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Article Published December 11, 2004

Gordon A. Watts POST-1901 CENSUS NEWS (Canada)
By: Gordon A. Watts,

Greetings Readers, and Members of Parliament

Bill S-18

My last column was completely taken up with the announcement and content of Bill S-18 - An Act to Amend the Statistics Act and information directly related to it. Bill S-18 is a Government Senate Bill that was introduced to the Senate on 2 November 2004. It is the second Government Bill introduced to address the concerns of genealogists and historians that seek to regain public access to Historic Census records. For several years that access has been denied us simply because the Chief Statistician of Canada, Dr. Ivan P. Fellegi, refuses to return control of the records to the National Archivist.

Bill S-13 - the first effort of the Government to address those concerns, failed because of the conditions and restrictions that it would have imposed upon researchers. Bill S-13 was more concerned with restricting access to Historic Census records than it was in providing it. It is believed that an 'informed consent' clause it would have imposed on top of other conditions and restrictions played the largest part in its rejection by the people. No tears were shed when S-13 died on the Order Paper.

In announcing Bill S-18 in my last column I did so without making any editorial comment on its content. This was a deliberate action on my part as I wished to receive the comments of readers about the Bill without them being unduly influenced by my own comments.

We have now heard from a number of readers, although not from as many as might have been expected. Part of this is likely due to the fact that at the same time the announcement of Bill S-18 was made, a number of the Internet Mail Lists to which the announcement was posted were affected by a hard disk crash from which they are still recovering.

For the most part, comments regarding Bill S-18 have been positive. Some express concern regarding the 'informed consent' provision that is included. Most of those commenting wish to see Bill S-18 pass as speedily as possible so that they might continue their research.

Some ask why leaders of the Canada Census Committee, the Canadian Historical Society, and the Association of Canadian Archivists have committed to support Bill S-18 without seeking amendment to change or remove the 'informed consent' clause.

Let us state clearly, right up front, that no-one involved in the Census campaign wants to see an 'informed consent' clause included in any legislation related to access to Census records. We see no need for it. It should be sufficient to advise respondents that information provided to Census would remain confidential for the period specified by the Privacy Act , after which it would be made available to public access. However, before we start screaming "NO WAY" from the rooftops there are a number of things that must be considered.

First and foremost, Bill S-18 would give the same access to Census records from 1911 to 2001 that is currently available to records from 1666 to 1906. There would be no added conditions or restrictions such as those that would have been imposed by the now defunct Bill S-13. No requirement to commit to an undertaking; no twenty-year extension during which records might be accessed but information contained in them may not be disclosed to others; no penalties for violation of these conditions; and no difference between rules of access for genealogists or historians. This is exactly what we have been seeking for the past seven years.

S-18 includes one provision that no-one likes - an 'informed consent' provision to be applied to Censuses from 2006 and later. Government has not justified its inclusion - they simply state, "We want it". Our opposition to this provision is tempered slightly by another provision that would mandate a review of the effect of the 'informed consent' clause after two Censuses had been conducted under it. Senator Milne fought long and hard to see that this review provision would be included.

Prior to the introduction of S-18 a number of leaders of the Census campaign participated in a conference telephone call. We were given, in general terms, an indication of what the Bill might contain. We were advised that should we fight to amend or remove the 'informed consent' clause there is a very real chance that the government would withdraw the Bill entirely. We were told that the only way the government would consider the Bill at all was if it included the 'informed consent' clause. All parties to the conference call, some reluctantly, agreed to support the bill without seeking amendment to it.

We expect, and encourage, the Information Commissioner to continue with his action on our behalf in the Federal Courts. His action, however, is for the 1911 Census only, and if successful it would see the release of only the 1911 records. We thought the release of the 1906 Census records would set a precedent for the release of the 1911 and subsequent records but it obviously did not. Considering this, it is unlikely that a successful action by the IC for the 1911 records would set a precedent for later records either, particularly for those taken after 1918.

Assuming an action of the Information Commissioner was initiated today, tomorrow it could be stopped instantly, as was the case for his action re: the 1906 Census, simply by the government releasing the 1911 Census . In the meantime if we have actively campaigned to remove the 'informed consent' clause of Bill S-18 the government may have withdrawn the Bill. Alternately, sufficient MPs and Senators might have voted against it so that the Bill is defeated. The government could then take the position that we will never be satisfied with any 'solution' they come up with and may simply ignore any further representations from us regarding access to Census records.

