World War I Draft Registration Cards
by Warren Blatt
Over twenty-four million American men registered for the draft for the First World War in 1917 and 1918. There were three draft registrations, which included all men residing in the U.S. — whether native born, naturalized, or alien — between the ages of 18 and 45.
The resulting registration cards can be a good source of genealogical information. The information included on each registration differs somewhat, but generally includes full name, date and place of birth, race, citizenship, occupation, personal description, and signature.
One unique feature of these records is that they contain the exact place of birth — town/village, county/province, state/nation — for registrants born between June 6, 1886 and August 28, 1897 (those aged 21-31 who registered in the 1st or 2nd drafts, about 45% of the total). This may be the only source for determining the town of origin of someone who was never naturalized, or someone who was naturalized via their father's papers before 1906.
On May 18, 1917, the Selective Service Act was passed, authorizing the President to temporarily increase the military establishment of the United States. The Selective Service System was responsible for the process of selecting men for induction into the military service, from the initial registration to the actual delivery of men to military training camps. Under the office of the Provost Marshal General, the Selective Service System was made up of 52 state offices (one for each of the 48 states; the territories of Alaska, Hawaii, and Puerto Rico; and the District of Columbia), 155 district boards, and 4648 local boards. These organizations were responsible for registering men, classifying them, considering needs for manpower in certain industries and agriculture, as well as family situations of the registrants; handling appeals of these classifications; determining the medical fitness of individual registrants; determining the order in which registrants would be called; calling registrants; and placing them on trains to training centers.
District boards were established by the President (one or more for each Federal Judicial District). The average district board had jurisdiction over approximately 30 local boards, each with an average registration of 5000 men.
Local boards were established for each county or similar subdivision in each state, and for each 30,000 persons (approximately) in each city or county with a population over 30,000.
During World War I there were three registrations:
At each of the three registrations, a different form was used, with a slight variation of questions asked. All three registrations include full name, home address, exact date of birth, age in years, occupation, name and address of employer, citizenship status, citizen of what country, race, eye color, hair color, height, build, city/county and state of the local draft board, date of registration, and signature of applicant (some in Yiddish!).
At the first registration, the following additional information was recorded: exact birthplace, dependents, marital status, previous military service, and grounds for exemption. At the second registration, the following were also recorded: exact birthplace, nearest relative and address, and father's birthplace. At the third registration, for men aged 18-21 and 31-45 (born between September 13, 1873 and September 12, 1900), the name and address of nearest relative were also recorded. Although the 2nd and 3rd drafts ask for name and address of nearest relative, they don't specify what the relationship is. Note that the third registration did not request birthplace.
The registration cards consist of 24.2 million cards of men who registered for the draft (about 23% of the American population in 1918). It is important to 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. Moreover, these are not military service records — they end when the individual reports to the army training camp; they contain no information about an individual's military service. (About 4.8 million men actually served in the U.S. armed forces in WWI).
The records are arranged alphabetically by the name of the state; thereunder alphabetically by name of the county or city or draft board (except for Connecticut, Massachusetts and Rhode Island, which are arranged by other divisions, noted below); and thereunder alphabetically by the surnames of the registrants.
For those in rural areas, one should be able to find a registrant's card by knowing his name and the county in which he registered. In large cities and in some large counties, the search can be more difficult. Knowing a street address is usually necessary to determine the correct draft board. For instance, there were 189 local boards in New York City (see map, list of draft boards and addresses), 86 in Chicago, and 25 in Boston. (See "Finding Aids" below).
The original draft registration cards are stored at the National Archives - Southeast Region in East Point, Georgia, near Atlanta. These cards were microfilmed by the Genealogical Society of Utah (The Mormons) for the National Archives between 1987 and 1995. The resulting series of 4,383 microfilms comprise National Archives Microfilm Publication M1509.
These microfilms are available at the Family History Library in Salt Lake City, and are thus available for borrowing through all local Family History Centers. The films are also available at the National Archives in Washington, and the thirteen Regional Archives have obtained the microfilms for the states corresponding to their regions (e.g. the New England regional archives has the microfilms for the 6 New England states, etc.).
HOW TO ACCESS:
You currently have three avenues to access these records:
To have the National Archives staff search these records for you, get a "World War I Registration Card Request" form. You can request the form from firstname.lastname@example.org, or write a letter to:
National Archives - Southeast Region
The Southeast Region archives will search the cards for you, and bill you $10.00 for each card found. There is no charge for searches when a record is not located. The response time is about two weeks.
For each card requested, you must supply:
Alternately, you can search the records yourself, by viewing the microfilms at the the National Archives Regional Archives branch for the corresponding state; or by borrowing the microfilms through LDS Family History Centers. You can find the microfilm numbers in the Family History Library Catalog (FHLC) microfiche, in the Locality section under the heading "UNITED STATES - MILITARY RECORDS - WORLD WAR, 1914-1918", or "[State] - MILITARY RECORDS - WORLD WAR, 1914-1918 - REGISTERS", or on the FamilySearch computer under number 504818. (The microfilm numbers for Boston neighborhoods are provided in the appendix below.)
