With Europe at war during what was called ‘The Great War’ beginning in 1914, America felt it needed to be prepared to expand their army if called on. So a special draft registration form was created for males born from September 11, 1872 to September 12, 1900. It didn’t matter if they were born in a different country, if they were living in America beginning in 1917, they had to register. During World War I there were three registrations. The first, on June 5, 1917, was for all men between the ages of 21 and 31. The second, on June 5, 1918, registered those who attained age 21 after June 5, 1917. (A supplemental registration was held on August 24, 1918, for those becoming 21 years old after June 5, 1918. This was included in the second registration.) The third registration was held on September 12, 1918, for men age 18 through 45. Note that not all of the men who registered for the draft actually served in the military and not all men who served in the military registered for the draft. If they were already in the military, they did not register. However, approximately 98% of males born between 1872 and 1900 did complete these cards, making them an excellent primary resource.
Included on these cards are full name, address, date and place of birth, race, citizenship, occupation, next to kin, a physical description (eye color, hair color, height, build and handicaps) along with their signature, a nice added bonus.
The FamilySearch.org free site has the database of the World War I Draft Registration forms. There are just under 25 million images (which represents about 23% of the US population in 1918). When you find one of interest after placing a name, there is an transcript of some of the information. Look over the selections carefully, many men born during that time frame of 1870 to 1902 had similar names. Also don’t let a location or state make you not look at that card, many men were in different places rather than their hometowns. Do click on the images to look over the full details. Each image can be downloaded to your computer.
Still to be added are the states of Illinois, Indiana, Michigan, Nebraska, Nevada, Ohio, Puerto Rico, Utah, Washington, and Wisconsin – so with FamilySearch.org you might locate a certain ancestor.
A good example of finding additional information is the June 5, 1917 World War I draft registration card for John Henry Ashley, an outlaw in prison in Florida when the required card was completed. Yes, all men of specific ages had to complete the card, even those in prisons. Ashley, back in 1915 during a shoot-out after robbing a bank, had a bullet lodged in his eye. Historians for decades have debated on which eye it was since he did have a glass eye after-wards. Reading the information Ashley filled out on this card and witnessed by registrar Blackwell, he stated his right eye was out — proof positive of which eye.
Using the fee-based Ancestry.com, they have all the states including Puerto Rico and the District of Columbia.
If you want to order a copy of the registration card (for a fee) from the National Archives (they all the registration cards from all locations), they are housed at the National Archives Branch in Atlanta, GA.
Photos: Poster about registration and young men registering for military conscription in New York City, June 5, 1917. On June 5, 1917 the card for outlaw John H. Ashley in Railford Prison in Florida was completed.
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