How to find British colonial era military records in Library and Archives Canada

Thanks to help from one of my fellow volunteers at the AFHS library, I learned just how much is available from Library and Archives Canada (LAC). However, it was readily apparent that actually finding relevant information wasn’t the most intuitive of any organizational system that I have seen.

This tutorial may help you to find military records for the British military from the days of pre-Canada.

In particular, I am on the hunt for information about my GGG grandfather, John Harrison, who was stationed in Canada as a member of the 41st Regiment of Foot. He arrived in 1799 and was here through the War of 1812. I was keen to find out if any records related to his time here with the military was maintained in LAC records.

There exists a collection of records that is online and available for general search, called British Military and Naval Records (RG 8, C Series). You’ll find links to the microfilm reel numbers for index and records at the bottom of this page. The description of this collection:

This series covers the period from the American Revolution to the mid-1800s. It includes a wide range of documents relating to the British Army in Canada, Loyalist regiments, the War of 1812, the Canadian militia, etc. A nominal/subject card index and the actual records are available on microfilm. References located in the index provide a brief description of the document, date, C Series volume number and a page number. After consulting the index, refer to the list of microfilm reel numbers for the actual records.

As mentioned, both the index and the actual records are available online. But getting from one to the other doesn’t seem entirely easy. I’ll run through my example to give you some idea.

On the page, “Microfilm Reel Numbers for Index”, you’ll find an alphabetized list of topics. Most of these “topics” are names of individuals, but they can also be documents related to specific regiments, places, or almost anything else.

microfilmreelindex

My relative is John Harrison, so if you continue down that list, you will find that he’d fall into the reel identified as C-11820 (Hanlon, Peter to Hay, Thomas). So what I want to look up is C-11820. There is a link at the top of that page that leads to the online archive of these index reels. It’s here that I find C-11820. (Note that there are 82 reels available, and only reels one through fifty are shown on this page. You’ll have to hit “next” to get to the rest if yours isn’t shown.

After I click C-11820, it opens up an image on a new page, along with page controls. You’ll see that there are a whopping 6,449 pages in this reel. So how do I get to the record that i want? Trial and error. Above and to the right of the image, you’ll see this:

pagecontrol

I would start by punching in “3000” (about half-way through the whole of the reel) into the page box and then clicking “Go”. We luck out and find a Harrison straight away, though it’s “Harrison, William” when I’m looking for “Harrison, John”. So I need to go earlier in the reel.

Putting “2500” into the page control brings me to a card for “Harrison, George”. So we’ve managed to bound our search in just the first two tries. If there is a record for John Harrison, it’s going to be between pages 2500 and 3000. “2800” gets me another record for another (or maybe the same) “Harrison, George”. I’m still looking after 2,800.

After more fine-tuning, I find an index card for my John Harrison at card number 2860.

harrisonindexcard

What a “Mikan Number” is I have no idea. It is clickable, so it seems it should take me to something relevant. But it doesn’t. It leads nowhere. You really wouldn’t expect anything different from a government agency, though, would you?

The most important bits we’re after are the “C.907” and the “p.87”. This tells me that we’ll find the record on page 87 of volume C.907. That should seem like an easy thing to do, but it’s not quite. Let’s have a look.

To get to volume C.907, we have to find the right microfilm reel again. You will find yet another index on the web page titled “Microfilm Reel Numbers for Records”.

microfilmreelrecords

This document helps us find which volume we want, as the reel numbers and the volume numbers are not the same things. In this case, we’re looking for volume 907. Looking down this list, you’ll see volume numbers first, and then page numbers listed in parentheses (where the volume breaks across reels).

Looking waaayyy down the list, we find that volume 907 is going to be contained on reel number C-3277 (which includes volumes 901 through 907, and up to page 80a of volume 908). Now we need to track down reel C-3277.

There is again a link at the top of the page that says “ARCHIVED – online” which leads to the page that lists the reels that have the records. Once again, it only shows the first 50 out of, this time, 484 microfilms. I have to click “Next” a few times until I get to microfilms “201-250 of 484”. Here I find a link for C-3277, and I click it.

