Q: Can anyone tell me how to find the draft registration for Omaha, NE or vicinity for WWI? My father must have registered, as he was born in 1900, but was not in the war. -- Jolly
A: World War I was the first time since the Civil War that the United States instituted a draft situation. It had not gone over particularly well during the Civil War. In fact there were riots in New York City over this issue.
However, when World War I came up, the men complied with the law and did indeed register. And those Draft Registration cards can be a big help to us as genealogists.
World War I Draft Registration Cards can supply you with some useful ancestral data.
An Overview of the Draft
While rioters during the Civil War had pronounced conscription to be un-American, by the time World War I broke out it was no longer viewed as such. Perhaps during the Civil War, people could still remember conscription issues from times gone past. In fact, some individuals had early passports to help protect them from conscriptions while traveling.
Through the efforts of the draft though, by the end of 1917, the United States would have an army of half a million draftees. This was double the number of individuals who had voluntarily joined the army.
What You Won't Find
There are some misconceptions about what the Draft Registration cards will offer you. Also, there is some misunderstanding as to just what arms of the military were covered by the draft.
First, the draft applies only to the Army. There is no draft for the Navy or the Marines. Also, the draft does not list those who were already volunteers in the Army. So if an ancestor did voluntarily join up, you will not find their names in the draft cards.
Additionally, it is unlikely that you will find the names of the parents of the individual. That is not one of the questions that is asked of the draftee.
What You Will Find
There were actually three different registrations:
- 5 June 1917 - all men aged 21 to 31
- 5 June 1918 - those who had turned 21 in the last year
- 12 September 1918 - all men aged 18 to 45
Over those three registrations, two different form cards were used. While they asked some of the same questions, there were some differences. Both cards asked for information as to the name, address, and birth date of the individual registering, along with citizenship and occupation. The biggest difference was found with the card used in 1918 when information about nearest relative was asked. Unfortunately it does not ask for the relationship, though I have seen this included along with the name.
Accessing the Draft Cards
While in the past it was true that the only place where all these cards could be accessed was the National Archives branch in Atlanta. However, some time back the Family History Library was able to obtain copies of these microfilmed records. Thus you can actually do the research yourself.
However, for most larger areas, you will find that there is more than one draft board and the records are arranged first by state, then by draft board and then alphabetically. For more information on this, you will want to see the answer to an earlier GenForum question along this avenue. OverHeard in GenForum: Looking for a World War I Veteran and also Overheard in GenForum: Eberleins in World War I .
Rhonda R. McClure is a professional genealogist specializing in celebrity trees and computerized genealogy. She has been involved in online genealogy for fifteen years. She is an award-winning author of several genealogy how-to books, including The Complete Idiot's Guide to Online Genealogy, The Genealogist's Computer Companion, and Finding Your Famous and Infamous Ancestors. She may be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.
See more advice from Rhonda in her columns Expert Tips, Tigs and Trees, and Overheard in the Message Boards.