The Belgian Researchers

World War I Draft Registration Cards: 1917-1918

Submitted by Beverly Bolton Hyde

The period of 1880-1920 was a high immigration period to the United States. With the loss of the 1890 U.S census records, the World War I Draft Registration Cards provide an oft overlooked resource to the approximately 24 million men living in the United States in the early twentieth-century.

On 6 April 1917, the United States declared war on Germany and officially entered the Great War. Six weeks later, on 18 May 1917, the Selective Service Act was passed, which authorized the president (then, Woodrow Wilson) to increase the military forces of the United States. As a result, every male living within the United States between the ages of 18 and 45 was required to register for the draft.

Over the next two years, approximately 98% of the men under the age of 46 regardless of their U.S. citizenship status filled out registration cards. Not all the men who registered actually served in the armed forces, and there were some who served in the war that did not register. Those already enlisted or in the reserves were exempt from registering.

Registration

 There were three registration dates:

First Registration. 5 June 1917
* Men aged 21 to 31 - those born between 6 June 1886 and 5 June 1896
This card (sometimes called the Twelve-Question card) asked for: name, age, address, date and place of birth, citizenship status, employer's name and address, dependent information, marital status, race, military service, and physical appearance.
Second Registration. 5 June 1918 / 24 August 1918
* Men aged 21 since previous registration - those born between 6 June 1896 and 5 June 1897
* Men who had not previously registered and were not already in the military also registered
* A supplemental registration on 24 August 1918, was for men who turned 21 since 5 June 1918.
This card (sometimes called the Ten-Question card) requested the following information: name, age, address, date and place of birth, father's birthplace, citizenship status, occupation, employer's name and address, dependent information, name and address of nearest relative, and physical appearance.
Third Registration 12 Sept 1918
* Men aged 18 to 21 and 31 to 45 - men born between 11 Sept 1872 and 12 Sept 1900.
This card (sometimes referred to as the Twenty-Question card) includes the name, address, age, date of birth, race, citizenship status, occupation, employer's name and address, name and address of nearest relative, and physical appearance.

The complete registration included men between the ages of 18 and 45 - males born between 1873 and 1900---who were not already in the military. Although the cards varied some from one registration to the next, all contained vital information and all carried (in most cases) the actual signature of the individual.

Access

Currently, you can access the registration cards in one of several ways:
* Ancestry.com has most of the states online with the remainder slated to come on in the near future. These can be viewed in local Family History Center libraries free of charge.
* The Family History Library (Salt Lake City) has them on microfilm categorized by state and county.
* Many State Library collections also have microfilm copies
* Microfilms can also be obtained through the National Archives regional branches
* The originals are housed in the National Archives in the Southeast Region located in Atlanta, Georgia.

Search Tips:
* Some Italian immigrants wrote their last names first, resulting in some cards being filed under first names. Also, cards of Hispanics may be filed under their mother's maiden name surname if the registrant gave both parents' surnames.
* Illiterate men were unable to spell their names and birth location, so you may need to be flexible when searching for specific names.
* If viewing microfilms, you are unable to find your ancestor, check the end of the alphabet. Some cards were misfiled and were added at the end of the filming.
* If a registrant was not living in his home town, he could register elsewhere and the card would be sent to his home draft board. In some rural counties, it may have been easier to travel to the bordering county to register and request that the registration be sent on to the actual county. Because it's possible that some registrations were never transferred, an individual's card may appear in a neighboring county or state.
* Non-citizens were required to register but were not subject to induction into the American military. So don't overlook this source for your non-citizen ancestors.

Tips for using Ancestry.com:
Have a blank copy on hand. When enlarged, the printing can become blurry and hard to distinguish -- use of the magnification option on the screen to enlarge the image will help.
Start your search with the least amount of information you can enter. Just remember the adage "sometimes less is more." You can always narrow down from there.
Wildcard searches can be conducted on the first name or last name (or both). Wildcard searches use the asterisk (*) as a stand in for any letter or number of letters.
By entering Carolina in the birthplace box, you would bring results for both North Carolina and South Carolina, or any birthplace containing the word "Carolina". This would be true with entering "Dakota" or "Virginia".
The card itself may be missing some obvious information. Remember that the transcribers are told not to "add" information to the card that is not there. Therefore, if a registrant listed "Chicago" for his birthplace, that is how it would show up on the index. If you were to try to find him by entering Illinois in the state field, he would not come up. If however, you were to put Chicago in the City field, he would.
Try different combinations: name & state; name & city; name & year; name & county; etc. You can search without a name. Play with the search fields and see what you can find.

In conclusion, give the World War I Draft Registration Cards a try. You may find the missing links to open the doors to your block walls. If not, at least you will get a better idea of what your ancestor was like.

Sources:
Eileen Polakoff. “World War I Draft Registration Cards.” Ancestry Magazine, Sep/Oct 2002,
Michael John Neill. “World War I Draft Registration Cards.” Ancestry Daily News, 12/26/2001,
Michael John Neill. “Searching the World War I Draft Cards.” Ancestry Daily News, 9/29/2004;