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You'll Be Amazed By What You Can Find Out About Your First World War Ancestors

08/11/2014 08:37 EDT | Updated 10/11/2014 05:59 EDT

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This month marks the 100th anniversary of the First World War. As we commemorate this momentous occasion there will no doubt be countless stories of struggle and honour and Canadians will continue to remember the sacrifices of the many soldiers who fought and died a century ago.

Or at least that's what I assumed, however a recent survey has revealed that 40 per cent of Canadians don't know what role Canada played in the First World War and eight per cent didn't know that Canada participated in the war at all. I was more than a little surprised by these findings because, as well as being such a significant global event, the Great War marked the moment when Canada came of age as a nation.

Despite so many Canadians being in the dark there are still many stories out there about the individuals who participated in the First World War in some way, whether by volunteering to go overseas or staying home and keeping hope alive. Digging into my own family tree I discovered the story of one woman, my husband's Great Aunt Dorothy Quantrill, better known as Dolly, who lived in England. She had written a letter which intrigued me because it contained some surprising information.

In the letter she describes meeting a young soldier referred to as "the Canadian", whose real name was Leslie Stuart Ricketts. At the time of the letter he was 21 years old and stationed in Milford Camp, Surrey.

My research led me to discover that Leslie and Dolly fell in love and were married in 1918. Sadly, only a year later Dolly caught the Spanish flu and quickly passed away. Naturally I wanted to find out more about this man who had married into my husband's family and also shared my first name.

Using Attestation Papers, the first document a soldier of the First World War would have signed when volunteering, I found Leslie Stuart Ricketts. The record contained his address and told me that he was actually born in Greenock, Scotland.

Leslie survived the war and when the fighting was over he travelled back to Canada -- now a widower -- and moved in with his brother.

What I found interesting about this story is that it's different from most love stories we hear about the war, typically featuring heartbroken women whose husbands are killed in battle. This was the opposite. Leslie Ricketts must have felt the bitter irony of surviving unimaginable conditions in the war only to lose his wife to the brutal Spanish Flu pandemic that followed.

As I dug deeper into this story I found someone had posted a family tree online featuring Leslie Ricketts but they didn't seem to have information on his first marriage. After connecting with this person on Ancestry.ca I learned that Ricketts was her grandfather. She had no idea Leslie had been married before so it was thrilling for us find each other. Online family trees are an amazing way to connect with other branches of your family and discover things about your ancestors you may not have known.

If you're interested in learning about your First World War ancestors -- or to discover if your ancestors participated in the Great War -- start by building your family tree online, or go to Ancestry's special portal for researching First World War records, www.ancestry.ca/cs/ca/world-war-1.

You'll be amazed at what you can find.

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