At that time we would have regained access to the 1911 Census only, at the expense of losing access to the following 85 years of Historic Census records.

It will take some time, even if it is rushed through, for Bill S-18 to go through the hoops in the Senate and the House of Commons, to receive Royal Assent and then to be proclaimed into law. It will also take time, quite likely more time than that needed for Bill S-18 to be processed, for the action by the Information Commissioner to be initiated and to go through to completion in the Courts. If the action of the IC could be sped up in some way, we would encourage that to be done.

A suggestion was made that we might reject the informed consent clause and if the government withdrew the Bill we could try again in eight or so years with a different government. This is of course a possibility, however there is no guarantee that a government of the future would be much, or any different than what we have today.

It has now taken seven years for us to reach the point in our campaign that we are at today. Starting over in 8 years it could once again take seven or more years to reach the same point where we are today -- another 15 or 16 or more years in total. By that time chances are that many of us may not be around to be able to access the Census. By that time also it might have been so long since a Census had been released that many might simply have become resigned to the fact that they would never again see another Census accessible.

We can likely expect the Information Commissioner to protest inclusion of an 'informed consent' clause in Bill S-18. Some MPs, because of our past representations may do likewise. However, before we actively campaign to remove the 'informed consent' clause from Bill S-18, even though it gives us everything else we have fought for, we must give it very serious thought. We could be "cutting off our nose to spite our face". We could end up losing it all.

As stated earlier, leaders of the Census campaign have committed to support Bill S-18 without seeking amendment to it. That does not prevent us, however, from pointing out the many problems inherent with an 'informed consent' clause for use when that clause is reviewed after two Censuses have been conducted under it. I have dealt with many of those problems in previous columns when dealing with Bill S-13 so will not repeat them again here.

Latter Day Saints support Bill S-18

The following extract of a letter sent from the Genealogical Society of Utah to Industry Minister David Emerson is self-explanatory. It is copied here with permission.

November 23, 2004

The Honourable David Emerson
Minister of Industry
5th Floor, West Tower
C.D. Howe Building
235 Queen Street
Ottawa, Ontario K1A 0H5

RE: Support for Release of Census information

Dear Minister Emerson:

This letter is to express the support of the Genealogical Society of Utah ("GSU") for the passage of S-18, the Senate bill that would make Canadian census information available to family historians 92 years after collection.

GSU is affiliated with The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, which operates the largest family history library in the world located in Salt Lake City, Utah, U.S.A. The library's purpose is to provide access to recorded genealogical data for use by family historians, genealogists, and other who have a legitimate interest in such information. Open to the public at no charge, the library has over 4,000 branches (called Family History Centers) in 88 countries, including 154 Family History Centers in Canada. It is estimated that Family History Centers in Canada serve approximately 172,000 Canadian citizens annually.

As you are keenly aware, census records are in important source of information to historians and genealogists, providing such information as names, birth dates, country of origin, occupations, and other valuable information. GSU supports the release of census information to allow interested persons to trace their heritage and believes that release of such information 92 years after its collection provides adequate privacy protection.

GSU is concerned about the informed consent provision in subsection 18.1(2) that would apply to the 2006 and 2011 censuses. GSU notes, however, that, pursuant to the terms of S-18, the informed consent provision will be re-evaluated after 2011. Because of its detrimental impact on the historical and heritage value of census records, GSU respectfully suggests the removal of the informed consent clause at that time.

Notwithstanding this concern, recognizing the sincere efforts by the interested constituencies that have resulted in S-18, GSU reiterates its support for S-18. GSU further expresses its sincere appreciation to you and Senator Lorna Milne for this initiative to make census information available to the public.

Thank you very much for your consideration.



Wayne J. Metcalfe
Vice President

Cc: The Right Honourable Paul Martin
The Honourable Liza Frulla
Senator Lorna Milne

Canadian Historical Association supports S-18

Terry Cook of the Department of History, University of Manitoba presents the position of the Canadian Historical Association on Bill S-18.

Release of the Historical Censuses: Bill S-18
Background and Official Position of the Canadian Historical Association
On 2 November 2004, the Government of Canada tabled Bill S-18 in the Senate to amend the Statistics Act , and thereby release the historical censuses of Canada to researchers. This is a significant victory for historians, archivists, genealogists, and very much welcomed by the CHA.

