Ancestry Daily News
Michael John Neill – 12/26/2001
World War I Draft Registration Cards
NOTE: Sample images relating to this article
can be found at: www.rootdig.com/draft/samples.html
Genealogists frequently use sources because they cover a significant
proportion of the population. An excellent example is the World War I
Draft Registration Cards. These cards contain information on men born
between 1873 and 1900. This twenty-seven year time span is a wide
range. The cards contain more than just names and dates. They contain
significant genealogical information on the registrants.
Locating the cards for my family members in Hancock County, Illinois,
was relatively easy. The cards for the entire county are arranged on
the microfilm alphabetically by last name. I did not have to worry
about the town or township of residence for any of the individuals
living in that county. Within a few minutes I had the cards of three of
my great-grandfathers (one was too old to be required to register) and
numerous uncles and other cousins. Neither grandfather was listed. One
was born in 1903 and the other was an infant at the start of World War
The cards were interesting, but in most cases I already had the
information from other sources. There were multiple draft registrations
during the war and the information from one registration to another
varies, but they generally include the name, birth date, birthplace,
signature, and other identifying information. I even picked up a "new"
middle name for one of my great- grandfathers.
The real card I wanted to find was for my wife's great-grandfather in
Chicago. William Apgar was born ca. 1890 and "vanishes" ca. 1920.
Little is known about him other than the time he was married and living
in Chicago from 1908 until the late 1910s. Locating his draft card
would provide birth information on him that I did not already have.
While the information provided by a registrant could easily be
incorrect, it would at least be a starting point.
Finding a Chicagoan
But using the World War I Draft Registration Cards for Chicago is not
as easy as it was for Hancock County, Illinois. There were many draft
boards in Chicago and the cards are filed separately for each board. I
would have to know where William lived or manually go through the roll
of film for each board. As I was "desperate" for information on
William, I was willing to go through all the cards. However, I was
hoping for a way to avoid that.
Fortunately, I knew where William was living as early as 1915: 10057 S.
State Street. When his wife filed for divorce in 1921, she was living
at 339 E. Kensington and indicated William was living at 11445
Avenue. The State Street and Kensington address are a few miles apart,
but in the same general neighborhood.
The problem was determining the draft board where William likely
would have gone to register. Remember, I wanted to avoid going through
the cards for each board.
Fortunately there are some maps of these registration boards (see links
at end of article for more information), and the Allen County Public
Library (where I viewed the cards) had the maps for Chicago in book
form. While at the library, I used MapQuest (http://www.mapquest.com)
to obtain approximate maps of the addresses I had for William. I then
found these addresses on the registration board maps for the city of
Chicago. This technique is appropriate if the street addresses have
not changed between World War I and today.
The registration board maps indicated two likely districts for
William's registration. The borders of the districts were not clearly
the map. However, two districts to look through was decidedly fewer
than eighty. I was not going to complain.
I located a card for a William Apgar. I was relatively certain he was
"mine" for two reasons:
1) There is only one William Apgar in the 1917 Chicago city directory
2) The address on the card, 11527 S. Michigan, is only a few blocks
from where his wife was living in 1921.
The card provided William's date and place of birth (1888 in Chicago).
I'm still "stuck" but at least now I am armed with more information
than I had before.
Where Do I Go from Here?
In my case, I'm going to try and see if I can get a birth certificate
for a William Apgar born in Chicago in 1888 (based upon information at http://www.vitalrec.com/ and the
Cook County Clerk's Office (
www.cookctyclerk.com/records.html, I'm hoping to find one). There
are several reasons though why a record might not be located. I need to
consider the following situations:
1) William might not have been born in Chicago at all. 2) William was
born in Chicago, but the year is incorrect. 3) William was born in
Chicago and no record was recorded.
If I can't find William's birth record, my next approach will be
to locate Apgar families in the 1900 Soundex for Illinois to see if
there are any with a William aged approximately twelve.
More About the Draft Records
There were actually three draft registration periods for
World War I. The cards from these three registrations are filed
together. The information required is slightly different on the cards
from each of the three periods.
