online resources.

All in all, a fascinating day and plenty to think about!

Day 2

Many of the themes in the first day of the conference continued to be mentioned during the second. The difficulty of balancing public demand for materials with the cost of digitizing them came through loud and clear from representatives of the National Records of Scotland. Historian Professor Allan MacInnes gave an intriguing analysis of archival managers in relation to Calvanistic theology. According to Allan, administrators of archives fall into categories of the Church Invisible, the Church Visible and Reprobates. I can’t remember the precise details of the first two (they weren’t very complimentary!), but found myself warming towards his Reprobates: archivists “who believe that research and scholarship are more important than policy and procedure”. The issue of trust between archive managers and users was a strong theme of Allan’s keynote, along with a call for more collaboration between them.

More Canadians appeared in later sessions: Michael Moir of York University examined the ethical issues of access to confidential and sensitive information in personal papers. I liked Michael’s point that use of archival materials can be seen as a return on the investment of the institution in giving them shelf space: the cost of archival storage at York had been estimated at $80 a year for a box. Dr Jean Dryden reported on her research into archivists’ approaches to dealing with copyright restrictions. There’s a lot of caution in the community about putting things online and accidentally infringing copyright, so it was reassuring to hear from Jean that there have been no instances in North America of archives being sued for putting images online: any disputes have been settled amicably. I was interested to hear from Jean about the Smithsonian Archives of American Art’s approach, where entire collections are being digitized on the basis that “access trumps everything”.

François Cartier gave a thorough overview of recent developments at Library and Archives Canada, with a strong call for archivists to be part of the policy-making processes at their institutions. He quoted Carl Sagan: “extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence” and Christopher Hitchens: “that which can be asserted without evidence, can be dismissed without evidence” as important principles to remember in response to claims made in the name of the modernization agenda at LAC.

Dr Cathryn Spence of the University of Guelph talked about her research on wills of women in the late sixteenth century. She had to pay for printouts of  these (digitized) records in Scotland (and actually ended up asking her parents to get some of them for her as a Christmas present!). Other parts of her research were undertaken in a relatively poorly-funded archives service: Edinburgh City Archives.  Cathryn was full of praise for the staff of this small repository, with whom she built up an excellent and trusting working relationship in a way that is very difficult in the larger, impersonal surroundings of the National Records of Scotland. This echoed Allan MacInnes’s observations made earlier in the day. The worrying part about the situation in the City Archives is the reliance of researchers on the knowledge of one archivist. One thing I’m hoping to achieve by writing blog posts here is to avoid having everything I’ve learnt about Deseronto’s archives leaving the Archives when I do! (Not that I’m planning to, just yet…)

Dr Vivienne Dunstan gave us a valuable insight into the problems faced by researchers who are wheelchair users. She described herself as “a big fan of online catalogues”, the more detailed the better (continuing another of the previous day’s themes). It was pleasing to hear that Vivienne found many archive services were willing to be flexible in giving her access to materials above what might have been usually offered. This was something else Allan MacInnes had called for: flexibility over standard procedures, where that is appropriate.

All in all, the conference was extremely interesting. Calls for archival policies based on evidence, on collaboration and on user needs were the main themes of the two days. And judging from the users who spoke, detailed catalogues; online resources which are explorable in a range of ways; mutual respect between staff and users; and adaptable procedures were top of their list of requirements. Thanks to colleagues at the University of Dundee’s Centre for Archive and Information Studies for organizing a fascinating event!

There’s further coverage of the conference over at British GENES and Viv’s Academic Blog.

*Postscript: Chris didn’t actually say ‘item-level’ – he was talking about cataloguing in general. My apologies!

Circle Six Orchestra

Accession 2012.07(6): The Circle Six Orchestra

Here is a brief numerical summary of our activities in Deseronto Archives over the course of 2012.

New accessions received: 16

These included a photograph of the Circle Six Orchestra, a scrapbook relating to the Deseronto United Church, a photograph album from an airman who trained at Camp Mohawk in World War One and a list of Deseronto voters from 1914.

Email queries answered: 63

Telephone queries answered: 25

Visits to the archives by researchers: 101

Images uploaded to 105

Visitors to the blog in 2012:15,293 (13,058 in 2011)

Blog posts written : 17

Our thanks to all our patrons and donors and best wishes to you for 2013!

The National Archival Development Program (NADP) was axed by Library and Archives Canada last week, without warning. This program was worth $1.7 million each year to archives all over Canada. For every dollar received from the fund, archives raised another dollar through matched funding, meaning that the total value of the program to Canadians was $2.5 million every year.

For this relatively modest investment, the program supported:

·   Outreach and educational activities in communities to help small institutions manage their archival materials

·   Development of the national on-line catalogue of archival descriptions, and its provincial and territorial counterparts, so all archives, including the very small, can reach Canadians to tell them about their holdings

·   Provision of archival and preservation advice to archives of all sizes

·   Work experience for new graduates from Canada’s archival and information studies programs

·   Cataloguing of archival materials to make them accessible to the public

·   Training opportunities for people working in archives

·   Site assessments to both urban and rural archives, to safeguard Canada’s documentary heritage

·   Preservation  of at-risk documents and other archival materials, including electronic records

Locally, the Archives here in Deseronto  has benefited from the work of Ontario’s Archives Advisor, Carolynn Bart-Riedstra; Preservation Consultant, Iona McCraith; and former Archeion Coordinator, Sharon White (now Archivist for the new Community Archives in Belleville). Recommendations from a report by Carolynn in 2007 helped the Archives Board in their planning for the Archives in Deseronto.

All three of these advisory positions have now been suspended as a result of the NADP cuts, along with similar posts across the other provinces and territories. This will affect small archives particularly, as the advisors were a much-used resource for information and training.

If you’d like to support the reversal of this decision, there are a few things you can do:

  1. Sign the petition against the cut
  2. Share the news with your friends and colleagues
  3. Email your MP (Daryl Kramp if you’re in Prince Edward-Hastings)
  4. Send a message to the Minister for Canadian Heritage, the Honourable James Moore [“The promotion of our culture…is at the heart of what I do every day”]
  5. Read more in the Canadian Council of Archives’ Call to Action

Archives are not well-funded institutions and the NADP was one of the few sources of external funding available to support the work of archivists in Canada. Without this funding, it is going to be harder for Canadians to get access to the information they need.

Waterfront Festival, July

Here are some facts and figures relating to the work of Deseronto Archives over the course of 2011.

New accessions received: 28

Email queries answered: 47

Telephone queries answered: 12

Visits to the archives by researchers: 73

Images uploaded to 109

Events organized/attended:

Doors Open, Napanee/Deseronto/Tyendinaga Mohawk Territory May 28th
Archives Association of Ontario conference, Thunder Bay June 17nd
Inter-agency Service Fair, Deseronto June 22nd
Waterfront Festival, Deseronto July 2nd
Deseronto Public Library 125th anniversary events October

Blog posts written : 17

Visitors to the blog in 2011:13,058 (8,097 in 2010)

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