The CHA has lobbied hard for almost a decade for the release of post-1901 historical censuses of Canada. Those for 1871 to 1901 have been under the control of Library and Archives Canada (LAC) for many years and, via widely diffused microfilm copies, used by many thousands of researchers without a single Privacy Act complaint being filed. In its efforts to make the later censuses available to researchers, the CHA is not looking for any special privileges or concessions; it has long recognized and supported the need for a balance in public policy between the right to access government information and the right to the protection (for a period of time) of sensitive personal information found in such records.

The principal issues precluding the release of the post-1901 censuses on the same basis as their predecessors were twofold: 1) an alleged promise of "confidentiality" made to Canadians by early census takers (never proven, nor supported by documentation); and 2) an alleged ambiguity in the wording of the 1918 Statistics Act regarding the release of all subsequent censuses. Statistics Canada (StatsCan) has taken the firm position that improper release of historical censuses, in light of these two alleged factors, would break faith with Canadians and consequently undermine completion and accuracy rates in current census-taking. The CHA has addressed these and other claims in its past lobbying.

The CHA has presented briefs to Parliament; historians have testified before Parliamentary committees; articles have been written for the media; senators, MP's, and senior bureaucrats have been personally lobbied; Expert Panels informed; Access to Information Act requests made to uncover past practices; and letters sent to cabinet ministers. Much of this work has been carried on in partnership with the Association of Canadian Archivists (ACA), and in liaison with Canadian genealogists. Almost all this work for the CHA has been done by Bill Waiser (Saskatchewan), Chad Gaffield (Ottawa), and Terry Cook (Manitoba). As a result, the 1906 western census was released to the care and control of LAC in the past two years and made available to all researchers in Ottawa and via its web site around the world.

Major efforts were made last year by the CHA to respond to Senate Bill S-13, which addressed release of historical census data (1911-2001) and consent for release of all future censuses from 2006 onwards. The great champion of this cause is Senator Lorna Milne, who has heartily welcomed the CHA's input, and the CHA pays tribute to her long fight on our behalf. That bill, however, contained very serious flaws. Although the 1911 Census would have been released on the same basis as the 1871 to 1906 censuses (92 years after the census is taken, which is the formal regulation under the Privacy Act ), the censuses from 1921 to 2001 (that is, those following the allegedly restrictive clauses in the Statistics Act of 1918) would have been subject to an additional 20-year period (92 + 20) of only limited access and use, where one could consult, but could not publish, census return information, with a heavy archival bureaucratic control and overlay on researchers. (By way of comparison, it should be remembered that the United States has long made its census data available without restriction after 70 years.) Moreover, the threat was real that Canadians, following a single unhappy Australian precedent, could check a "consent" box to have their census return destroyed or made permanently inaccessible. The CHA, with the ACA, strongly opposed these clauses in a joint brief and personal testimony before the Senate Committee. Bill S-13 died with the election call.

Now Bill S-18 has been introduced. Insider reports suggest that the Government very much wants this issue resolved, without ambiguity, for past and future censuses, as it is tired of endless petitions and thousands and thousands of letters and e-mails (thanks to the genealogists!), and tired too of the internal bureaucratic squabbling, pitting StatsCan and the Privacy Commissioner on one side against the Access Commissioner and Library and Archives Canada on the other.

The Bill represents a compromise and is, we believe, the best possible deal obtainable at this time for historical researchers. Compared to the previous 2003 bill, Bill S-18 represents three significant victories for historians and one important setback or compromise:
    1) Release of the historical census data for 1911 immediately, on the same basis as the censuses of 1871 to 1906, through Library and Archives Canada (LAC) = a victory for CHA, although almost inevitable after the precedent of the release of the 1906 Western census.

    2) Release of all historical censuses from 1921 to 2001 on the same basis as 1871 to 1911. The clauses in the old Bill S-13 about a 20-year additional limbo period are gone, which would have been a research barrier and a bureaucratic nightmare for researchers and archivists = a major victory for the CHA, and not at all inevitable given the disputed interpretations of 1918 Statistics Act .

    3) Removing any mention or implication of citizens controlling the destruction (unlike the often-cited Australian precedent in 2001) of sensitive personal information they submit to government. The CHA fought against this very hard last time; if extended (as naturally it would be over time) across all government databases (think taxation, immigration, pensions, aboriginal registration, RCMP, and thousands of case-file series far more sensitive than the census), such a clause would destroy the possibility of "bottom up" social history research, and pull the Canadians out of Canadian history = an important CHA victory.