We’re faced with a similar page as we saw previously, which has a whole lot of pages in it. In this case, there are 1,439 while the previous one had some 6,449 pages.

You’ll recall that this reel has volumes 901 to 908 on it, and we’re looking for a record in 907. So again we must use trial and error to find the right document. Expecting it to be in the latter half of this reel, I start by putting “1000” into the page control box. I come to a record that is written in some lovely cursive that nobody uses anymore. And at the bottom of that image, I see that we’re in C Series 906. Again, we’re looking for 907, so we’re looking later on the reel.

“1200” in the page control brings me to a mostly blank page of a document, though I see at the bottom of the image that we’re now in Series (or Volume) 907. Before going on, if you look above at the image, you’ll see “73a”. That is the page number. What this means is that where we have a page number, it won’t necessarily follow exactly that the page 87 we are looking for will follow 14 pages after this, since there is not only page numbering (73, 74, 75) but also sub-numbering (73, 73a, etc.). I presume that the sub-numbering is limited to just a single letter (that is, that there are no instances of 73b), but I don’t know that for certain.

After continuing to punch in page numbers and narrowing down my search, I find myself at page 1220 of the reel, which delivers up page 87 of the volume.

harrisonmusterrecord

I can’t really make out what it says and there doesn’t appear to be a zoom function. I note that near the top right of the page, there is a link that says “View PDF”. What this means is that it will display this as a PDF document in the page instead of a jpeg (a type of image file…for the uninitiated, it’s pronounced as “jay-peg”). By clicking this and having it show as a PDF, it will be easier for me to download and zoom in on the relevant parts.

After clicking “View PDF”, the document no longer completely fits, and so you might notice scroll bars on the right side and bottom of the document that will allow you to move around the document as you zoom in. This is good news, as the PDF is a larger document and higher resolution than the jpeg.

When I put my mouse over the lower left part of the document, I get a little menu which gives me choices such as zoom, save, print, and more. I’m still not sure this is a relevant document to me, so I want to zoom in and have a closer look before I save it. Below is what this little toolbar menu looks like, and I’ve highlighted the zoom button.

zoomcontrol

After getting in a bit closer, I can see that this is a very interesting record. The document is “Effective Roll of Captain McKenzies 41st Ft. Infantry Company on Command at Kingston 15th June 1801.

harrisonrecordtitle

Moreover, it has my John Harrison on the roll, shown here as holding the rank of Corporal, and specifically being stationed at Carleton Island. I now have a document from near his earliest time in Canada showing what rank he had then attained and identifying where he was stationed. Neat!

harrisonrecordzoomed

(highlight added)

It wasn’t easy to get there, but it was worth the effort. I can’t speak to how well other collections at LAC are held and arranged. This particular group is a bit of a challenge, but once you know what you’re looking for, it’s not so bad. I click the “Save” button on the PDF toolbar and save it to my permanent records on my computer.

zoomcontrol2

If you have ancestors who would have been part of the British Army here in Canada, this is a good place to look for any information that might be readily available.

Should you run into any issues in trying to navigate this collection, please feel free to drop me a line at johnealogy@gmail.com and I’ll do my best to help you to track down the record that you’re after.

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The storytelling genealogical benefactor

I am impressed by the authors of family history books. They just seem to know so darn much, don’t they? And while their audience may be limited, they write nonetheless.

One such researcher and author has been a tremendous boon to my knowledge of family history. His writings, composed in the 1980s and early ‘90s are not so much a book, in that they have not been bound and published, but I have a binder packed with information that helps me so much in putting some of the many pieces together.

The Preface:

The purpose of this account is to tell something of our first Harrisons in Canada with respect to names, locations and times. The notes and charts relate mainly to this facet of the early ancestral foundation from which so many grand families have sprung. The first Harrisons were pioneers in this country, but the toil and hardships and joys which were theirs are not talked about here. Hopefully someone else will narrate and add that important aspect to the family history.

Also, these notes provide only a starting point. It is urged that someone in each of the descendant family groups continue the work of expanding the charts for their group by filling gaps that now exist and by including the younger generations where they are not now shown. As well, they should record something of importance about each of their members, at least about the deceased members of their group while there are still those around who knew them well or who knew something about them. By doing so a real treasure will be created.

