Given Name(s) Last Name

Ancestry Daily News
  Michael John Neill 3/27/2002

World War II Draft Cards

Images of the cards discussed in this article can be viewed at:

Many genealogists are familiar with the World War I draft cards. A past Daily News article discussed my use of the World War I draft cards and my search for a draft card for a Chicago, Illinois, area resident.

There are also draft cards from World War II. Some of these cards are available to the public.

The cards that are publicly available are from the fourth registration done in 1942. This registration included men born between 28 April 1877 and 16 February 1897. These cards are organized by state and are filed with the appropriate regional branch of the National Archives. The only way to access these cards is on-site at the appropriate regional branch of the National Archives. They are not on microfilm. A few cards for Ohio have been digitized (see the NAIL reference at the end of this article).

The major drawback to these records is that they are not available on microfilm and must be accessed either in person or via a researcher. One significant advantage of these cards is that they generally are organized alphabetically for an entire state. When using the World War I draft cards, one must know the draft registration board to locate a card for an urban resident. This is generally not the case with the cards from World War II. In my case, I decided this organizational feature of the records was a significant advantage for one of my problems.

The cards I obtained were from: National Archives Record Group 147, Records of the Selective Service System, Illinois State Office Registration Cards, World War II, 4th Draft Registration, April 1942. Since the cards I needed were from Illinois, they were obtained at the NARA regional branch facility in Chicago.

Unfortunately, the card I really wanted was not in the collection. My wife's great-grandfather "disappeared" from Chicago, Illinois, ca. 1921 and all trace of him has been lost. I had hoped that he would still be living somewhere in Illinois and that his name would appear on one of the registration cards. The birth year I had was approximate (ca. 1888) but it was in the middle of the range of years for the draft registration. I felt relatively confident the approximate age was not a problem. He did not appear in the Illinois cards, and my "brick wall" still stands tall. He had either moved or died before the 1942 registration. I too, am not always successful in solving my problems immediately.

However, I did obtain cards for three of my children's ancestors whose age required them to register for the draft. These three ancestors are already fairly well-documented, but I did learn:


  • That my great-grandfather weighed two-hundred-and-ten pounds at age sixty.
  • That my wife's great-grandfather worked for the Iowa-Illinois Gas & Electric Company.

    Some places of birth listed on the cards were as specific as a city and a state, others listed only a county and state. In some cases, the village of foreign birth was given as well, but many foreign places of birth listed were only as specific as the country. One must keep in mind that the country was at war and creating massive amounts of genealogical data was not a part of the war effort. We are fortunate to have the records that we do. Had I any "difficult" immigrants who would have been required to register, I would have made certain to obtain their card as it may potentially contain a specific place of birth.

    What Do The Cards Contain?
    The cards asked the following questions:
    1) Name
    2) Place of residence
    3) Mailing address
    4) Telephone
    5) Age and date of birth
    6) Place of birth town/county and state/country
    7) Name and address of person who will always know your address
    8) Employer's Name and Address
    9) Place of Employment or Business

    A signature was also required.

    The reverse side of the card asks questions regarding the registrant's physical description, including:
  • Race (White, Negro, Oriental)
  • Height
  • Eyes
  • Hair
  • Complexion
  • Other physical characteristics that will aid in identification

    Three of the surnames I was looking for were unusual enough that it was not impractical to copy all the cards for those individuals. Cards were located for all of my great-grandparents siblings who were of the appropriate age. In all, I obtained copies of approximately twenty cards.

    All the cards were the "same;" however, there were slight variations on the amount of detail provided and occasionally additional "comments" were written on the card.

    Who Always Knows Your Address?
    The "person who will always know your address" was particularly helpful. Based upon the address and the name (e.g., Mrs. John Smith) many such persons were the spouse of the registrant. In some cases, I did see the word "wife" specifically written in parenthesis after the person's name, but not always. Other familial relationships were occasionally noted for the person who would always know the registrant's address, but there was no space to specifically record the relationship.

    Why Use the Cards?
    The cards will not solve every genealogical problem, but there are situations where they can be helpful:

  • If you know the male ancestor was the "right age" and was living in 1942, but are not certain of the exact location (you'll need the state).
  • Your male ancestor's birthplace listed on death certificates and other records is very unspecific.
  • You have "lost" a male relative of the appropriate age during the World War II era.

    What you will have to know to use the cards:
  • The individual's name
  • The state of residence

    Of course, one will need other details to assist in distinguishing individuals of the same name. These details include:
  • Approximate date of birth
  • Potential cities/towns of residence
  • Occupation
  • Names of likely next of kin
  • Physical characteristics

    You just can't grab the first John Smith you see and assume he is yours! As mentioned the cards do provide other information about the registrant and this information should be compared and contrasted with information already known about the individual in order to determine if the individual on the card is likely the desired individual.

    Try All Locations
    My great-grandfather's brother was working St. Louis, Missouri, at the time of the draft registration. His registration took place in Hancock County, Illinois, where he was born and raised. While this is atypical of the registrations I located (most were working in the county where they registered), it does bear witness to the fact that one should leave no location unconsidered.

    Need Their Job?
    If research requires you learn your ancestor's occupation or employer, the draft card may help you to do that. There are other sources on your ancestor that may provide occupational information, but the information on the draft card may help to fill in blanks and potentially lead to occupational records. My ancestors, unlike those of my wife, were largely self-employed farmers and occupational records are non-existent.

    National Archives Mail
    A very limited number of the World War Two draft cards for Ohio have been digitized and are available in NAIL, the National Archives Information Locator atNARA. However, the digitizing for Ohio appears to be for a very small percentage of the cards (Aa-Ab).

    Regional branches of the National Archives.

    In Summary
    If you are stuck with a male ancestral problem during the early 1940s, these cards may help you. Your female ancestors might also have had a problem with your male ancestor during that same time, but these records aren't likely to help with that!


    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 2002,

    Used by the author on his web site with permission

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