World War Draft Registrations (World War I and World War II) are some of the most valuable tools in genealogy research. The World War I draft registration is one of the earliest records I used in my research. Their easy access on Ancestry.com today, along with part of the draft registration for World War II, remain some of the best resources for our research. They are especially helpful for the men born in the late 1870s or 1880s, as the lack of a 1890 census record makes that 20-year-gap hard to cross.
It’s important to read all of the data that Ancestry.com offers on each of its databases. That gives us the necessary information we will need to evaluate the evidence and we miss clues when we don’t know as much as we can about Ancestry’s source for each record. The records they have may be incomplete, or missing certain states or years. Both draft databases have important information we need to understand. For example, the World War I draft cards are pulled from three separate sets of registration, and each card was slightly different. There are blank examples of each card on Ancestry. This was the first registration card which asked 12 questions:
Be aware of the cards you have for your family and which registration it came from. Two big differences in the 3 sets of registration cards is that the 1st set does not request names of dependents, while the other two ask the names of the nearest relative, and the 3rd set does not ask for the place of birth while the others do. Also notice that for all African-American applicants, the left corner of the 1st draft card above was to be torn. Oh, the ugly vestiges of segregation.
I have also noticed as I have been analyzing many of these draft cards that there are quite a few men with discrepancies in their birthdates. Now, these cards are original records with primary information–the person filling out the card is getting the information from the applicant sitting in front of him. While most of the discrepancies are a year or two, some are four or five years, and I’ve seen an 8-year difference. Two examples are shown below (both WWI and II cards are combined in the pictures):
And while we might expect the birthdates to make the person too young or too old to be drafted, the cards don’t always show that to be the case. Some of the discrepancies are probably just memory and others may be just that having to know one’s exact birthdate was really a new phenomena predicated by the new Social Security program.
Now, you need to know that for the World War II draft, only one set of the four draft cards are publicly available. And, unfortunately cards for the states below were destroyed before being microfilmed:
- North Carolina
- South Carolina
But, if you are lucky enough to have ancestors in the other states, they are a rich source. They specifically ask for middle names, which is helpful when people use both their first and middle names on various documents. Hamilton Riggs, shown on the 1900 census below, was revealed to be “William Hamilton Riggs” on his draft card:
Finally, I’m always interested in social history and since these cards capture migrations, I like to plug my research county in the “born” search box, and find out where people migrated and what kind of jobs they got. Here is an image from an article I wrote mapping migrations from Hardin County, Tennessee in the World War II draft cards:
I hope this post has given you new ways to use this resource, and as always, remember to correlate these with all of the other evidence you’ve gathered to verify accuracy.