    4) The price or compromise for these victories is an opt-in clause for all censuses from 2006 onwards whereby Canadians indicate (as they do about being on the electoral list on their income tax form) whether they wish access to be allowed to their census form after 92 years: the form will be preserved (not destroyed -- see #3 above), but access denied. The default position (someone not checking the box) means no, and thus denial of access = a significant loss.
The CHA has argued in the past first for no consent clause at all, or, if forced to accept one, for an opt-out version (where the default no-answer position would mean access permitted). Modification has been explored in governmental and political circles, and there is no chance for change. Bill S-18 is the hard-fought compromise offer, as a package, all four points above, or none.

This pill is sweetened by two factors: 1) a promise in the bill sought by the CHA (see section 2) for a review of the operation of this clause by Parliament after two censuses have been taken (2006, 2011) in light of the results of how many Canadians decline access to their census record; and 2) a commitment by StatsCan (see the 2 November 2004 press release from its parent, Industry Canada) that "Statistics Canada, in conjunction with Library and Archives Canada, will, as part of the 2006 Census public communications campaign, encourage Canadians to allow future access to their census records to preserve Canada's history for future generations." The CHA and its members should join in that campaign.

The CHA has also made representations that the opt-in clause must be consistent with the best privacy practice of "informed consent" (which Industry Minister David Emerson champions). This means that the consequences of refusing consent be made clear to the citizen filling in the form; they are not just presented with a box to tick or not tick with only a bare explanation, but a box accompanied by a clear explanation that checking the box allows one's descendants, and the descendants of all others enumerated on the form, the ability to do family and genealogical research, and to have their family's experience be part of the accessible historical and archival record of the nation a long 92 years later, and thus part of Canadian history.

The CHA's President Gerry Friesen and Vice-President Margaret Conrad have carefully considered this compromise position on behalf of Council and members, in light of the past decade of struggle to gain access to the historical censuses. Despite hesitations in principle over any access clause for any government form, they conclude that there are major gains in law to be made for historians in Bill S-18. They have decided that the CHA accepts the compromise as presented in the bill and will not lobby as an organization against it, save for clear wording of the "informed consent" clause. The CHA will also monitor census returns for 2006 and 2011, in light of the consent results, and participate in the 2006 publicity campaign.

The CHA commends the bill to its members and hopes that they will support it as well.

Terry Cook
Archival Studies
Department of History
University of Manitoba

John English on secrecy vs. openness

The following article was published in the Kitchener-Waterloo Record Saturday 13 November 2004. Dr. John English is a former MP and Professor of History at the University of Waterloo. In 1998 he was commissioned by then Heritage Minister Sheila Copps to write a report on "The Role of The National Archives of Canada and The National Library of Canada". In that report he recommended making manuscript censuses available in their entirety after seventy years. His report, and recommendations contained therein played a major part in the combining of the National Archives and the National Library into what is now Library and Archives Canada.

Democracy thrives on openness, not secrecy

Canada's privacy legislation impedes citizens' access to government records

JOHN ENGLISH (Nov 13, 2004)

The instinct of government is to conceal: the damage to ships at Pearl Harbour, the medical state of Yasser Arafat, the military records of George W. Bush, or contracts with Quebec advertising firms. In some cases, concealment is justified, as in the case of personnel files of government employees or the operations of military equipment. Thus, the inquiry into the cause of a fire on a submarine may be justifiably closed, as a Halifax court recently ruled.

Democracy, however, thrives on openness but withers in secrecy.

In a dictatorship, mystery shrouds a leader. Leaders cloak themselves with ermine robes and shield themselves with imposing titles such as Marshal Stalin, Generalissimo Chiang Kai-Shek or Il Duce. Yet, as Dorothy discovered when she finally glimpsed the Wizard of Oz, emperors without clothes look less impressive than ordinary folks in Kansas.

In the '60s and early '70s, Kansans and Canadians followed Dorothy in demanding to know more about what their leaders and governments did. Traditionally, government records were closed for long periods: the British tradition was 50 years; the Papacy 500 years. Canada followed the British who reduced the period of closure to 30 years for nearly all government documents.

In the '70s, Watergate created an uproar that made the records of government more available. Canada and the United States passed freedom of information acts that promised that their citizens would have access to government papers, save those that were essential to national security or would expose personnel details.

Some records, notably cabinet discussions, were closed for a definite period. Otherwise, citizens gained the right to know how their government operated and gained access to the information their government gathered. Or did they?

Governments quickly took refuge in the national security clauses, but another factor played a greater role: the growing demands for "privacy" that came from lawyers and advocacy groups.

