How to Find Draft Registration Records and What They May Tell You about Your Ancestors

Do you have ALL your ancestors’ U.S. draft registration records–from the Civil War until after World War II? These documents may be filled with genealogy clues, whether your ancestor served in a war or not. Military expert Michael Strauss presents this roll call of U.S. draft registration records you’ll want to check!

military draft records

Thanks to Michael L. Strauss of Genealogy Research Network for providing this guest post.

Military records can lead genealogists to many new sources of information. One of the first records that you may come across (for our United States ancestors) that could provide unknown information are found in draft registrations. The records are civilian in scope, but can provide clues of prior military service or proof of current war conditions.

The National Archives holds custody overall for the bulk of the draft registrations from the Civil War to post-war World War II. The Archives organizes their records by grouping numbers. The Civil War draft registrations are found in two record groups, RG59 and RG110. Later draft registrations are found in RG147. In all cases, finding aids are available to locate and obtain copies.

Civil War Draft Registration Records

Recruiting poster, New York printed by Baker & Godwin, June 23, 1863. Public domain image hosted at Wikipedia.org (click to view).

Civil War draft records date back to the first national draft which was signed by Abraham Lincoln on March 3, 1863. This draft only applied to men residing in states under Union control. The draft includes several lists detailing information about men eligible to be drafted to fight for the Federal Army. This included consolidated lists for men between the ages of 20-45, which are grouped and divided into two classes of records. This list contains the name, residence, age, race, marital status, place of birth, any former military service, occupation, and remarks for each registrant. (Remarks might include ineligibility based on religious reasons or former service in the Confederate Army.)

Other registrations included medical exams, statements of substitutes, and case files of persons who were draft aliens. (Aliens were ineligible for military service and therefore contain files that document their nativity.) All of these are at the National Archives.

The last group of records includes the descriptive rolls that contain the name, age, physical descriptions, where born, occupation, when and where drafted, and remarks. The descriptive books are located at the regional branches of the National Archives and can be accessed by researchers, as these have not been filmed or scanned. Records are divided into two separate record groups: RG59 (Department of State) covered those men who were aliens and RG110 (Provost Marshal) has all the other lists of men being drafted.

The only Civil War draft registration records available online are the consolidated lists; click here to search them at Ancestry.com (subscription required). On the Confederate side, there are a limited number of draft records available, some at the National Archive and some in the custody of individual state archives.

World War I Draft Registration Records

For a number of years, there was no draft or draft registration. However, when the United States entered the war in Europe on April 6, 1917, the country was totally unprepared for overseas campaigning. This conflict forced our government to consider other means to recruit the tens of thousands of men it would take to wage this war. The Selective Service Act of 1917 authorized the President of the United States to increase the military establishment being passed by Congress on May 18, 1917. The Act directed the Provost Marshal General Office (P.M.G.O.) to select men eligible for military service.

All men were required to register, native-born or aliens. The draft is separated into three registrations:

  • The 1st draft registration was dated June 5, 1917 for men aged 21 to 31 and consisted of 12 questions.
  • 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 for men turning 21 after June 5, 1918. Each consisted of 10 questions.
  • The 3rd draft registration was dated September 12, 1918 and was intended for all men aged 18 to 45 years. It consisted of 20 questions.

Each registrant was required to provide their name, age, birth date, and birthplace (in 2 of the 3 registrations), occupation or employer, nearest family, and a summarized physical description.

WWI draft registration of Henry Fox. Image from Ancestry.com.

By the end of World War I, nearly 24 million men had registered for the draft (this number excluded registered enemy aliens and those already in the military). The original draft cards are at the National Archives branch in Morrow, Georgia. World War I draft registrations are available online at Ancestry.comFamilySearch.org,  Findmypast.com and fold3. FamilySearch is the only one with free access (a personal subscription or library access is required for the others).

World War II Draft Registration Records

The eve of World War II saw the passage of another conscription act. This act was the Selective Training and Service Act of 1940, and was the first peace time conscription in United States History. This act officially established the Selective Service System. The draft during World War II consisted of seven registrations. The “Old Man’s Draft,” or 4th registration, was for men born between 1877 and 1897, with the other six registrations intended for the younger adult men born after 1897:

  • 1st: October 16, 1940, included all men 21-31.
  • 2nd: July 1, 1941, for those men who reached age 21 since the first registration.
  • 3rd: February 16, 1942, for men ages 20-21 and ages 35-44.
  • 4th: April 27, 1942, for all men between the ages of 45 and 64. The registrants were not eligible for military service (this is the “Old Man’s Draft”).
  • 5th: June 30, 1942, for all men between the ages of 18 and 20.
  • 6th: December 10 – 31, 1942, for all men who had reached the age of 18 since the previous registration.
  • 7th: November 16 – December 31, 1943, for American men living abroad between the ages of 18 and 44.

Registrants were required to provide their name, address, birth date, birthplace, and employer’s information, along with a contact individual who would always know the registrant’s information or address. The form also asked for the telephone number of the registrant in addition to a more complete physical description.

WWII draft registration of Henry Fox. Image from Ancestry.com.

Several of the states that recorded the “Old Man’s Draft” were lost. The National Archives no longer has these records available. These states include: AL, FL, GA, KY, MS, NC, SC, and TN.

Not all of the World War II Draft registrations are available online. Less the states above, view 4th registrations online at Ancestry.com, Familysearch.org (index and browse-only images) and fold3. The fold3 database includes 25 states and territories: AL, AK, AR, AR, CO, CT, DE, FL, GA, HA, ID, LA, MD, NV, NM, NC, OK, PA, UT, VA, WV, WY, and the District of Columbia and the Virgin Islands. (On Ancestry.com, the number of states is limited to AR, GA, LA, and NC.) Other states are in the process of being added. However, the remaining states are only available directly from the National Archives in St. Louis, MO.

