Sunday, January 8, 2012

Researching The Oxford Rifles

Occasionally I receive requests for information such as the one below. I thought that I would outline how I would go about researching a military ancestor, or for that matter a military unit. I am a historian with a strong interest in genealogy, not the other way around, so my methods might well be a little different that that used by others.

“As I have been researching my great grandfather Vernon Graham I came across your site. He was in the Oxford Rifles abt 1865-66 and I think must have been part of the Fenian Raids. Could you please direct me as to where I would go to get records.? He is also listed as to being in the Woodstock Volunteer Rifles under Col Light. Your help would be much appreciated”

Oxford County volunteer militias date back to 1798. The Oxford Rifles were organized on 14 August 1863 by amalgamating the existing independent militia companies. The regiment did serve in the Niagara during the Fenian Raids, but arrived too late to participate in the Battle of Ridgeway.

I suspect from the little information I have that Vernon Graham was from Woodstock (I have been proven wrong before; however, most of the companies of any militia regiment are based on other towns or villages in the county). The first place that I would go to is the 1861 Canada Census to verify that Woodstock was indeed his home city. Here is useful if you have access to the Library edition as it is free to use. If not the local library should have microfilm copies of the Canada Census’s.

The next step is to find copies of the pay books of the Oxford Rifles. For this period there is no equivalent of the World War One battalion diaries. Here a visit to the Woodstock City Museum might well pay off. They should have a copy of “Pay list of Oxford Rifles Militia 1865-1868: & record of officers 1907-1927”, Ontario Genealogical Society, Oxford County Branch, 1980. If you have no luck here then Library and Archives Canada have microfilmed “Nominal Rolls and paylists for the Volunteer Militia-22nd. Regiment, Oxford rifles”, Microfilm reel T-16577. I have not yet seen this microfilm so I can not attest as to what information is there. In any paylists the most you can expect is a list of names with pay and signatures. However, those who were involved in the Fenian Raids will be listed in a separate paylist. If you find his name and signature you can positively say that he was there.

Library and Archives Canada’s online medal registry rolls is a hit and miss affair for this period. The Fenian Raid medal was issued over 30 years after the event, and only sent if the veteran requested it. But you might get lucky !

Local newspapers are not online; however, most (if they survived) are on microfilm. The University of Western Ontario holds a wonderful collection of microfilmed newspapers. I have found that local libraries tend to have copies of the microfilms of their own local papers in house. The wonderful thing about the papers of that era is their rather gossipy way of listing every soldier who participated in any event in their community.

There have been some previous writing on the Oxford Rifles. Philip MacQuarrie, “For God and home: a history of the Oxford Rifles 1798-1954”, Woodstock Museum 1998. Herbert Miles, “A story of the Oxford Rifles, 1798-1954”, Oxford Museum 1974.One would assume that these booklets are in the Oxford Museum.

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