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.
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:
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.
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”.
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.
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.
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.
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!
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.
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 firstname.lastname@example.org and I’ll do my best to help you to track down the record that you’re after.