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Five Top Tips on researching your WWI ancestors from Ancestry ProGenealogist’s Simon Pearce:
- Always try and obtain a War Diary: War diaries provide an unparalleled day-to-day account of the activities of a battalion or unit. These are particularly useful when studying significant events such as the attacks on Vimy Ridge and allow you to really understand what your ancestor and their unit were experiencing on a particular date.
- Study maps, particularly trench maps:War Diaries (and other documents) will often provide grid references for trenches which can be located on WWI trench maps. Establishing where you ancestor served, where they were stationed and the trenches they were attacking can add another level to your research and understanding of your ancestors’ experience during WWI.
- Women made a huge contribution during WWI: The Canada, WWI CEF Personnel Files, 1914-1918 on Ancestry contain records relating to women who served with the Canadian Expeditionary Force during WWI.
- Struggling to find a WWI ancestor? Broaden your research: If you are struggling to find an ancestor who served during WWI remember to check navy and air force records in addition to the army. Also, you may have to widen your searches and look at the siblings of your parents, grandparents or great-grandparents. See if they had any siblings who were born in the 1870s-1900 who could have served during WWI.
- Photos can bring your research to life: Library and Archives Canada has an amazing online catalogue containing many digitized photos from WWI which can bring to life your research and help you better picture the kind of locations your ancestor served in. You may not find a photo of your ancestor, but you might find a photo of their battalion/unit or photos from their theatre of war, be it the Western Front, Gallipoli or the UK.
Key collections and records on Ancestry mentioned in the session:
- Canada, Imperial War Service Gratuities, 1919-1921
- Example record (Neil Nicholson) from Canada, Military Honours and Awards Citation Cards, 1900-1961
Links to other resources Simon mentions in his talk:
- Library and Archives Canada: War Diaries of the First World War
- McMaster University, Hamilton: Trench Maps
- Commonwealth War Graves Commission: Casualty Database
- International Committee of The Red Cross: Prisoners of the First World War
Simon Pearce holds a degree in History and a Masters in Historical Research and has a background in museum work, Simon has a passion for military history and has worked on projects relating to the commemoration and identification of casualties from the First and Second World Wars. Researching his military ancestors from the First World War sparked this interest and he loves discovering the personal stories of men and women from the conflict across all the services. Through his work at Ancestry ProGenealogists Simon has helped many clients to understand the lives of their ancestors in Britain and across the world.