Deciphering Draft Registration Cards for Genealogy: World War I

Deciphering Draft Registration Cards for Genealogy: World War I

Our Military Minutes Man Michael Strauss revisits the first subject he covered with us on the Genealogy Gems Podcast: Draft Registrations for both World War I and World War II. Since that first segment aired several listeners have had questions and sent in comments regarding:

  • the numbering on the cards,
  • draft classifications,
  • and how to dig deeper into other records of the Selective Service System whose office was responsible for the registering of all the men during both wars. 

This is Part 1, examing WWI draft registrations. Michael has the answers for us. Attention, March!

World War I Draft Registrations:

When the United States entered the war on April 6, 1917 we were totally unprepared to wage a global war.  The Selective Service Act of 1917 (40 Stat. 76) passed by Congress on May 18, 1917 authorized the President of the United States to increase the armed forces through conscription. The Act directed the Provost Marshal General Office (P.M.G.O.) to select men eligible for military service.

All men between the ages of 18 and 45 were required to register regardless of citizenship status or other factors. 

Three Separate Draft Registrations During World War I

The draft was then divided into three separate registrations:

  1. The 1st draft registration was dated June 5, 1917, for men aged 21 to 31. On July 20, 1917, 10,500 numbers were drawn by Secretary of War Newton Baker.
  2. The 2nd draft registration was dated June 5, 1918, for men who had turned 21 since the previous registration and included a supplemental registration on August 24, 1918. It was for men turning 21 after June 5, 1918. On June 27, 1918, 1200 numbers were drawn by the Secretary of War.
  3. The 3rd draft registration was dated September 12, 1918. It was intended for all men aged 18 to 45 years. On October 1, 1918, 17,500 numbers were drawn by the Secretary of War.
NYC-World War I After Registration

NYC- Registering for the Great War

Deciphering World War I Draft Registration Cards & Numbering

On the corners of each registration card are stamped or written a series of numbers; on the left is the serial number that was assigned as soon as they registered. It could also be the number that the registrant was in line the day the cards were filled out. After each registration was complete at the local boards, the headquarters of the Selective Service in Washington DC placed each of the serial numbers into a container.

On July 20, 1917, Secretary of War Newton Baker drew the first of 10,500 numbers from a bowl for the 1st registration.

First WWI Draft newspaper headline

The first number drawn was No. 258 for which every person who registered was given an order number of 1. This was repeated until each serial number has an order number.  The image below shows the order of the numbers drawn from the 1st Registration as was published in the Pittsburgh Post on  July 21, 1917.

First WWI Draft newspaper first numbers drawn

Pittsburgh Daily Post July 21, 1917

On the back of the registration cards was stamped another series of numbers followed by a letter designation. Example below: Ellis L. Keller who resided at 340 N. Partridge Avenue in Lebanon, Pennsylvania. 

Ellis L. Keller-WWI Draft Card

On the back of the card it has stamped 37-5-18 [then a space] A. These numbers and letters provide additional clues:

  • The first number represents the state (37 represents Pennsylvania)
  • The second digit represents the District Board Number
  • The last number 18 is the Local Board Number
  • Following each number is a series of letters, either “A, B, or C,” which will correspond respectfully with the 1st, 2nd, or 3rd draft registration

For the above example of Ellis L. Keller, his draft registration was part of the 1st Registration.

Ellis L. Keller-Lebanon, PA

Ellis L Keller & Family in Lebanon, PA (Photo courtesy of Michael Strauss)

Draft Classification Lists

Once your ancestors registered they needed to be classified and assigned a draft status, which is found on the draft classification lists. These records haven’t been digitized and are only available onsite at the National Archives branch located in Morrow, Georgia. This branch is located in the suburbs of Atlanta.

Ellis L. Keller-WWI Draft Classification List

Image courtesy of Michael Strauss

The records for World War I and the Selective Service are found in Record Group 163 at the National Archives. The Archives allows for email inquiries and for a modest fee they will copy the classification history of any ancestors you request.

To learn more about the regulations governing the Selective Service Act, click here to view the complete regulations for World War I at the Hunter College, part of the City University of New York (CUNY). It includes the complete listing of classifications and all of the forms filled out by the registrants.

