Overheard in GenForum: Looking for a WWI Veteran
While the first conscription act was passed during the Civil War, to say that it was welcomed would be an overstatement. In fact it was denounced as being un-American. However, by the time World War I broke out, it was accepted as a manner in which to raise an army. It is important to point out that only the Army had the draft. Those of our ancestors who were in the Navy or the Marines in the United States had volunteered to that branch of military service.
There were actually three draft registrations in 1917 and 1918:
In all there are some 24 million cards for men who registered for the draft. Keep in mind that if your ancestor voluntarily joined the Army, he will not be listed in the draft cards.
What Will the Draft Cards Tell You?
The World War I draft cards will not tell you about the parentage of your ancestor. They do supply you though with a number of valuable clues to your ancestor, including:
There is something exciting about locating your ancestor on these cards and discovering the color of their hair and eyes. The personal description also gives you an insight into how tall they were and their weight. While not supplying actual numbers, you can get a glimpse by finding out that your ancestor was tall and slim. On one of the cards I located recently, my ancestor was described as having a shortened right leg and that he was missing his right eye. I had not known anything about these infirmities until I read them on the card.
Accessing the Draft Cards
Up until the early 1990s the only place to find the draft registration cards was at the Atlanta Branch of the National Archives, located in East Point, Georgia. The complete set of microfilmed draft cards is available there. However, in the early 1990s, the Family History Library acquired copies of the over four thousand microfilms and you can now borrow them through your local Family History Center.
How Are the Cards Organized?
In order to search the draft cards, you must know, at the very least, the state and county where your ancestor would have registered. For those researching in the larger cities, such as New York City, Philadelphia, and San Francisco, there are many draft boards, and you will need to first locate your ancestor in a city directory to determine the street he was living on to better understand what board he would most likely have registered with.
Under each board, the cards are generally in alphabetical order. However, the states of Connecticut, Massachusetts, and Rhode Island have alphabetized the cards statewide.
The county of Westchester, New York had six registration boards. They are on six microfilm reels. It is likely you will not need to order all six as the alphabet for certain draft boards was spread over multiple films. To locate these films in the Family History Library Catalog, you will want to look under United States - Military Records, 1914-1919.
Aids for Large Cities
The reason for multiple draft boards in various areas can be traced to how the boards were set up. A board was established for a population of greater than 30,000. Therefore, the larger cities can have many draft boards. In fact, New York City has over 100 draft boards. To help in determining which draft board was the likely one visited by your ancestor in these larger cities, you will want to look at the draft board maps. There are maps for the following cities:
|Albany County, NY||Allegheny County, PA|
|Atlanta, GA||Baltimore, MD|
|Birmingham, AL||Boston, MA|
|Bridgeport, CT||Bronx, NY|
|Brooklyn, NY||Buffalo, NY|
|Chicago, IL||Cincinnati, OH|
|Cleveland, OH||Dallas, TX|
|Denver, CO||District of Columbia|
|Hartford, CT||Indianapolis, IN|
|Jersey City, NJ||Kansas City, MO|
|Los Angeles, CA||Louisville, KY|
|Luzerne County, PA||Manhattan, NY|
|Milwaukee, WI||Minneapolis, WI|
|New Haven, CT||New Orleans, LA|
|Philadelphia, PA||Pittsburgh, PA|
|Queens, NY||Reading, PA|
|Rensselaer County, NY||Richmond, NY|
|Rochester, NY||Saint Paul, MN|
|San Diego, CA||Schenectady, NY|
|Seattle, WA||Staten Island, NY|
|Syracuse, NY||Toledo, OH|
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