Searching the World War I Draft Cards
The World War I draft cards have been difficult for many genealogists to use for some time. Family historians who did not know where their relative lived at the time of registration frequently had difficulty locating the desired card, particularly if the registrant lived in an urban area, or if their residence could not be pinpointed to a specific state in more rural areas.
With the ongoing release of a nationwide index to these cards, Ancestry.com has made finding the desired registrant's draft card easier.
This week we will discuss the search interface for these cards in hopes of making the search experience as smooth as possible. Of course, there are no guarantees.
We will look at each of the search terms and see how effective and creative searches can be constructed.
First Name and Last Name
Wildcard searches can also 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.
A search for Sam* Neil* would catch the following entries
Note that this search would not locate Samuel Neal, because the third letter in the surname is different, an "a" instead of an "i." (A Soundex search for Samuel Neill would locate Samuel Neal, though.) Wildcard searches at Ancestry.com require that at least three characters be used before the wildcard operator is inserted.
In some cases wildcard searches may result in too many matches and additional letters or search terms will have to be used.
Even if the card included the specific town of birth, the information might not be included in the index.
The card itself may be missing some obvious information. The card of John P. Nolan, born 1 June 1897 lists only "Chicago" as his place of birth. Consequently that is the only birthplace information included in the index (transcribers are not to “add” information to the card that is not there). There are numerous individuals for whom only the city is listed as the place of birth. A search for John P. Nolan born in Illinois will not locate the card for the John P. Nolan born 1 June 1897 in Chicago. Similarly, the card of William Bohnsack, born 19 Oct 1891 lists Chicago, Cook County, USA, as his place of birth.
My suggestion for the birthplace box is to search using only the state first. If that does not work, then try searching based upon the city of birth, without using the name of the state. This works well for larger cities where the registrant may simply have listed the city, without the state, where he was born. A search for "Chicago Illinois" (both words) in the birthplace box resulted in only two hits at the time this article was written.
The North and the South or the West and the "East"
Birth Date Information
I rarely use the precise date of birth for two reasons. One is that searching based upon date requires the date of birth I have for the person to be the exact same date of birth listed on the card. The other reason is that some numbers can easily be misread, especially if the writing on the card is difficult to read.
One can easily search for births within a given decade by performing a wildcard search. Entering 189* as the year of birth will search for all births in the 1890s. This can be an effective way of narrowing a search based upon an age when the exact year of birth is unknown.
What's on the Cards and a Few Other Ideas
Searches can even be conducted without names. I searched for every card in Hancock County, Illinois, with German-born registrant. One of the names was my great-grandmother's first cousin, the only one of his generation born in Germany (his father was the only one in his family to marry before emigrating). If I had not known where the family was from, this would have been a significant find.
Experiment with the search boxes...you never know what you might find.
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 firstname.lastname@example.org or visit his website at www.rootdig.com/, but he regrets that he is unable to assist with personal research.
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