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October 1, 2011

Obtaining Canadian WW2 Military Service Files in a Few Easy Steps

Uncle Clare
A few months ago I sent for the military records of my father's brother, Clarence E. McGinnis. I knew Uncle Clare had been in WW2 as I have several photos of him in uniform. But I never knew where he served, what unit he was in, or what he did during the War.

World War 2 Canadian records are restricted. But they can be accessed and they can include documentation about enlistment, discharge, military units served with, and may also include other documents concerning medical history, medals awarded, personal evaluation reports and dental charts.

Library and Archives Canada holds military service files for those who served after 1918. Their website explanation of who can access what files and how to obtain them is a bit confusing, so I'll share  with you what I did. It was simple.

I wrote a one page letter requesting the complete military service files for [individual's name] who was born [individual's full birth date or estimated year] in [name of city/town plus county and province in Ontario] to parents [names of father and mother].

I included my uncle's death date and a photograph of his tombstone as proof of death. Interestingly enough they actually returned the photo to me!

That was it. I mailed the letter and photo to

ATIP and Personnel Records Division
Library and Archives Canada
395 Wellington Street
Ottawa, ON  K1A 0N4

You can also fax your request to them at this number: 613-947-8456

I should add that there is an official Application for Military Service Information form which you can download from LAC's site, fill out and mail or fax to them, but I prefer a simple one page letter.

Huge envelope arrives
After a wait of about 5 months a very large package arrived with Uncle Clare's complete military file. I estimate there are about 80 or more pages.  The wait was not unexpected as it is made clear on the Library & Archives Canada website that they are backlogged and requests can take up to 6 months to fill.

There was a lot of interesting information in the military file for Uncle Clare - such as details of his work history prior to enlisting. It include what he was paid! I wish my dad's files had been as complete.

Lots of pages to read!
I am really pleased to have some more details to add to my knowledge of my uncle. I knew him quite well but he never spoke of his military service or his early years. I suppose I was too young for him to think I'd be interested.

Plus he was quite old-fashioned regarding males vs females and since I was a female he'd be less likely to talk to me about what he would consider "man stuff"  

But I'm really enjoying reading through his files to find out where he went during the war (to England and France) and what he saw and did during that difficult time.

For more information on finding ancestors who were in the Canadian Military you might want to check out The Canadian Military Project


Shantel said...

Thanks for this info. I wonder if you can get same information from WWI?

Don said...

I obtained my father's military records while he was in Canada and Newfoundland, but nothing about his service in Europe

Olive Tree Genealogy said...

Don -it sounds like either it wasn't the complete file (papers might have gone astray) or he was never sent to Europe.

Both my dad's and my uncle's provided summaries of their time in England.

Shantel - the WW1 records vary from one page to dozens. There's no consistency but they are worth sending for. The front and back of the attestation papers are online but you have to send for the full file.

Unknown said...

Thank you for the helpful information. My father served the Canadian Forces in WW2. He died when I was 17 - more than 30 years ago.

I know he served overseas, and would like to know more about that aspect of his life and now I have a means to do so.

Anonymous said...

Shantel, all WW1 records are unrestricted. Go on the CEF website and you can search up the attestation records and find the specific numbers to order from Library Archives Canada, it is very easy. You do not need to be a relative or provide any proof of death as you would for WW2 records.I've purchased quite a few of them before.

Unknown said...

I have just been informed that my great uncles service records can only be accessed by contacting the UK. Even though he was Canadian he enlisted in England so they hold his WWI records.

Hope this helps.

Unknown said...

Does it cost any money to request and receive military records?

Olive Tree Genealogy said...

Brandon, LAC sometimes charges and sometimes they do not. If they charge it is a very very reasonable fee. I was not charged for my father's or my uncle's records.

Montreal, 6 A.M. said...

Did you request proof of service or a genealogy packet? 80 pages is a lot!

Olive Tree Genealogy said...

As I mentioned in my blog post above, I wrote a one page letter requesting his complete military service.

Dianne said...

When I got my Dad's file I printed the request form, mailed it August 2013 and received the package March 2014, so about 7 months. At that time they said it could take up to 11 months, as urgent requests take priority. There were 21 pages of documents in the pkg. I was not charged anything.
Restricted access rule for ancestors deceased LESS that 20 years, the request must come from an immediate family member (spouse, sibling, child, parent, grandchild), so for the files of my uncle and my aunt, I'll have to get my cousins to apply.