Monday, December 17, 2007

Unlocking My Own Family’s Past Part I

My love for history has reached far beyond the classroom ever since I was a little girl, besides excitedly attending every museum my parents would take me to, I clearly remember how proud and intrigued I became as I learned that my great-grandpa, John William Everrett, had fought in World War One. My poppa, John Randall Everrett, who although named after his dad, had very little to tell me about my great-grandpa’s war time experience; when my poppa was only five years old, he had lost his father to cancer, and had always suspected that he had gotten sick from the horrible work conditions he was exposed to as successful mechanic in downtown Montreal. What my poppa did know was that John William was born in England, later moved to Canada, and had eagerly signed up to serve in the Great War. He had had the dangerous job of driving around Europe delivering messages to the front. My poppa also had a small container that was filled with the buttons, pins, and patches from his father’s wartime uniform, which he gave to me this November for my birthday, so that I can be the caretaker of our family’s history.

Until recently, I had to be satisfied with the very little I knew about his wartime experiences. This changed when one of my archive assignments required me to make a reference tool for people trying to find their relatives' war time records (I have included this at the bottom of this blog). I learned that Library and Archives Canada (LAC) has a webpage called "Soldiers of the First World War- CEF Search" where you can look up relatives’ attestation papers, which are the forms that prospective soldiers had to fill out before being admitted to the Canadian Expeditionary Force (CEF). I quickly found John William, and using my own reference tool, ordered my great-grandpa’s full records.

I had the records sent to my parents' house, and they were waiting for me Friday night when I arrived home for Christmas Holidays. Upon reading them I found that although John William never received any medals or awards, he had an impeccable record as a soldier, and served his country well. I also learned through his medical records that while serving he was hit with Mustard Gas, which further deteriorated his already bad eye sight. Through further research, I realized that mustard gas also attacks the DNA, which often leads to cancer. This means that it might not only have been my great-grandpa’s job that made him sick, but that John William’s death was yet another casualty of the Great War.

This Christmas I am giving my poppa his father’s wartime records, in the hopes that they illuminate parts of his father’s past that my poppa never had the opportunity to ask him about.

How to Find the Records of Canadian Relatives who participated in World War I’s Armed Forces

Attestation Papers: Attestation Papers are the papers that prospective soldiers had to fill out before being admitted to the Canadian Over-Seas Expeditionary Force (CEF).

Search for your relatives attestation form at:


Full Record: once you find the attestation form, you have to mail or fax the National Archives of Canada for the full record.

  1. For help completing this process go to: <>
  2. Click “how to order a copy of the complete service file” which will explain the whole procedure and the information to include in your letter
  3. The letter should then be mailed or faxed to:

ATIP and Personnel Records Division
Library and Archives Canada
395 Wellington Street
Ottawa, ON K1A 0N4
Fax: 613-947-8456

The Canadian Virtual War Memorial: this website contains the memorials and gravesites of over 116,000 Canadians and Newfoundlanders who died in World War One. Search your relatives name and you can find information such as service number, pictures, newspaper clippings, page number in the World War One Book of Remembrance, and the burial site.

Search The Canadian Virtual War Memorial Website at:


Monday, December 10, 2007

The Long Tail: The Research Skills I Learned from Christmas Shopping

During the month of December insanity takes over, as people attempt to purchase gifts for both family and friends. I am no exception. In fact, I think that the madness of Christmas shopping has been inflicting me more since I started shopping online. My obsession with online shopping comes from something called “the long tail, which involves websites’ system of giving suggestions on books, DVDs, and various other products, that are based on the current purchase that is being made. Chris Anderson, who invented the term in his 2004 article "The Long Tail" in Wired magazine, explains that this system was created by companies like who use suggestions to lead customers to lesser known books. Anderson explains how this is changing all aspects of consumerist economy, stating:

This is not just a virtue of online booksellers; it is an example of an entirely new economic model for the media and entertainment industries, one that is just beginning to show its power. Unlimited selection is revealing truths about what consumers want and how they want to get it in service after service...People are going deep into the catalogue, down the long, long list of available titles, far past what's available at Blockbuster Video, Tower Records, and Barnes & Noble. And the more they find, the more they like.[i]

The long tail has affected my brother more than anyone else I know, allowing him to discover bands that would otherwise be virtually unknown. This consequently leads me on a frustrating, but extremely rewarding, online Christmas shopping journey to try to acquire merchandise for my brother. It seems that each year the bands that he sends me off to find are becoming more and more obscure.

However, the lessons I have learned from Christmas shopping, and in particular from my brother’s ability to unearth incredibly underrated bands, can also be applied to the way I do research. I have learned that when I find a good secondary source, I can simply search for it on, and see what other works that they can suggest. I have found that the suggestions not only recommend the important historical works on those topics that I must consult in order to present a thorough paper, but I also sometimes find little known published works. Therefore, the long tail is not only transforming the entertainment industry, it also has the potential to affect academia by bringing lesser known academic works into the hands of both amateur and professional historians alike.

[i] Anderson, Chris. “The Long Tail,” Wired 12, no. 10 (Oct 2004).