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Overheard in GenForum: Eberleins in World War I
by Rhonda R. McClure

Each week Rhonda answers a question from the GenForum message boards and gives her expert answer here. We'd love to hear anything you have to add. Go ahead and leave your comments on GenForum with the original message.

September 02, 1999
See Rhonda's Previous Columns

Q: Have old picture of William Eberlein in a uniform. Looks old enough to be WW1 era. Many of us researching EBERLEIN together have that family name in Wisconsin and Southern Minnesota. None of us had family in Northern Minnesota that we know of. Would there have been a unit from the Bemidji area? If someone lived there, where would they have registered for the draft? Is there any web sites that list WW1 rosters? William's picture was in a box of old family pictures, but we don't know if or where he fits in the tree. Also have later pictures of him with a lady and her picture is labeled "Aunt Anna". Any one ever heard of William and Anna Eberlein? -- Skip

A: The World War I Draft Cards will be of use to you in this matter. Based on the laws of the time, all men who were aged 18 had to register for the draft in 1917 and in 1918 (with the upper age level changing for each of the three drafts that were held). These cards were available for a long time only at the Atlanta, Georgia branch of the National Archives. A few years ago though, they were microfilmed and are now available through the Family History Library and its Family History Centers.

It is important to keep in mind that these draft cards are not all encompassing. If the individual in question joined the army voluntarily, then they will not appear in these draft cards. Also, just because a person appears in the draft cards, does not guarantee that they were in the army. However, if you can find a person in the draft cards, it will supply you with some useful information.

Not all army personnel are listed in the draft cards index and not all people listed in the draft cards index were in the army.

Different Cards

There are actually two different formats to the cards used in the draft registration. The first card, used during the 1917s includes columns on the front of the card for the following:

  • Name
  • Home address
  • Date of birth
  • Citizenship
  • Birthplace
  • Occupation
  • By whom and where employed
  • Dependents (i.e., father, mother, child)
  • Marital Status and race
  • Prior military service
  • Reason requesting exemption from the draft

The back of the card asks for descriptions of:

  • Tall, medium or short
  • Color of eyes and hair and whether or not the individual was bald
  • Any disabilities such as lost limbs

The second card, used in 1918, had the following on the front page:

  • Name
  • Permanent home address
  • Age in years and birth date
  • Race
  • Citizenship
  • Occupation
  • Employers Name and place of employment
  • Name and address of nearest relative

The back of the 1918 card asked the same questions as that of the card used in 1917.

These cards can supply you with some very useful information. For those with ancestors born in the later 1800s, who may have lived in areas that were not yet requiring the recording of births, this may be one of the first clues to when and where your ancestor was born.

Finding Your Ancestor in the Index

There are over 4000 reels of microfilm that make up this index. In fact, a search revealed 94 reels for the state of Minnesota and 102 reels for the state of Wisconsin. However, you don't have to search through all of these reels.

It is important that you first determine the county of residence of the individual you wish to search for. Draft boards were set up for every 30,000 individuals. So there will be areas where a single draft board was sufficient. This is true of particularly rural areas. However, in the larger cities, it may have been necessary to have had five or ten draft boards. In some areas, like New York City, there were even more than this.

If your ancestor was living in a rural area, it is likely that the draft board you need is on one or two reels of microfilm at the most. Within the draft board itself, the cards are in a rough alphabetical order. So once you have determined the correct draft board, you will have little problem is getting the correct film.

Locating an Individual in a Large City

As was mentioned earlier, the larger cities have more than a single draft board, as do some of the more heavily populated counties. For these areas, where there are multiple draft boards, there is a resource to help you determine which draft board your individual would have registered with.

There is a set of maps that have been microfilmed. You can find these listed in the Family History Library Catalog under United States - Military Records, 1914-1918. This is the same place you will find the draft cards themselves. This film includes maps of the larger cities and counties in which the boundaries of the various draft boards have been drawn on. And inside each boundary is the number of the draft board.

To use these maps, you will need to determine the exact location of your ancestor in 1917. City directories can be of use to you in this capacity. The 1910 census can also help you when working in a given county, though the individual may have moved during that time period. The larger cities all have city directories, many of them microfilmed, which makes them easier to work with.

In Conclusion

First determine where that individual was circa 1917, then determine which draft board you will need. Then you can order the film needed and begin to look for the draft card for your possible ancestor.

See Rhonda's Previous Columns

Rhonda R. McClure is a professional genealogist specializing in celebrity trees and computerized genealogy. She has been involved in online genealogy for fifteen years. She is the author of the award-winning The Complete Idiot's Guide to Online Genealogy, now in its second edition. She is the author of four how-to guides on Family Tree Maker. In late 2001, she wrote The Genealogist's Computer Companion. She is a contributing editor to Biography Magazine with her "Celebrity Roots" column and a contributing writer to The History Channel Magazine. Her latest book is Finding Your Famous and Infamous Ancestors. She may be contacted at rhondagen@thegenealogist.com.

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