Title page and preamble from Cyril Morris binderCuriously, the late Cyril Morris, author, was not even a Harrison descendent, but had married into the lineage. So in my possession, I have what must have been hundreds if not thousands of hours of research, compilation, communication, and creations from someone to whom I am not even related. What makes the book so special is that it is not simply lists of dates and locations and the names of people who would then be no more familiar than any others who happened to show up on a list in front of me. Here there are stories. While it is true that, as stated in his preamble, the toils and hardships are not herein recorded, there is no shortage of stories to guide the research of those who follow Mr. Morris.

Catherine Harrison and her twin sister, Anna, were born in France, near Paris, on October 19, 1815. Their father had been stationed there with the British Army of Occupation following the defeat of Napoleon in June of that year. Catherine was seven years old when the family carne to Canada and was 16 years old when her father died. In 1836 she married James McQueen who lived in Cornwall Township. They had one child, Catherine, whose baptism is recorded in the Parish Register of St. Andrew’s:

“This twenty second day of November one thousand eight hundred and thirty six by me undersigned Parish Priest Catherine born the twelfth instant of the lawful marriage of James McQueen & Catherine Harrison. Sponsors John McDonald & Jane McDonell
George A Hay Pt”

This binder was shared with me by Mr. Morris’ son. Though I did not have an opportunity to know Mr. Morris when he was alive, I am so pleased that his son would trust my mother and I enough after a face-to-face meeting to allow us to take a copy. There is a great deal of information respecting living descendants, it having been collected on the understanding that it would not be publicly published. The binder has not been widely distributed as a result.

With Mr. Morris’ progeny not especially interested in furthering the family history at this point, it may well fall to me to take the George Harrison page from Cyril Morris binderbinder from it’s current typewritten state and turn it into a digital document that can be shared with future generations. With each photocopying, of course, it will become less legible, and with every year, it becomes more out-of-date. Once digitized for easy editing and easy sharing—and, of course, to mask any sensitive information about living relatives—it will become a document that the thousands of us who descend from an English soldier stationed in Canada during the War of 1812 and his (possibly Canadian) wife can learn from and appreciate all who came before.

My point in this lengthy scribe is to encourage you to narrate your family history, even if you know not who it is for. Mr. Morris did not know of our family at the time he did his research, and had no idea that I even existed. And yet, here I sit as a key benefactor of his research with a 171-page document abounding in family histories, land location records, maps, and truly quaint hand-drawn family trees crafted at times with the tiniest, neatest printing you can imagine.

You don’t know just who will inherit your work. While the hundreds of pages of letters, data, obituaries and other such various and sundry documents that have been handed down to my mother will be immensely helpful as I become more familiar with their contents, it is this compiled telling that will be my most valuable genealogical inheritance for some time, and perhaps for all time. The ease with which it can be digested not only makes for easy consumption, but it actually inspires more curiosity than it satisfies.

You are the expert in your research. As someone who is the beneficiary of this very thing, make sure that you turn your data into something that can be easily understood and navigated by those who may come along five, twenty-five or one hundred and five years hence. And indeed, someone will come along. It may well not be your own offspring, but someone down the line will have tremendous gratitude for the groundwork that you have laid. Your efforts as a storytelling genealogical benefactor will do more to make all of your hard work live beyond you than your collected pile of records ever could.

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British Columbia Genealogical Society online chat tonight

BCGS-logo_webA blog comment on my post about online resources left by Diane Rogers at the BCGS pointed out that she hosts a monthly online chat. Log in and ask a question about Canadian genealogy, the BCGS journal or website, one of BCGS’ projects, or about BC genealogy, or comment on worldwide genealogy news or a find.

The chat is a text-based group communication and no headphones or special software installations are necessary. The chat begins at 8:00 pm, Calgary time.

Click this link to get to the BCGS website post where you will be able to join the chat with our westerly neighbours.

