We must Name them to truly Remember!

Armistice Day

Canadian actor and artist R.H. Thomson embarked on a Remembrance Day art installation to Commemorate and name those who made the ultimate sacrifice during the First World War.  His belief, we cannot truly remember if we see the dead as an unnamed collective.  I must concur!  As Canadians we have yearly sat through somber school and community ceremonies but it seems only now a more recent trend to actually acquaint youth with the individuals who gave their lives.  Through the study of wartime letters, the biographies of individual soldiers, visits to European monuments and battlegrounds, and the recreation of World War trenches, students are being immersed in the lives and experiences of soldiers.  It is an admirable educational evolution!

619 636 Canadian soldiers enlisted during the First World War, 59 544 lost their lives and in World War II 1.1 million Canadians served.  The numbers are astounding and few family genealogies are untouched by these all encompassing wars meant to end all wars!  Over a decade ago when I began my personal family history journey delving into the lives of my WWI CEF ancestors was costly and time consuming.  While the Library and Archives of Canada provided an online index, one still had to send in a records request, wait for the requests to be processed, and pay substantial amounts of money for files to be copied and mailed, or later scanned and emailed. 

Thomas Carter WWI crop

My Maternal Great Grandfather Thomas Carter


The fantastic news has been that for the last five years a Library and Archives Canada project has digitized Canada’s First World War service files in their entirety and made them available online!  You can read about the digitization process on the LAC blog.

Most genealogist will be familiar with the information I am presenting in this article however I think the interest in this family research may extend beyond those regularly involved in genealogical pursuits.  My hope was that in spreading awareness regarding the increasing accessibility of these records the general public will learn how easy it can be to become acquainted with their ancestors.


One can access the Personnel Records of the First World War database and search by surname and first name and/or your ancestor’s regimental number.

WWI search

You will be presented with a listing of those entries matching your search from which you may select.

WWI listing

The entry for your selected soldier will include some indexed details, a digital image of the soldier’s initial Attestation Papers, and a link to a PDF of the soldier’s complete service file.

WWI Entry

(As an aside, the example I have used is that of my great great uncle, a casualty of the gas attack at the Battle of Ypres in 1915.)

These records may provide one with an initial introduction to one’s ancestor, or perhaps fill in the missing pieces regarding his service.  I will write further articles expanding on this path of discovery later this week.

Not one Canadian veteran remains from the First World War.  As time plods on fewer and fewer remain from the Second World War, and perhaps it is those ancestors who fought during WWII with which one is intrigued.  Many soldiers returned with stories to tell, while trauma prevented others from telling the tales of their experiences.  Many Canadians may have known their parents, grandparents, or great grandparents who fought in the second world war but may have known little of their wartime experiences, the battles they fought,  and the places they were stationed.  The privacy act in Canada is quite stringent and perhaps the idea of these restrictions has deterred people from thoughts of requesting this more recent information.


My Uncle Wilfred Crown in Italy during WWII

An online database index exists for those killed in action during World War II.  Copies of these records may be ordered traditionally through the “how to obtain copies” link on the main database homepage.  These are open records and anyone can request these with only the archival reference information.

All other WWII service files are classified as restricted.  This only means they are not accessible to all.  If the veteran is living he or she is the only one with access to his/her personal file.  The file could then only be released with the written consent of the veteran.

If however the veteran has passed less than 20 years ago limited personal information may be released to immediate family members with proof of relationship and proof of death.  Immediate family can include spouse, parent, sibling, child, or grandchild.

The files of veterans who passed more than 20 years ago can be requested by anyone with proof of death.  This can include the photo of a headstone or an obituary which are often easy to obtain.  All it takes is the completion of a simple application form.

Again, it can take a great deal of time for WWII service file requests to be processed and filled.  The application for may be mailed or faxed and Library and Archives Canada send a confirmation letter.

LAC letter

The copies of the service records follow within 6-12 months’ time.  This may seem a long wait however the records are provided free of charge which is an amazing public service in my estimation!

