British Columbia

Archives, records and databases: how to research family military history

The Vancouver Public Library is helping people find out more about their family’s military roots with a crash course on researching ancestors and genealogy during the war period.

Vancouver Public Library has resources and staff on hand to help trace genealogy

The Vancouver Public Library is partnered with Library and Archives Canada, has open access to Ancestry and archival material from newspapers and records to help trace family history. (Rafferty Baker/CBC)

With poppies on every collar, it's the time of year to reflect on wars of the past and, for some, those reflections have a personal connection through family history.

The Vancouver Public Library is helping people find out more about their family's military roots with a crash course on tracing genealogy during the war period.  

"People now are very interested in what their personal family history is and, of course, military involvement is a component of that for many B.C. families," said Anne O'Shea, manager of VPL programming and learning.

The library has a wealth of resources to help Vancouverites find out more about their family history, she told CBC Early Edition host Rick Cluff.

Records from the First World War are now open and no longer covered by privacy restrictions, she said, and so information from that period is particularly accessible.  

VPL is partnered with Library and Archives Canada, and so, information, like a family member's personal military service record, can be looked up.

Staff are available to personally help individuals with their research, O'Shea said.

The library also has a subscription to Ancestry, an online history resource and provides free open access to it for Vancouver residents.

"There is a lot of different information you can access," O'Shea said.

Family legends proved

Recently, a man from Britain came into the library looking for information about his grandfather.

All he knew from family legend, O'Shea said, was that the grandfather had played in a band on a boat in B.C. during the Second World War.

With the help of staff, the man traced back bands with the Royal Canadian Navy and found the one his grandfather played with.

From that information, O'Shea said, they discovered the concerts he had performed in, the role of the band in the military efforts and that the band had been featured on radio stations.

Researching Your Canadian Military Ancestors runs at VPL's Dunbar branch from 2:30 p.m. to 4 p.m. on Thursday, Nov. 9.  

The resources themselves are also available through the VPL outside of the class and, in February, there will be a class on tracing Indigenous family history.  

To hear more, click on the audio link below:

With files from The Early Edition

About the Author

Clare Hennig


Clare Hennig is a web writer and digital associate producer at CBC Vancouver. Follow her on Twitter: @clare_hennig