Canada’s Efforts at Handwriting Analysis

As I learn about blogging myself, I’m also learning about the ways to keep track of blogs created by others – when you “follow” a blog, you get notified when there is a new posting that has been made. The WordPress website that I’m using for this blog sends me an email about new postings from other people, and it also provides a link to the new posting in a section of my blog site that the public can’t see. Having my own little blog collection is handy.

I’ve become a big fan of The Library and Archives Canada (LAC), which is the source of the military service records for my grandfather and great uncle. They created a post about their efforts to make those records more accessible and searchable. Here’s the link to the summary of the project:

Step one that LAC is still working on is taking the hard copy of each World War I servicemember’s records and scanning each page into one PDF document per person. (One of the comments on the LAC blog post is from someone who is patiently waiting for LAC to get to the letter P so she can see her relative’s records; I’m glad my family name comes early in the alphabet!)

This blog post has a reference to another web page with more details about the project: . LAC took 1,000 sets of service records, searched for one page in each record (the “Medical Case Sheet”), crowd-sourced the project of typing up the info on each of those sheets, and then analyzed what kinds of illnesses & wounds that the servicemembers had. That’s a huge amount of work needed to get data from hand-written records!

Although they note that there are some slight problems with the numbers because they include stats for the same person suffering multiple medical issues (like getting shot more than once), they have good information for the first round of analysis. The medical issues for these 1,000 records break down as follows:

  • 101 incidents: Influenza & respiratory diseases
  • 54 incidents: Gunshot & shell wounds
  • 48 incidents: Measles, toothaches, etc.
  • 29 incidents: Shell shock [the modern term is Post Traumatic Stress]
  • 16 incidents: Venereal disease [I’m somehow relieved that my great uncle wasn’t the only one in this boat!]

I applaud the LAC for working to make the data contained in these old records more usable for modern research.


“Linked Open Data Sets for the First World War.” The Discover Blog. Library and Archives Canada. 27 February 2015. Web. 1 March 2015.

Warren, Robert. “Transcribed CEF Medical Files as Linked Open Data on the Canada Open Data Portal.” The Munin Project. 16 February 2015. Web. 1 March 2015.



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