In response to these demands, Canada passed privacy legislation that greatly impeded access to government records. To complicate matters, the Canadian Parliament created a Privacy Commissioner and an Access to Information Commissioner. It appointed, to paraphrase Lord Durham, two commissioners warring within the bosom of a single Canadian state.

The result was more bureaucracy, higher costs and less access. The National Archives had to hire dozens of new employees to go through records to make certain not a whit of personal information or classified information was in a file before a student or a scholar could see it.

Once a student writing a master's thesis could go to Ottawa and expect documents in a week; now it takes months. A Carleton University student writing on the Commonwealth was denied access to files over 70 years old; the faintest whiff of personal details closed records permanently.

Information Commissioner John Reid has been the staunch ally of the student, the scholar and the citizen in resisting the instinct of government to conceal. Recent court decisions in which he fought government attempts to close diverse records have almost always gone in his favour.

His greatest battle, however, has been with another government official, Ivan Fellegi of Statistics Canada.

Fellegi has consistently resisted attempts by the National Archivist, historians and genealogists to gain access to Canada's census, an extraordinary source of detail on Canada's past. Canada's 19th-century censuses, which give detailed records of Canadians' origins, location, work and age, have been invaluable in constructing family trees and in understanding the social and economic development of the nation.

Rejecting the recommendations of the National Archivist, a special government committee, the Canadian Historical Association and John Reid, Fellegi refuses to allow scholars and others to gain access to the census of 1911.

He relies on a controversial interpretation of what the government said about confidentiality in 1911 and ignores the fact that there have been no complaints about the opening of earlier censuses.

A frustrated Reid has now threatened to use the courts to open the census. It's an opening shot in what will be a continuing war between the public's right to access and a state's instinct to conceal. In times like these, when war drums beat, the instinct to conceal grows, but so does the citizen's need to know.

The 1911 Census is a peculiar battleground, yet the principles matter to all of us. Like Dorothy, we have to know what's behind the curtain, otherwise fantasy triumphs over fact and the culture of concealment continues its malignant growth.

John English is an author and history professor at the University of Waterloo.

U.S. Surgeon General declares National Family History Day

Another good reason for the release of our Census records. If the American government is urging their citizens to do family history research, why doesn't Canada follow suit?

Source URL:

U.S. Surgeon General's Family History Initiative Health care professionals have known for a long time that common diseases - heart disease, cancer, and diabetes - and even rare diseases - like hemophilia, cystic fibrosis, and sickle cell anemia - can run in families. If one generation of a family has high blood pressure, it is not unusual for the next generation to have similarly high blood pressure.

Tracing the illnesses suffered by your parents, grandparents, and other blood relatives can help your doctor predict the disorders to which you may be at risk and take action to keep you and your family healthy.

To help focus attention on the importance of family health history, U.S. Surgeon General Richard H. Carmona, M.D., M.P.H., in cooperation with other agencies within the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) has launched a national public health campaign, called the U.S. Surgeon General's Family History Initiative, to encourage all American families to learn more about their family health history.

In addition to the Office of the Surgeon General, other HHS agencies involved in this project include the National Human Genome Research Institute (NHGRI), the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), the Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality (AHRQ), and the Health Resources and Services Administration (HRSA).

National Family History Day

Surgeon General Carmona has declared Thanksgiving 2004 to be the first annual National Family History Day. Thanksgiving is the traditional start of the holiday season for most Americans.

Whenever families gather, the Surgeon General encourages them to talk about, and to write down, the health problems that seem to run in their family. Learning about their family's health history may help ensure a longer future together.

My Family Health Portrait

Americans know that family history is important to health. A recent survey found that 96 percent of Americans believe that knowing their family history is important. Yet, the same survey found that only one-third of Americans have ever tried to gather and write down their family's health history.

Because family health history is such a powerful screening tool, the Surgeon General has created a new computerized tool to help make it fun and easy for anyone to create a sophisticated portrait of their family's health.

This new tool, called "My Family Health Portrait" can be downloaded [from] for free and installed on your own computer.

The tool will help you organize your family tree and help you identify common diseases that may run in your family.

When you are finished, the tool will create and print out a graphical representation of your family's generations and the health disorders that may have moved from one generation to the next. That is a powerful tool for predicting any illnesses for which you should be checked.

For information on other activities of the Office of the Surgeon General, please visit

British WWI service records going online

While not directly related to Census, the following press article will be of interest to many. It was received via an Internet mail list and did not indicate where it was published.