Searches should also be conducted in the National Archives regional office located in College Park, Maryland. This is often referred to as Archives II. This office in one of the central repositories for other draft registration materials from World War I including:

  • records of physicals
  • questionnaires
  • lists of men examined
  • deserters
  • delinquents [slackers]
  • men who reported for duty
  • appeals to the President

The following link goes directly to their collection of records.

Other World War I Draft Records

As you can see there are a number of wonderful resources you can use to learn more about your ancestors during the World War I period. In addition to onsite and online resources already mentioned,  it is possible that you may have relevant papers in your own personal family collection. These can include the registration card that was given to your ancestor proving that he had registered for the draft.

Rudolph Just-WWI Registration Certificate

Rudolph Just-WWI Registration Certificate (courtesy of Michael Strauss)

Also keep an eye out for the postcard that was mailed to him notifying him of the draft status. Here’s an example from Rudolph Just of Milwaukee, Wisconsin:

Rudolph Just-WWI Draft Classification Postcard

Rudolph Just-WWI Draft Classification Postcard (Images courtesy of Michael Strauss)

For a complete listing of all of the classifications for World War I through World War II and including post-war service for the Vietnam and Korean warm, contact the college at Swarthmore University in Pennsylvania. They have recorded each of the listings along with explanations. Once this is done, contact the Archives in College Park, MD to obtain other Selective Service records. All records are part of Records Group 147

Military History at Genealogy GemsResources for Learning More About World War I and Military History

Move forward in time from the Great War to World War II with Michael’s article Deciphering Draft Registration Cards for Genealogy: World War II.

Then, click the image on the right to head to our comprehensive collection of articles on military history. 

Author: Michael Strauss, AG

Author: Michael Strauss, AG

Michael Strauss, AG is the principal owner of Genealogy Research Network and an Accredited Genealogist since 1995. He is a native of Pennsylvania and a resident of Utah and has been an avid genealogist for more than 30 years. Strauss holds a BA in History and is a United States Coast Guard veteran.

The History of Your Ancestors’ Baby Clothes

The History of Your Ancestors’ Baby Clothes

Valentine’s Day brings to mind visions of cupid, a baby dressed only in a nappy shooting arrows of love at unsuspecting couples. While this little cherub celebrates the holiday au natural, let’s take some time to talk about the fashion statements the babies in our family tree have made through the centuries. To help us visualize the togs those tots wore we could turn to our grandmother’s photo albums, but there we may find a surprise: lots of photos of female ancestors and surprisingly fewer of the males. Why is that? Read on as my colleague and guest genealogist Allison DePrey Singleton, Librarian at the Allen County Public Library Genealogy Center unravels the mystery and stitches together a delightful history of baby clothing.

The History of Baby Clothing

The history of baby clothes in America is fascinating. Many reasons exist as to why not much is written about baby clothes the further back in history you go. One reason is that baby clothes were just a natural part of life and not something that was documented thoroughly. Another is that baby clothes were not colorful or eye-catching. Traditionally, baby clothes were white so they could be easily bleached.

Swaddling in the 17th Century

In the 1600s, babies were “swaddled” and not in the current sense of the word. They were wrapped tightly in cloth so their legs and arms would stay straight. It was thought that if the baby’s limbs were bent, they could become physically deformed. The swaddling went from the head down their entire body to keep it still and straight. You can see a depiction of a swaddled baby in Jan Steen’s painting, Celebrating the Birth. The child is being held at an awkward angle, and since the child is swaddled so firmly, the head does not need to be physically supported. (Image below)

Steen Celebrating the Birth

Stay with Me: More Baby Clothing History

Another fascinating seventeenth-century practice is the use of “stays” on babies. Once a baby left the swaddling period, he or she was put into a tiny corset, or stays, to keep straight and stiff. The era placed a great deal of emphasis on the positivity of an erect and straight posture. Parents dressed their children in long skirts, regardless of sex, to prevent crawling, which was considered barbaric and unnatural. The long skirts were significant indicators of age and not sex. A depiction of a child in stays and long skirts can be seen in the painting, Mrs. Freake and Baby Mary.