DETERMINING STREET ADDRESS:
Since large cities were comprised of many local draft boards, you must know the registrant's street address in 1917/1918 for an effective search. To determine someone's street address, you can use one of several sources.
City Directories are the most reliable, and can be found at most large public libraries, and through all LDS Family History Centers (see the FHLC Locality section under the headings "[State], [County], [City] - DIRECTORIES" or "UNITED STATES - DIRECTORIES" for larger cities).
Alternate sources are contemporary records which contain street addresses, such as birth, marriage and death records, wills, naturalization records and passenger lists. You can also use the address found in the 1920 Census, assuming that the family didn't move in the prior 2-3 years.
LOCAL DRAFT BOARDS IN NEW ENGLAND:
MASSACHUSETTS was divided into 122 local draft boards: 25 for the city of Boston, 54 for 25 other cities, and 43 for rural areas.
For Boston, the draft board numbers correspond with the city's Ward numbers in 1917, with the exception of Wards 3 and 4 (Charlestown), which are both in draft board 3; and Ward 5 (North and West Ends), which was divided into draft boards 4 and 5. All other Ward numbers correspond directly to the draft board number. This means that after you determine a street address, you can use the "Street Directory" section at the front of the City Directory to determine the Ward number, and hence the draft board number.
Boston neighborhoods with large Jewish populations in 1918 were draft boards 4, 5, 12 and 16. There were smaller Jewish populations in draft boards 1-2, 6, and 18-21.
The twenty-five other cities in Massachusetts and their corresponding number of draft boards are:
Brockton (2) Haverhill (2) Pittsfield (1) Brookline (1) Holyoke (2) Quincy (1) Cambridge (4) Lawrence (3) Salem (1) Chelsea (2) Lowell (4) Somerville (3) Chicopee (1) Lynn (3) Springfield (3) Everett (1) Malden (2) Taunton (1) Fall River (4) Medford (1) Waltham (1) Fitchburg (1) New Bedford (4) West Newton (1) Worcester (5)
There are no finding aids for these smaller cities -- you need to search every draft board to find a card.
CONNECTICUT was divided into 44 local draft boards, 21 for the cities and 23 for rural areas. The six cities are Bridgeport (6), Hartford (3), New Britain (2), New Haven (6), Stamford (1) and Waterbury (3). The eight counties are Hartford (3), New Haven (5), New London (3), Fairfield (4), Windham (2), Litchfield (3), Middlesex (2) and Tolland (1).
The Governor of Connecticut also conducted a separate "Military Census" in 1917. These questionnaires are indexed by town of residence. These records are available at the Connecticut State Archives in Hartford. They have also been microfilmed by the Mormons, on 454 reels, and can be found in the FHLC under "CONNECTICUT - MILITARY RECORDS".
RHODE ISLAND was divided into 22 local draft boards, filmed on 24 reels of microfilm. There were ten boards in the city of Providence, two in the city of Pawtucket, and ten for other areas. Note that the title boards on the microfilms for Rhode Island are incorrect.
For several cities with a large number of draft boards, there are maps showing the draft board boundaries. These have been microfilmed by the Mormons on FHL 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"). The cities on this microfilm are:
Albany, NY (4) Louisville, KY (7) Allegheny County, PA (18) Los Angeles, CA (18) Atlanta, GA (7) Luzerne County, PA Baltimore, MD (24) Milwaukee, WI (15) Birmingham, AL (6) Minneapolis, MN (13) Boston, MA (25) New Orleans, LA (13) Bridgeport, CT (6) New Haven, CT (6) Buffalo, NY (16) New York, NY (189) Dallas, TX (4) Newark, NJ (14) Denver, CO (9) Philadelphia, PA (51) Chicago, IL (86) Pittsburgh, PA (8) Cleveland, OH (18) Rochester, NY (8) Cincinnati, OH (10) San Diego, CA (2) Washington, DC (11) St. Paul, MN (11) Hartford, CT (3) Schenectady, NY (4) Indianapolis, IN (10) Seattle, WA (12) Jersey City, NJ (10) Syracuse, NY (5) Kansas City, KS (4) Toledo, OH (6)
The number in parenthesis following the name is the number of local draft boards in that city. Some of these maps show the boundaries of the draft boards, while others are just street and road maps which are helpful to some degree. Some are discolored or faded from age, and can be difficult to use. The National Archives - Southeast Region has a few other finding aids, not microfilmed. Some of the other regional archives also have city draft board finding aids for their regions.
Additional information can be found in the book Uncle, We Are Ready! Registering America's Men, 1917-1918, by John J. Newman. (Heritage Quest, 2001). Softcover: $30, ISBN 0944931634. Hardcover: $45, ISBN 0944931642. 278 pages.
WWI Draft Registration Cards for Boston
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