EDIT: For reasons I don’t know, the chat should have started about 20 minutes ago, but nothing seems to be happening. So, if you’re wondering why you can’t get into the chat, well neither can I. ~John

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The Generations Project

While doing research on a topic that I’m crafting a blog post about, I stumbled across a “television show” that is produced by byutv, a programming production company affiliated with Brigham Young University. I put “television show” in quotes, in that it appears that this show is produced only for the web and is not actually aired on any actual television network.

This show, called The Generations Project, follows one individual each episode as they seek to find answers to certain questions regarding their heritage. In the episode entitled “Natalie,” the show’s subject (a lady obviously named Natalie) we follow her trip to two different locations in the the USA seeking answers regarding her family after one of her four kids dies shortly after birth. In the course of her research, she finds out much more about a mysterious ancestor, and learns a number of things that shock her. She also draws great strength from another ancestor that she learns about, and returns home after her week of focusing on her genealogical research with much greater comfort and recognition of what she has, compared with her previous mindset that is so very focused on what she has lost. It’s a compelling tale.

Another episode follows David, a Canadian, as he tries to gain context of his own personal troubles by researching his family who emigrated from Jamaica some hundred years ago. He learns that the troubling myths about his forebears is myth alone, and he seems to benefit from knowing that his family were, in fact, good people who made choices to better their family circumstances.

The production quality of the show is very high, and these appear as professionally-produced as any other genealogy focused television show currently airing. I’m keen on the format, as I get to learn much more about each individual subject, as opposed to the very brief treatments that we get from other shows like PBS’ Genealogy Roadshow. There is a little more meat to the actual research part as well, which some shows completely gloss over.

There are 38 episodes from the three seasons produced thus far, so there are plenty of back episodes to enjoy. Unlike some shows where as Canadians we are unable to watch online, The Generations Project streams without having to use any kind of location masking, so it’s very accessible with any web browser. I find these kinds of shows to offer great inspiration for my own research, and this show does an excellent job of telling the stories that make it such a fascinating pastime.

You can watch all 38 episodes by visiting the byutv website.

UPDATE: I have received a reply to an inquiry that I sent to byutv. The show is no longer in production and no new episodes are anticipated. However, the 38 episodes already produced will be available for viewing online for the foreseeable future.

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You use WHAT for genealogy?

W

I recently attended a great webinar given by Thomas MacEntee through Legacy Family Tree Webinars. For those of you who haven’t heard of Thomas MacEntee, he is a tech wizard and “genealogy ninja” who keeps abreast of the newest technologies and explores their possible uses for genealogists. As part of his “you use what…” webinar he asks that participants spread the word about these new technologies so that genealogists will get on board and start using them. Many of these sites are social networking sites that MacEntee refers to as “cousin bait” meaning that other genealogists trawling the ‘net may stumble on your site or profile.
I have used Facebook for this but certainly other social networking sites will work as well. While I personally don’t get Twitter, I do see that it might be useful for just this kind of “bait”. Another great way to get your information out there and possibly lure cousins is to write a family blog. There are a number of great blogging sites out there, including Blogger and WordPress. They are so easy to use, anyone can have a blog. These blogs are searchable, so that when people google their names (c’mon – we all do it), anything relevant in your blog will come up.
Other techy resources for genealogists are things like Evernote, which is a note-taking app that allows you to access your data from any device. There are add-on apps such as the web-clipper that allows you to capture and keep interesting web pages – kind of like that shoebox you keep all of those interesting bits and pieces you find on your travels. It is free to download but you do have to make an account.
A similar sort of thing is Dropbox. This site allows you to store your data in the cloud so you can access it anywhere you have internet access and on any device. I use this a lot for collaborating with colleagues (and because I often forget the USB drive that contains the presentation I’m supposed to be giving in 5 minutes.) It is an excellent way to back up your data, as well. Because it is stored in the cloud and not on your device, a computer crash won’t affect it.
This is just a taste of the great information that I was able to glean from this webinar. If you’d like to keep on top of all the newest tech stuff for genealogists, I suggest you check out Thomas MacEntee’s website, High- Definition Genealogy
If you have a fave site or app that you’d like to share with us all, please post it as a comment to the blog and share the wealth!

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