From Baby Clothing to Breeched

The 1700s brought new ideas about allowing physical freedom for babies. Firm swaddling went out of vogue and so did the infant stays. Parents still dressed their babies in little dresses, but they were now ankle length after about six months. As the centuries went by, baby clothes became more ornate and frilly. Social norms considered babies to be beautiful, no matter the sex, and no concerns existed about differentiating the gender at a glance. Boys and girls alike could have long ringlets and dresses. This makes identifying boys and girls in photographs more difficult. There were small nuances that separated the boys from the girls. Boys would have one style of dress while girls could possibly have a more ornate dress. Clothes were not distinct to gender until children reached a certain age. Boys would then be “breeched,” or allowed to wear breeches, sometime between four and seven years of age. As the decades passed, the age to be “breeched” became younger and younger. This painting of Two Boys in a Garden shows a boy who had been “breeched” and a younger boy who had not. You can learn more about this painting at the Connecticut Historical Society

Baby Clothes in the Pink (and Blue!) 

With the advent of washing machines in the mid-1800s and the expanded availability of store-bought fabrics, baby clothes began having a bit of hue to them. Initially, there were no colors assigned to either sex, but this changed in the mid-1800s. Originally, boys were assigned the color pink and girls the color blue. Check out this adorable pink and red shirt for a baby boy in The Autry’s Collections Online: This vintage baby announcement is also a great example of the use of pink for boys:

Various writings, books, and newspaper articles show this opposite color assignment for babies, including this article from 1897:

“On Friday, when she had read the papers and learned of the event at Princeton, Mrs. McKinley smiled, but her smile had a trace of discomfiture. The booties which she had sent to Mrs. Cleveland were blue, and as all the world which has had experience in such things well knows, blue booties are for girls and pink for boys.”  – The Wilkes-Barre Telephone (Wilkes-Barre, Pennsylvania), Saturday, November 6, 1897.  

The mixed beliefs about the correct color for each gender continued well into the 1900s. In 1925, the Betty Bob’s Family paper doll book came out with a Baby Bobby in it, featuring some feminine looking clothing: The Times Magazine featured a chart on which ten popular department stores labeled the gender of clothes for which sex. Six stores listed pink for boys and only five stores showed pink for girls (one store even had pink for both sexes). You can view this article through the same access link as for the other articles.

Not until after World War II did the custom of assigning pink for girls and blue for boys become set. One thing to note is that even in today’s society, baby girls can wear blue or pink, but baby boys generally are not dressed in pink. Since the color assignments became set, it has become an insult to many mothers to call a child by the wrong gender. You will see most babies with some kind of indicator on them, such as a bow headband or a little blue blanket or toy, even if their clothes are not a female shade or male shade of color.

Baby Clothing in Your Family Photo Albums

It is a relatively new phenomenon to have gender-assigned clothing instead of just age-assigned clothing. Take another look at your family photos and those vintage baby clothes. You might see something new from a different perspective. 


Baumgarten, Linda. What clothes reveal: the language of clothing in colonial and federal America: the Colonial Williamsburg Collection. Williamsburg, VA: Colonial Williamsburg.
Calvert, Karin Lee Fishbeck. Children in the house: the material culture of early childhood, 1600-1900. Boston: Northeastern University Press, 1992.
F., José Blanco, Mary D. Doering, Patricia Hunt-Hurst, and Heather Vaughan Lee. Clothing and fashion: American fashion from head to toe. Vol. 1-3. Santa Barbara, CA: ABC-CLIO, an imprint of ABC-CLIO, LLC, 2016.
Hiner, N. Ray., and Joseph M. Hawes. Growing up in America: children in historical perspective. Urbana: University of Illinois Press, 1985.
Paoletti, Jo B. “Clothing and Gender in America: Children’s Fashions, 1890-1920.” Signs: Journal of Women in Culture and Society 13, no. 1 (1987): 136-43. doi:10.1086/494390.
Paoletti, Jo Barraclough. Pink and blue: telling the boys from the girls in America. Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 2012.
“When Did Girls Start Wearing Pink?” Accessed January 10, 2017.

About the Author: Allison DePrey Singleton

About the Author: Allison DePrey Singleton

Allison is Genealogy Librarian at the Allen County Public Library Genealogy Center where her specialties include Indiana, France, and Germany as well as programming for all levels of genealogists and keeping family history alive via social media and new digital trends.

Scandinavian Genealogy Records Updated Online

Scandinavian Genealogy Records Updated Online

This week your Scandinavian ancestors might just be waiting for you in a big update to Ancestry’s Swedish vital records collections. You can also check out the 1940 Denmark Census, available online now at MyHeritage. Additionally, Catholic records from the Archdiocese of New York are also new online at Findmypast. 