This Remembrance Day do something different.  Though we continue to thank the collective of veterans and military personnel, stop and take a moment to look at the individuals who comprise that collective. Discover their unique experiences and personalities, and bring them to life for yourselves, your families, and your children!

Being remembered is living forever!


Browsing the 1666 Quebec Census


If you, as I, have sprung from the earliest of French-Canadian roots you may be overwhelmed by the vast expanse of records.  While it is always heartening to see that research sources abound it can also be daunting wading through the piles of paper, the websites, the book stacks, to piece together the stories of our ancestors and decipher the validity of sources.

French-Canadian genealogical research can be hampered also by one’s lack of French language knowledge and the fear of accessing records and documents one cannot comprehend.  I would like to encourage researchers to move beyond this fear and discover a world of exciting documents brimming with rich genealogical details.

fah_canadianIn genealogy, as in many disciplines, it is important to be systematic, bearing this in mind I have decided to produce a series of blog posts introducing novice genealogists to specific French-Canadian document-sets, databases, and resources available online.  The hobbiest must understand that genealogical research should venture beyond sites such as Ancestry and Family Search.  Seasoned researchers, especially those who began their research prior to the onslaught of the internet, focus much of their research deep within the stacks of the archives.  Visiting an archive in person is always preferable but today we are lucky to find more and more archives are updating their websites with digital databases, many including images of original documents.

I am planning a series of blog posts regarding specific French-Canadian records and collections available online for those who are newly venturing into French-Canadian research.  Today I will focus on the early Quebec census records which should represent a wonderful starting point for those struggling with the other language-rich French-Canadian sources we will later explore.

The Library and Archives of Canada website is just one place you can access some wonderful online digital databases.  A particular favourite of mine is that of the 1666 Quebec Census which is not indexed but is a collection of browse-able images.  While they may be rather difficult at times to decipher there are some decent online transcriptions which can be used to help you as you work through the originals.  One of these transcriptions can be found on Hugh Armstrong’s Genealogy Site.  The transcriptions are divided by region so you must be sure to match up the correct region to the correct portion of the original census.


Sample page from the 1666 Quebec Census

You will also find the 1667  and 1681 Quebec Census record images.  All these early census records include the names of all household members and ages.  The 1666 census also includes occupations or descriptors.  These records as you should expect are in French however the nature of the census as a listing of names and ages makes them easily comprehensible to even those with little experience of the French language.  They are a fabulous starting point for those breaking into the realm of French-Canadian research.

Some helpful vocabulary you may encounter in the 1666 Census:

travaillant ~ labourer                         Cordonnier ~ shoemaker   macon ~ builder                           charpentier  ~ carpenter                   menuisier ~ carpenter        fils ~ son                                      Sa femme ~ wife                                  habittant ~ settler                boulanger ~ baker       chapellier ~ bricklayer                      fille ~ daughter                      briquetier ~ bricklayer           Domestique Engaigé ~ Domestic    notaire ~ notary

These are just a few words you may encounter.  Use Google translate or go “old school” as I often do and invest in a French-English dictionary.

I look forward to delving further into the topic of French-Canadian online resources, including collections from Bibliotheque et Archives Nationales du Quebec (BANQ), in future blog posts!


Exploring the lives of First Nations’ Ancestors Through Investigations of Social History!


If, like me, you have been lucky enough to discover you have First Nations’ ancestry you may soon after feel somewhat unlucky when you find that the records we rely on as Genealogists quickly dry up!  As we start to wall up that family line one brick at a time we should step back and rethink.  Is there no way to combat this scarcity of documentation?  How do we as Genealogists and Family Historians handle cultures which thrived on oral tradition rather than written records?

