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Sunday, July 17, 2016


Finding Clues on the World War I Draft Registration

Army, US return of Washington DC soldiers.
Library of Congress Prints and Photographs Division Washington, D.C. 20540 USA

Have you had difficulty finding a male ancestor born between 1872 and 1899? The only available census during that time period would be the 1880 Census. If your ancestor was born after the 1880 enumeration, there is no census to document them because of the destruction of the 1890 Census (only a fragment survives). One significant record outside of the 1900 Census would be the World War I Draft Registration Card which captures basic information about 24 million male registrants. Check United States, World War One Draft Registration Cards, 1917-1918 for your ancestor, and use the clues you find to discover more.

"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," according to United States World War I Draft Records. Basic details included on each draft card includes:

  • full name
  • date
  • place of birth
  • race
  • citizenship
  • occupation
  • personal description
  • signature

George Anderson Tucker of Union County, South Carolina was born in 1882. He was not listed on a census until 1900, however, it was very difficult to find him in 1900 because he was recorded under his mother's surname which was not Tucker. It was much easier to find his WWI Draft Registration Card. He registered on September 18, 1918. Locating him in this year made it easier to find him on the 1900 Census two years later.
The information on the draft card for George includes:

Full name - This is one of the only historical documents that bears his full name: George Anderson Tucker. On other records you may find an ancestor's record only lists his first two initials making it a challenge to search successfully.

Date - The date that your ancestor registered for the draft may have been different because there were three different registrations. George registered on September 18, 1918. If your ancestor had brothers around the same age even if they lived in different places, check to see if they registered also. George's brother registered for the same day that he did.

Place of birth - The registrant was asked if they were native born, alien or specifically if they were naturalized. So you have an additional resource for determining the status of an immigrant ancestor who registered. George was native born.

Race - The questions about race are slightly different on the September 18, 1918 form (see Draft Card Forms A-C listed under Nearest relative and their relationship below). George is listed as Negro.

Citizenship - If your ancestor was not a citizen, he would have named the nation where he was a citizen.

Occupation - Formerly enslaved ancestors would have had fewer documents revealing their occupations prior to 1900. The World War I Draft Registration might have been the first record where ancestors born after 1880 listed an occupation. George's occupation was not recorded prior to 1918. He was a farmer which verifies oral history accounts.

Nearest relative and their relationship. This is a question asked on Draft Card C. The questions on the draft cards were a little different depending on the date your ancestor registered. (See Draft Card A and Draft Card B). Because Draft Card C was issued on September 18, 1918, George was required to provide the name and relationship along with the address of his closest living relative: Daisy Cheak Tucker, wife; RFD1 Buffalo, Union, South Carolina.

This is the only instance his wife's surname is spelled Cheak and not Cheek. While you do not anticipate learning about a female ancestor on the WWI Draft, sisters, wives and mothers are often the ones listed as the nearest relative.

Personal description - If you have no photograph of you ancestor, the draft registration gives you a couple details about him. The physical description for George is: medium height, medium build, brown eyes, black hair.

Signature - Many ancestors could not read or write. There is no "X" in this section on George's draft card, so that mean George probably signed his own name.


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