Featured: Swedish Vital Records Update

Genealogy giant subscription website has updated 4 collections of Swedish vital records dating back to 1840. If you have Scandinavian heritage, you’ll want to explore these updates to see if your brick wall ancestor might be waiting to be discovered! These records are in Swedish, so for best results, you should search using Swedish words and location spellings.

First up is the collection for Sweden, Indexed Birth Records, 1859-1947. You can search a child’s given name, birth date, birthplace, father’s name and birth date, and mother’s name and birth date. The child’s surname is not included in the records.

The Sweden, Indexed Marriage Records, 1860-1947 collection has also been updated. These records might provide an ancestor’s name, date of birth, date and place of marriage, spouse name and date of birth, and more. Additionally, later records may include additional information on the image such as occupation, residence, nationality, religion, and previous martial standing.

Also updated is the Sweden, Indexed Death Records, 1840-1947 collection. While the collection for 1881–1947 is fairly complete, the database contains only selected records for 1840–1880. Another note about this collection is that children often have parents listed, and married women may have a spouse listed, even if he has pre-deceased her.

Finally, Ancestry has also added new records to their existing collection for Sweden, Emigration Registers, 1869-1948. From the collection description: “These registers, maintained by local police services at the main ports of embarkation, provide details of those who left, where they left from and their intended place of arrival. Many of the passengers traveled beyond the port of arrival, settling in other cities and countries so be sure to check the image for intended destinations to see where they may have eventually established a new home.”

1940 Denmark Census

If your Scandinavian ancestors emigrated more recently or even stayed put, then you might find them in the 1940 Denmark Census, available online now at MyHeritage. From the description: “The 1940 Denmark Census was conducted on November 5, 1940 and provides a glimpse into the lives of the citizens of Denmark at the start of World War II. Every individual within the household at the time of the census, whether family, visitor, or employee was enumerated. Each record contains information about the specific person’s given and family names, gender, residence, birth date, birthplace, marital status, marriage date, and their relationship to the head of household.

“Additional information can be found on the images including profession, education level, and disability (hearing and vision impairment). The census was the only population registration taken in Denmark during World War II, the previous census was collected in 1930 and the following census in 1950.”

New York Catholic Records

Findmypast made big updates to their collections of New York Catholic Parish Records this week. We’ve covered them here:

New York Roman Catholic Parish Baptisms – Over 329,000 additional baptism records have been added and cover nearly 60 parishes across the diocese and span the years 1787 to 1916. “The collection currently consists of transcripts taken from over 200 New York parishes. The amount of detail listed in each transcript will vary, but most will include a combination of your ancestor’s date of birth, place of birth, baptism date, baptism place, the names of their parents and first language.”

New York Roman Catholic Parish Marriages – “Over 95,000 Sacramental register entries from 65 New York Catholic parishes have been added to the collection. Spanning the years 1819 to 1916, these new marriage records will reveal the names, birth years, occupations, residences and parents’ names of both the bride and groom as well as the date and location of their marriage.”

New York Roman Catholic Parish Congregational Records – This is a very small collection, and the new additions cover the parishes of SS Joseph & Thomas in Richmond County (1910), St Columba in Orange County (1895 – 1915) and St Peter in Ulster County (1860).

More on Swedish genealogy research 

Swedish genealogy research can be daunting. Many people avoid Swedish research because they don’t speak the language and because the names change every generation–like from Ole Olsson to Ole Nilsson to Nils Pehrrson. Despite these barriers, Swedish research can be relatively simple, fun, and successful for several reasons. Click here to read these getting-started tips from an expert at Legacy Tree Genealogists!

Lacey Cooke

Lacey Cooke

Lacey has been working with Genealogy Gems since the company’s inception in 2007. Now, as the full-time manager of Genealogy Gems, she creates the free weekly newsletter, writes blogs, coordinates live events, and collaborates on new product development. No stranger to working with dead people, Lacey holds a degree in Forensic Anthropology, and is passionate about criminal justice and investigative techniques. She is the proud dog mom of Renly the corgi. 

Disclosure: This article contains affiliate links and Genealogy Gems will be compensated if you make a purchase after clicking on these links (at no additional cost to you). Thank you for supporting Genealogy Gems!

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