As an archaeologist and history researcher I can assure you that the scarcity of records proving the life events of your individual ancestors does not have to represent a research wall but rather a unique research opportunity.  Once the usual records dry up remove that first brick by discovering what other post-contact documents may exist.

huron-missionsMy 8th Great Grandmother was Huron or Wendat (Wyandot).  The Wendat people no longer exist as a nation.  They were drastically reduced as a result of European introduced disease, and Iroquoian attacks.  Those who survived were often assimilated into the other Iroquoian nations.  I encountered my 8th Great Grandmother through the Roman Catholic Church parish records (Drouin collection).  She had married my French Canadian 8th Great Grandfather and was described as a “Huron”.  Her parents were named as was her birth place in a Huron mission in the “land of the Huron” now part of Ontario.  While these parish records would seemingly represent the end of the research road they were not.

The Huron missions were the purview of the Jesuits who were prolific writers, journaling and writing letters detailing their experiences.  The Jesuit Relations and Allied Documents provide an amazing source of documentation and social history.  Though written from a European perspective a picture of life can be painted.  An interesting aside to always consider is regarding the perspective and worldview of documents created during colonization and their pitfalls.  Dr. Sarah Nickel has touched on this problem in an interesting presentation entitled, Revealing Indigenous Histories Through Oral Interviews.

le_grand_voyage_du_pays_des_hurons_1632_gabriel_sagard Can one turn to Indigenous oral history interviews to discover the social histories of our ancestors?  It is possible, though the value of these oral histories may fade the further you venture into the past.  If ones researching First Nations ancestors in more recent generations the options are more varied and available.

In the case of my Huron ancestors few records exist beyond those involving my 8th Great Grandmother.  While she can be found in parish and notary records her parents were only names appearing on her marriage record.  It was through the Jesuit Relations that I found one mention of her father.  A stroke of luck!  To fill in any further gaps I was reliant upon sources of social history to understand the Huron world of the 1600s and before, the world of my ancestors–context!

History books, ethnographies, dictionaries/linguistic studies, archaeological reports are all examples of pre and post contact sources of helpful contextual information.  Having worked on a pre-contact Huron archaeological site in Ontario I was already a step ahead in my understanding but here is a list of reading I discovered:

“From Mother to Son: The Selected Letters of Marie de l’Incarnation to Claude Martin” or “Word from New France: The Selected Letters of Marie de L’Incarnation to Claude Martin”Words of the Huron by John Steckley
The Children of Aataentsic by Bruce Trigger
An Ethnography of the Huron Indians, 1615-1649 by Elisabeth Tooker
The Death and Afterlife of the North American Martyrs by Emma Anderson
Huronia by Conrad Heidenreich
Huron Wendat: The Heritage of the Circle by Georges Sioui

Many of you who were previously unaware of your First Nations heritage will likely have Metis ancestors.  Compilations particularly of French-Canadian and First Nations marriages exist and can also prove useful.  If they have been sourced, all the better!

  • First Metis Families of Quebec Series by Gail Morin

Metis documentation is perhaps easier to find, most specifically in the prairies.  Metis are of mixed Aboriginal and European heritage.  The government wishing to expand in the west used scrip to extinguish the aboriginal land title of Metis peoples.  Métis Scrip Records can be found in the Library and Archives of Canada collection.  Other excellent prairie Metis record databases and collections can be found at Glenbow Library and Archives, The Hudson’s Bay Company Archives, and Provincial Archives of Saskatchewan.

perles_christi_belcourtWe must remember that First Nations is meant to indicate a multitude of indigenous nations.  As a first step attempt to determine which nation to which your ancestor belongs.  It is this knowledge which will provide a starting point when determining available sources.  What region of Canada might your ancestor have lived in? In what treaty area?  Consider the time frame.  Then begin!  Research the particular First Nation through history books and ethnographies to determine what was happening during the period of interest and perhaps what documentation might be relevant.

Library and Archives Canada has several collections which could be useful and provides a Guide to Researching your Aboriginal Genealogy at LAC.  Of particular interest to those researching more recent generations might be the registers which start around 1951, Treaty Annuity Pay Lists 1850-1982, and Residential school records.

