Military Records Research: Pay Attention to the Details


Genealogical research is funny. Overlooking the smallest, insignificant details can insert unintended road blocks into continuing down a valid pathway. With my family (which, I suppose isn’t too different from most families), there are so many branches of the tree to pursue which demands a lot of time spent down in the details. One little detail that I overlooked, kept me guessing on and off for over a year.

In July of 2012, I requested and obtained the WWI Canadian Expeditionary Forces (CEF) service records for my maternal grandmother’s father after making an Ancestry.com discovery of his military attestation record (his service was unknown to my family). Having served in the U.S. military, I am rather familiar with acronyms and terminology that is prevalent across multiple branches of the armed forces. In reviewing my great-grandfather’s CEF records, I began to realize that a fair amount of the documentation was difficult to discern, so much so that I found myself focusing more on the terms I did know and overlooking those that I was unfamiliar with.

Discharge Reason

Unfamiliar with the any of the Canadian military information, “Special Case” was very nebulous. Without an understanding of the references listed here, I was left guessing as to what this meant.

In examining the rather thin record, I found that my great-grandfather had been called up and was inducted on April 22, 1918 and was discharged on May 6, 1918 after just 15 days of service in the Canadian Army.  The discharge certificate reads: “Discharge from the service by reason of ‘Special Case’ Authority Routine Order No. 180 dated 3-2-13. D.C.C. 11 M.D. 99-4-113-13.” This reason was found on several of the pages of his out-processing so from there, I made assumptions and ignored some of the other, more detailed data.  I figured that he might have had a medical condition (note the “M.D.” in the above typed reason) or, perhaps there was a family hardship. Either way, he served slightly more than two weeks prior to being discharged.

Maritime Uniform

The question: If he was drafted into the Army (CEF), then why is he wearing a maritime uniform?

A few years ago, my mother presented me with a box full of snapshots and photographs to scan (which I am slowly working on…when I have the time) in an effort to make them available to whoever in the family desires. One of the pictures caught my attention about the time I received my grandfather’s CEF records. The photo was a framed enlargement (from a snapshot) that showed my great-grandfather in a maritime uniform that was clearly Canadian (or British, even). My exposure to anything Canadian maritime was limited to lifting a few cans of Molson aboard a Canadian Destroyer in Pearl Harbor and riding the British Columbia Ferries to Vancouver Island. Translation: I know next-to-nil about Canadian uniforms (military or civil). Looking at my great-grandfather, I was left guessing.

The perplexing part of this story was that the uniform was maritime rather than Army (the CEF Army uniforms were very similar to the American Expeditionary Forces Army uniforms). Needless to say, I was entirely in the dark. Why was a two-week army veteran wearing a clearly non-army uniform?  Since last year, the photo has been displayed on a table in our living room inspiring questions from family and guests as to the subject and the uniform in question.

In researching another relative who served in the CEF, I finally decided to reach out to experts to see if someone could enlighten me as my uninformed searches over the last year yielded zero positive results. On Tuesday of this week, I posted the images to a Canadian militaria collector’s forum and sent them to the Canadian Navy League. Today, I received word that the uniform is that of a Canadian naval petty officer first or second class. Thankful for the confirmation, I was still left guessing as to why my ancestor was wearing a navy uniform when he served in the army.

Cause of discharge: t Join the Royal Naval Canadian Volunteer Reserve

The cause of discharge as listed on this page that was deeper into the records documents was entirely overlooked. “To join R.N.C.V.R. was left hidden until today.

I scanned the Canadian Archives site to determine the next approach to see if I would be able to request records of my great-grandfather’s naval service (if they actually exist).  None of the information stood out to me so I decided to take another peek at the CEF records that I already had.  As I skimmed through each page, I kept seeing the same reference to the reason for discharge. A few pages deeper, something leapt off the page: “Cause of Discharge – to join R.N.C.V.R.”  One simple Google search and I had it nailed. My great grandfather left the Army to join the Royal Naval Canadian Volunteer Reserve.

Armed with this information, I can now pursue (and hopefully be successful) my great grandfather’s naval reserve service records. Clearly he served long enough to advance to petty officer 2nd or 1st class in a short period of time. By October of 1922, my great grandfather and his bride emigrated to the United States and settled in what would become, my hometown. Less than ten years later, he would pass away leaving behind two young daughters and his widow. Any inkling of his wartime service was lost to the ages, leaving me to discover it more than 90 years later.

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Posted on November 8, 2013, in Headwear | Helmets, Insignia and Devices, Other Militaria, Rates and Ranks, Uniforms, World War I and tagged , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 4 Comments.

  1. M. S. Hennessy, what an excellent lesson in military research!!! Now you have more than a Molson’s in Canadian exposure! I’m in Japan right now but will return on Veteran’s Day… Great stuff!

    • Koji,

      I wouldn’t mind an occasional Molson to refresh me after hitting a few dead ends with research. I have a lengthy list of ancestors and relatives who donned the uniform under the Maple Leaf (or l’Unifolié for you Québécois) that will be fun to document and include in my every increasing list of family military biographical narratives.

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