Note: this article has been replaced by an updated Nominal Rolls of the Canadian Expeditionary Force post.
A Nominal Roll is a list of the Officers, NCOs and Men who served in a unit of the CEF at a specific point in time. They were often compiled prior to a unit embarking for England and sometimes include embarkation information such as ship name, embarkation port and the date of sailing. A Nominal Roll usually lists a soldier’s Regimental Number, Rank, Name, Former Corps, Name of Next of Kin, Address of Next of Kin, Country of Birth, and both the place and date when they were “Taken On Strength”.
It’s important to note that units experienced continual and sometimes significant changes to personnel. Major battles resulted in huge numbers of casualties but so did “wastage“, a term used to describe the daily toll of soldiers wounded or killed by sniping and shelling. The never-ending need for reinforcements meant that Nominal Rolls had a very short shelf life.
Nominal Rolls can provide other interesting bits of information, such as who attested on the same day as your soldier. You may also find other relatives or even neighbours that joined the same battalion. Page 11 of the 148th Battalion Nominal Roll shows that brothers Matt and James Liddell lined up one behind the other at the recruiting office in Montreal.
A Nominal Roll may provide clues as to which company your soldier served in, although this too was highly subject to change. The First Canadian Contingent originally divided its battalions into eight lettered companies but were reorganized into four numbered companies on arrival in England. However if you can determine the company your soldier served in it will make reading war diaries all the more interesting.
Not every CEF Nominal Roll is available on-line however an impressive number are. The largest collection is hosted by the Canadian Expeditionary Force Study Group on its Matrix Project Nominal Rolls page. Many of the Nominal Rolls page are from Bob Richardson‘s impressive collection which he has generously made available to others. The CEF Study Group also provide an index to a second large collection of Nominal Rolls shared by Graham Stewart via the Internet Archive.
Another excellent source of information is Early Canadiana Online, a database of digitized historical documents which includes over 160 Nominal Rolls. You can search their database for free however you must subscribe to view and download documents. The cost is $10/month or $100/year, a not unreasonable charge considering the 1000+ World War 1 publications in their collection. This includes well over 50 trench newspapers, dozens of Militia lists and a long list of periodicals.
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