Churchill and Edward VIII's First World War service records to be posted on the Internet

By Chris Hastings, Media Correspondent
(Filed: 07/11/2004)

The military service records of Sir Winston Churchill and King Edward VIII are among five and a half million First World War documents which are to be made available online for the first time.

The Internet database, which has been established by the National Archives in Kew, is the first comprehensive roll of those who served in the Army and the Royal Flying Corps during the Great War. Records of those who served in the Royal Navy are not included, but may be in the future.

The database, which has taken 18 months to compile, will be a boost for researchers, historians and family genealogists who have previously found it difficult to trace even the most basic of military details.

Most of the available sources are restrictive either because they deal solely with officers or concentrate on those who lost their lives during the four-year campaign. There is also little information relating to millions of ordinary soldiers who returned to civilian life at the end of hostilities.

This problem has been compounded by the loss of millions of records during the Second World War. More than 60 per cent of service records were destroyed during German air raids on London in the 1940s.

The new archive, however, includes medal records that were kept separate from service records. It provides the first complete list of those who served, because all combatants were entitled to an honour of some description.

Members of the public logging on to the service will be able call up an index card which will provide a summary of an individual's rank, his regiment and regimental number, the first theatre of war in which he served and the list of medals awarded. Users will only have to know the name of the person they are looking for. Historians and genealogists say that even these basic details represent an important breakthrough.

Sue Gibbons, the librarian at the Society of Genealogists, said that it would be far more useful than existing sources - such as the National Roll of the Great War - which tended to be patchy and selective. "The scarcity of existing information means that people can often shy away from First World War military history because they think it is too complicated," she said.

"I think this is going to be a very useful tool precisely because existing sources tend to concentrate solely on officers or on those who lost their lives during the conflict. This will be a valuable resource for the millions of people whose relatives were not officers.

"These cards will fill gaps and provide vital clues. They will give the regimental and the service number, without which many people have found it very difficult to proceed. Those people who haven't got a picture of their loved one in uniform have often found it impossible to do the research because they simply have no idea what regiment they were in."

Ms Gibbons predicted that the National Archives should be prepared for a response similar to the one generated by its decision to put the 1901 census online in 2002. That site had to be taken offline for several weeks because of an unexpected large response from members of the public.

She urged those embarking on research to proceed with caution. "Researching the First World War can be a heartbreaking business and people should be prepared for bad news," she said. "They may discover that family they never knew they had were killed in the most horrifying of circumstances.

"The First World War is now so far away that people researching it have little knowledge of the events involved. If they had a clearer idea of what they might come across some people might not do it at all."

Nick Barratt, a family historian who acted as a consultant on the popular BBC2 series Who Do You Think You Are? in which 10 well-known people traced their own ancestry, said that the information would provide the crucial staring point for those researching the First World War.

"For the first time there will be a complete snapshot of those who served in the Great War," he said. "Armed with a person's service number and details of his regiment, people will then be able to cross-reference and explore dozens of other sources, such as regimental diaries and records kept by the Commonwealth Graves Commission."

Churchill's card, which refers to him as the Rt. Hon W L S Churchill, shows that he was commanding a battalion of the Royal Scots Fusiliers, when he entered France on November 18, 1915. He was a major in the Oxfordshire Hussars at the time he claimed his medals and he was awarded the 1914-15 Star and the British and Victory medals.

The card for the future Edward VIII, which lists him as HRH The Prince of Wales, shows that he first served as a lieutenant then as a major in the Grenadier Guards and that he entered France on November 16, 1914. He was awarded the 1914 Star and the British and Victory medals.

Other records include those of Siegfried Sassoon, the war poet and less well-known ones including Sidney Godley, who served as Private 13814 in the 4th Royal Fusiliers and was the first private to be awarded the Victoria Cross. There is also a listing for Walter Tull, the Army's first black officer who rose from the rank of corporal to second lieutenant. A former professional footballer, he was killed in action in 1918.

The collection is the most ambitious Internet project undertaken by the National Archives, which recently placed one million wills online. Helen Campbell, the archives' Internet marketing manager, said: "We expect the records to have international appeal because there are so many documents relating to Commonwealth military personnel. Previously people will have had to travel to Kew to access this information, now it can be retrieved from the comfort of their own home." Members of the public will be able to search the archive for free, but it will cost £3.50 to download each document.

The archive can be found on from Sunday, November 14.

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