--- First Draft (5 June 1917) - registered men between the ages of
--- Second Draft (5 June 1918) - registered men who had turned 21 since
the first registration
--- Third Draft (12 Sep 1918) - required all men ages 18-21 and 31-41
register that had not already done so
24 million men born between 1873 and 1900 registered in these three
periods. This is a significant proportion of the American male
population. The cards used during the three draft registrations were
The first card (sometimes called the ten question card because of ten
questions on the front) includes the following information: name, age,
home address, date of birth, place of birth, citizenship status,
employer, nearest relative, race, questions about physical appearance.
The second card (sometimes called the twelve question card because of
twelve questions on the front) includes the following information:
name, age, address, date of birth, citizenship status, birth place,
occupation, employer, dependent information, exemption claimed, and
The third card (sometimes called the twenty question card because of
twenty questions on the front) includes the name, address, age, date of
birth, race, citizenship status, occupation, employer's name, nearest
relative and their address.
Registrants would have filled out one of these cards based upon when
Where Are These Cards?
The best way to access these cards is on microfilm through
the Family History Library. The cards are listed in the Family History
Library Catalog (http://www.familysearch.org/
) by searching for the heading: UNITED STATES, Military Records - World
War, 1914-1918. Some large libraries have the film of these cards
for their own state. Readers may wish to inquire on state or county
message boards (boards.ancestry.com
) about the potential availability of some records in their own area.
The National Archives Branch in Atlanta, Georgia, will search the film
for a specific individual.
The Ancestry.com site contains a database index to these cards, which
currently contains information on 1.2 million (5 percent) of the men
who registered. It is in the free area and can be searched at: WWI Civilian Draft Registrations
. Information included in the database includes: name, birth date,
ethnicity, birthplace, city/county, and state.
What Would I Do?
If the county is small, I personally would order the
microfilm myself from the Family History Library. Then I could copy all
the individuals with the same surname and perhaps easily search for
extended family members at the same time. For some counties the cards
are only on one or two rolls of microfilm. Had I paid for a search for
each of the fifteen cards I ordered, it would have added up quickly.
Some of these cards have been indexed and are in the World War I
Civilian Draft Registration (FREE) database at Ancestry.com (
Selected Web Sites
They Answered the Call: Military Service in the United States
Army during World War I, 1917-1919
World War I Draft Registration Cards-from NARA
World War I Draft Registration Cards-from JewishGen
World War I Draft Registration Cards---information on Missouri
World War I Draft Registration Cards---information on New Orleans
Civilian Draft Registration Database
Draft Board Registration Maps
There are some maps available of the draft board registration
districts. The Family History Library has the film #1,498,803 (National
Archives Microfilm Publication M1860: "Boundary Maps of Selected Cities
and Counties of World War I Selective Service Draft Registration
Boards, 1917-18") which contains maps of the following cities.
California: Los Angeles, San Diego
Connecticut: Bridgeport, Hartford, New Haven
Kansas: Kansas City
Louisiana: New Orleans
Minnesota: Minneapolis, St. Paul
New Jersey: Jersey City
New York: Albany, Buffalo, Bronx, Brooklyn, Manhattan, Queens,
Rensselear, Richmond, Staten Island, Rochester, Schenectady, Syracuse
Ohio: Cincinnati, Cleveland, Toledo
Pennsylvania: Allegheny, Luzern, Pittsburgh, Philadelphia, Reading,
Westmoreland Texas: Dallas
Washington: Seattle Washington DC
Some of the regional branches of the National Archives may have finding
aids for cities in their region.
Given that the cards can provide place of birth and death,
these cards are very helpful for men during this era whose death
certificates and other information provide sketchy or non-existent
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 and Genealogical
Computing. You can e-mail him at: firstname.lastname@example.org or
visit his Web site at: www.rootdig.com/
, but he regrets that he is unable to assist with personal research.
Copyright 2001, MyFamily.com.
Copyright 2001, MyFamily.com.
Used with permission
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