Other wonderful sites which may provide you with valuable resources:

  • Our Legacy
  • Canadiana (which is unfortunately a subscription site but one can browse the collection titles before subscribing)

2_huron-villageLook to archaeology reports to gain a greater understanding of the life of your ancestors pre-contact.  Archaeological societies exist for most provinces and publish regular journals.   Here are two examples of archaeological reports from a Huron site I once worked on:

Finally, think outside the box by reading well researched fiction for a broad feel of the period and the culture.  Keep in mind it is fiction!  A wonderful example would be The Orenda by Joseph Boyden. Explore historic sites, cultural centres, and museums dedicated to First Nations history.

Remember, the end of the “usual” records we as Genealogists tend to rely on does not necessarily signal a brick wall.  If a wall exists perhaps we can, at the very least, build a window through which we can view the possibilities of the more distant past!


Surname Saturday ~ Rivard “dit” Loranger, “dit” Lavigne….”dit”…”dit”…

Tourouvre, Normandy, France

Tourouvre, Normandy, France

Studying genealogy crosses into uncharted cultural territory on occasion and it is extremely important that one understand nuances of that culture’s history in order to be effective in one’s research.  Though I am a smattering of this and that culturally climbing out on my maternal branches, on my paternal line I am always climbing out of a French-Canadian limb (well with a First Nations twig or two)!

I make the French-Canadian distinction based on my family’s long history in the new world.  Since the 1500s and 1600s my ancestors have been clearing and plowing, portaging and trapping, trading and building, and–let’s face facts–fraternizing and procreating in the land they called New France!  Prior to their lives here in Canada the majority of my paternal ancestors trace their origins back to Normandy, France.

One of the Rivard homes in Tourouvre, Normandy, France (Quite rundown in these more recent photos)

One of the Rivard homes in Tourouvre, Normandy, France (Quite rundown in these more recent photos)

French-Canadian genealogy can be both challenging but also extremely rewarding.  The records available to French-Canadian family historians abound thanks to the diligent record keeping of the Roman Catholic Church however if one is not familiar with the cultural anomaly of the “dit” name then all hope is lost!

When I began my research I knew that the surname Loranger had at some point in history been changed from the surname Rivard.  This was how it had been explained to me by family members.  It wasn’t until I encountered the transition between names that I was confronted with the “dit” name and the change in name became clear.

“Dit” is a form of the French verb “dire” which means “to say or tell”.  In this instance it means “said” as in “said individual”.  The “dit” name–as we have termed it–is in a loose sense a  sort of nickname or alias.  In actuality, it is more similar to the Scottish and their clan names, meant to make the distinction between various branches of a family line.  Truly there are many origins to the dit names used in French Canada and the explanations are almost as varied as the names themselves. Many were originally the “nom de guerre”, a troop name grouping military members, the origins of others truly did approach the origns of nicknames–names based on an aspect of appearance, or based on the place from which the family came.  In the case of the dit name Loranger it is said that perhaps it referred to a supporter of William the Orange but more likely a reference to red hair!  In later years the original surname was often dropped to be replaced by the “dit” name or the “dit” name was simply dropped by others.

Regardless of the origins and understanding of the “dit” name as long as one is aware of their existence there are now very helpful charts to decipher the puzzle of connecting one name to another!

Names of Canadiens baptized in St. Aubin, Tourouvre, France

Names of Canadiens baptized in St. Aubin, Tourouvre, France

My name Loranger was the dit name of my 8th Great-Grandfather, Robert Rivard dit Loranger, the youngest son of Pierre-Nicholas Rivard and Jeanne Mullard of Tourouvre, Orne, Basse-Normandie, France.  Robert Rivard dit Loranger arrived in New France/Canada in 1662 at the age of 24. He was granted land and he married Madeleine Guillet, the 14 year old daughter of a Filles-du-Roi, in 1663.  Madeleine also happened to be his brother’s niece. Robert and Madeleine had 13 children.

