Family Tree Maker

 From the 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:

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 I.

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 Stevenson 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 ( 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 drawn on 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 and the Cook County Clerk's Office (, 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 21-31
--- 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 different.

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 physical appearance.

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 they registered.

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 ( ) 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 ( ) 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 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 (

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.

Alabama: Birmingham
California: Los Angeles, San Diego
Colorado: Denver
Connecticut: Bridgeport, Hartford, New Haven
Georgia: Atlanta
Illinois: Chicago
Indiana: Indianapolis
Kansas: Kansas City
Kentucky: Louisville
Louisiana: New Orleans
Maryland: Baltimore
Massachusetts: Boston
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
Wisconsin: Milwaukee
Washington: Seattle Washington DC

Some of the regional branches of the National Archives may have finding aids for cities in their region.

Final Thought
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 information on their origins.

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: or visit his Web site at: , but he regrets that he is unable to assist with personal research.

Copyright 2001,

Copyright 2001,
Used with permission       

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