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From the Ancestry Daily News
  Michael John Neill 9/22/2004

World War I Draft Cards of the Rich and Famous

by Michael John Neill

Over 24 million men registered for the World War I draft. The sheer magnitude of this record group warrants attention from any genealogist looking for a man born in the late nineteenth century. These cards represent a vast amount of data and may include information on men not listed in other records.

Sample images of the well-known individuals discussed in this article can be viewed at

Record Organization
Microfilm of the World War I draft cards has been available to genealogists for a number of years. Organized by the various draft registration districts, the cards can be difficult or easy to locate, depending where the relative lived and what is known about him.

Genealogists with rural ancestors and those who knew precisely where their urban ancestors lived have typically had less difficulty finding their ancestor's registration card than other researchers. In most non-urban areas registration district borders follow county lines and the alphabetically organized cards are relatively easy to search.

Those with no idea where their relative lived, or who only knew that their family member lived in an urban area, had significantly more difficulty finding the desired card. New York had over 150 registration districts, Chicago had over 75, and most metropolitan areas had dozens of registration districts, each with cards sorted alphabetically for just that district.

In a previous column, "World War I Draft Cards," a draft card search for a Chicago area resident was discussed. It was not an easy search, but fortunately it was successful.

Now There is an Index continues to release draft cards and a nation-wide World War I draft-card index on their site. As this index nears completion, a significant amount of the difficulties in locating the desired card has been removed. Users of this database, like any database, should remember that in some cases the handwriting is difficult to read and the ink may have faded. The cards were created for wartime purposes, not for leaving a permanent record. A manual search of the cards may still be necessary, but the index (and the creative use of the index) can save the researcher a significant amount of research time.

There were actually three separate registrations for the World War I draft. Each had a slightly different registration card, but they all asked similar questions. For purposes of discussion, we will classify these cards by the number of questions on the front side of the card. The back of each card asks questions about the soldier's physical characteristics.

The Twelve-Question Card was used for the first registration. Among the questions asked on this card were: name, age, address, date of birth, citizenship status, employment, any dependents, and any military service.

The Ten-Question Card was used for the second registration. Among the questions asked on this card were name, age, address, date and place of birth, father's place of birth, citizenship status, name and address of employer, and name and address of nearest relative.

The Twenty-Question Card was used for the third registration. This card asked for name, age, address, date of birth, citizenship status, race, name and address of employer, name and address of nearest relative. While the question was not asked, in some cases the precise relationship with the "nearest relative" will also be given.

The Registrations
- First Registration, 05 June 1917, was for men born between 06 June 1886 and 05 June 1896. These men registered using the twelve-question card.
- Second Registration, 05 June 1918, was for men born between 06 June 1896 and 05 June 1897. This registration registered men who had turned twenty-one since 5 June 1918, had not previously registered, and were not already in the military. These men registered using the ten-question card.
- Second Registration, Supplemental, 24 August 1918, was for men born between 06 June 1897 and 24 August 1897. This registration was for men who had turned twenty-one since 5 June 1918 or had not previously registered and not already in the military. These men used the ten-question card.
- Third Registration, 15 Sept 1918, was for men born between 11 Sept 1872 and 12 Sept 1900. This registration required registration from men not already registered and who were born in the range of dates listed above. This registration effectively registered all unregistered men between the ages of 18 and 45, inclusive, who were not already in the military. These men registered using the twenty-question card.

A Few Well-Known People
We will look at the draft cards of a few well-known individuals and see how lessons learned from these cards might help us in searches for less well-known individuals.

George Burns--1st registration
George Burns was not always George Burns. Finding his card required knowing his birth name. While your ancestor probably did not change his name entirely, it is possible that the first name you have for him is a nickname, an Anglicization of non-English name, or actually a middle name. Locating the birth name of your ancestor may be necessary in order to locate his card. Census records, church records, naturalization records, or home sources may help you to uncover your ancestor's true name. George Burns registered for the draft as Nathan Birnbaum in New York City. He also indicated that his mother was his dependent and claimed exemption from the draft based upon that fact.

Ira Gershiwn--2nd registration
Ira registered under the first name of Isidore. On this card, the signature of registrant is easier to read than the handwriting of the registrar. Ira registered under the second registration and consequently provided his father's place of birth: Petrograd, Russia. While the second registration caught few men, consider looking for the card of any extended family members who were born between 06 June 1896 and 24 August 1897, as they used the second-registration card, which is the only one to include this important question.

Jack Benny--1st registration
Jack Benny is another performer who registered under his real name: Ben Kubelsky. This typed card is easier to read than many. Ben's card is among the Lake County, Illinois, cards, but the registration was completed in Harris County, Texas. Most likely Benny was touring at the time of the registration. Some individuals would register in their "home" county even if they were living somewhere else at the time of their registration.

E.E. Cummings--1st registration
The fancy handwriting on this card could easily have been misinterpreted. Cummings' actual signature is more legible than the registrar's handwriting. The first-registration card asked about military service, and Cummings indicated he had been in the Norton-Haries Ambulance Service in France.

Getting to the Cards
Subscribers to can access the World War I Draft Cards online as part of the U.S. Records Collection. This database will continue to be updated until all the cards have been added and the complete index has been posted.
-The Originals
The Southeast Regional Branch of the National Archives in Georgia has the actual cards. It is possible to request copies of the cards via mail for a small fee. More information about mail requests is at the Friends of the National Archives-Southeast Region website ( More information about the National Archives-Southeast Region can be obtained on their website.
The draft cards were microfilmed by the Genealogical Society of Utah several years ago. The microfilm is at some larger genealogical libraries and branches of the National Archives. The microfilm of the cards can also be obtained via loan at your local Family History Center. You local center will not have the film on site, but for a nominal charge they will order the roll(s) of microfilm containing the area you need.

Our previous column on the draft cards has more links to finding aids and information on the maps of the registration districts. Next week we will take a look at using the search interface to the World War I draft cards at

Michael John Neill is the Course I Coordinator at the Genealogical Institute of Mid America (GIMA) held annually in Springfield, Illinois, and is also on the faculty of Carl Sandburg College in Galesburg, Illinois. Michael is the Web columnist for the FGS FORUM and is on the editorial board of the Illinois State Genealogical Society Quarterly. He conducts seminars and lectures on a wide variety of genealogical and computer topics and contributes to several genealogical publications, including Ancestry Magazine and Genealogical Computing. You can e-mail him at or visit his website at, but he regrets that he is unable to assist with personal research.

Copyright 2004,

This article used by the author on his website with permission

Other articles by Michael John Neill