Robert had followed his older brother Nicholas Rivard dit LaVigne, already arrived in New France in 1648, and who–in a confusing web of family connections–is also my 8th Great-Grandfather. Robert and Nicholas were both landowners in New France but Robert was not one to sit still.  He cleared land in half to time of others and decided to venture into the fur trade. First signing with the “Company of the North” in 1689 at the age of 50 he decided to partner with friends and relations in 1695 to create their own fur trading business known as the “Compagnie Royale”.

Nicholas Rivard dit Lavigne had been a captain in the militia in Cap-de-la-Madeleine, Quebec. Nicholas Rivard dit Lavigne`s dit name referred to his title “Sieur de La Vigne” after his mother’s property “Clos de La Vigne” in Tourouvre, France. A road sign marks the location of this property today.

Sign today marking the Tourouvre Property of Jeanne Mullard.

Sign today marking the Tourouvre Property of Jeanne Mullard.

I have to fight the urge to run off on a tangent here describing the exploits of these amazing men and their families but I am losing sight of the focus: Surnames!  While several descendants of Robert Rivard dit Loranger carried on the Loranger dit name and then eventually dropped Rivard, others introduced new dit names which were adopted as surnames, and–as though things weren’t confused enough– still others kept the original Rivard surname.  The descendants of Robert Rivard hold the names: Rivard, Loranger, Feuilleverte, Bellefeuille, Despres, Montendre, and Maisonville.  The descendants of Nicholas Rivard now may hold the surnames: Rivard, Lavigne, Lacoursiere, Lanouette, Preville, LaGlanderie, Dufresne, and Giasson.

If you are of French-Canadian origin and bear any of the above surnames then “Salut! Mes Cousins!”  It’s a pleasure to make your acquaintance!
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New CBC Series X Company Reveals Canada’s Exciting WWII Spy Secrets

Ian Fleming Creator of James Bond

Ian Fleming Creator of James Bond (Image by Paul Baack)

I am a history buff and as a Canadian I challenge myself to constantly increase my knowledge of Canada’s amazingly under- rated history.  Admittedly, I am still pitifully uninformed regarding so many subjects and thankfully popular culture can occasionally bring a subject to light of which I was previously unaware.  Thus was the case with the new CBC television series “X Company” which aired Wednesday night!  Now I never rely on popular culture and television historical dramas to be completely accurate nor representational but I do take the true life subject matter and run off to the usual research tools like Google!

Sir William Stephenson 1942

Sir William Stephenson 1942

The subject of this series is that of Camp X which was located in Whitby, Ontario and existed as a training school for spies during WWII. Opened in 1941 this camp had British, Canadian, and American connections.  It was established by the British Security Coordination and a Canadian, Sir William Stevenson.  The US was not yet involved officially but Stevenson was a link between the British Prime Minister Winston Churchill and US president Franklin Roosevelt. US agents were trained at this facility after the US, as were allied agents from Britain and Canada.

Camp X  1943

Camp X

Famous names associated with Camp X included the children’s writer Roald Dahl, and it is rumoured that Camp X inspired Ian Fleming’s James Bond novels.  Probably one of the most interesting features of Camp X was a telecommunications system known as “Hydra”.  It was a sophisticated system used to code and decode transmissions and provided a perfect location for safe and direct communications top and from the UK and the US.

Trained in silent killing, weaponry, explosives use, recruitment of people to the resistance, morse code, map reading and the like agents were dispatched to perform various special tasks and missions based on their skill levels.

The Camp X Official Website has amazing information and if you had a relative involved in Special Ops during WWII it may be worth contacting the website providers for further information!  You may discover your ancestor was a WWII spy trained at this very camp!  There are some amazing anecdotes on this site from a former spy and photographs.  A quote from the website suggests most of the documents regarding the activities of Camp X and their WWII agents were destroyed but the website author, Lynn Philip Hodgson, has written a book “Inside Camp X” from research compiled from numerous interview!

Other books by Lynn Philip Hodgson are listed on the official Camp X website but also try reading “The Man Called Intrepid” by William Stevenson.  My son also enjoyed the novel for young adults “Camp X” by Eric Walters.
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