Some of the other registrations are also available online for a selected grouping of states.

Expert tip: It is not uncommon to find men registered for both World War I and World War II draft registrations, which would depend on their ages.

Post-World War II Draft Registration Records

The draft and registrations didn’t cease with the conclusion of World War II. It was active from 1948 until 1973, when President Richard M. Nixon officially signed legislation that ended the draft. This was suspended in 1975, and five years later, in 1980, President James E. Carter again brought back into activity the Selective Service System. This came in response to the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan. To date, the Selective Service System still remains active, requiring all men to register within 30 days of their reaching the age of 18 years.

To gain access those records not online from World War II, and for the later registration cards for men for the Korean and Vietnam conflicts and for other years, researchers will need to contact the National Archives in St. Louis, MO. This office handles the original cards for all men born between April 28, 1877 and March 28, 1957. The National Archives fee schedule is in place to request the records by mail. A copy of the Draft Registration Card (SSS Form 1) alone costs $7.00, or order a copy of it along with the Draft Classification History (SSS Form 102) for $27.00. Click here to go to the National Archives’ webpage for ordering Selective Service records.

Draft Registration Records for Men Born after 1960

The law never required men to register who were born between March 29, 1957 and December 31, 1959. The National Archives doesn’t hold copies of records for men born after January 1, 1960. To gain access to draft registration for all other years, contact the Selective Service System directly. Click here for all the details.

Michael L. Strauss contributes the new Military Minutes segment on the Genealogy Gems Podcast. Listen to this segment in the free Genealogy Gems Podcast episode 207.

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!

Why You Should Have a Free FamilySearch Account–And Use It!

A free FamilySearch account gives you access to more historical records and customized site features than you’ll see if you don’t log in at this free genealogy website. Here’s why you should get a free FamilySearch account and log in EVERY time you visit the site. 

free FamilySearch account

GIANTS GIANTS Big 4 records websites

This post is part of our ongoing commitment to help you get the most out of the “Genealogy Giants:

In this post, I comment on a recent announcement from the free giant everyone should be using: FamilySearch.org.

Why you should have (and use!) a free FamilySearch account

FamilySearch.org has always allowed free public use of its site. But beginning on December 13, 2017, the site will now actively prompt visitors to register for a free FamilySearch account or to log in with their existing accounts. Anyone can continue to search the catalog and user-submitted genealogies, explore over 350,000 digitized books, learn from the Wiki and the learning center, and even view user-contributed photos and stories. But by requesting you to log in, FamilySearch wants to remind you that this is your path to even more free records and services on the site.

Here are my top three reasons to have and use a free FamilySearch account:

1. Access more free historical records on FamilySearch.

We’ve talked a lot in recent months about best strategies for accessing digitized and off-line historical records at FamilySearch. Some of the digitized records on FamilySearch are there courtesy of a partner organization, which may restrict record access to those who log in on the site.

One woman had an “ah-ha” moment of realization after reading FamilySearch’s announcement. She posted in the comments, “Though I have had a free account for some time, I did not realize that FamilySearch was not giving me full access to information in record searches just because I had not logged in. Maybe I need to redo my past searches as a logged-in account holder.”

2. Participate in the global Family Tree.

As I more fully describe in my quick reference guide, Genealogy Giants: Comparing the 4 Major Websites, FamilySearch’s online family tree is different than the tree systems used at the other major family history websites. Instead of creating your own personal tree, you participate in a collaborative, unified family tree of the world. As a logged-in visitor, you can enter your information, then that of your parents and their parents, etc. until you connect to deceased individuals who are already on the tree. (Information about living individuals is always privacy-protected.) Then you may, with other descendants, contribute what you to know to an ancestor’s profile.

Anyone may make changes to these public profiles, which may at times be frustrating. But it also allows for more focused collaboration. This is a great place to see a virtual compilation of others’ research on particular ancestors without having to search others’ personal trees individually, as you do on other sites (remember to look for their source citations and verify what others say). The Family Tree on FamilySearch is also a great place to digitally archive family documents and photos where other researchers may see and appreciate them for free. As you can see in the screenshot below, logging in also helps you see how others have identified the folks you see in your search results:

3. Get customized help.

Those who log in with a free FamilySearch account have access to one-on-one assistance through the website. If you have a question about using the site, accessing records, finding additional records about your ancestors, or even how to understand the records you’re looking at, you can email or call a live support person for help. Your login also sets you up to receive customized alerts and seasonal messages (like “Did you know your ancestor fought in the War of 1812?”) and a dashboard experience with at-a-glance reminders of record hints awaiting your review, where you left off in your last online session, tips about what to do next, and more. Here’s what the dashboard looks like:

How to get (or recover) a free FamilySearch account

See Registering to use FamilySearch.org for information about creating a free account. FamilySearch accounts have always been free and, the site assures us, will continue to be free. You will need to provide your first and last name, a username, a password, and an email or mobile phone number.

According to FamilySearch, your login and other personal information:

  • enables collaboration in the Family Tree and Memories areas of the site (you control how much information is shared)
  • “allows you to send in-system messages to other users without revealing your personal identity or email address”
  • “allows FamilySearch to send you emails and newsletters (you can specify how many emails, if any, you receive)”
  • enables communication when you contact their online support team for help
  • will not be shared “with any third party without your consent”

If you’ve already got a FamilySearch account but have forgotten your username, click here. If you’ve forgotten your password, click here.

Genealogy Gems Brings You Genealogy Giants

genealogy giants quick reference guide cheat sheetEach of the “Genealogy Giants” has so much to offer family historians around the world! But it’s hard to keep them straight, compare their top features, and get the most out of them without some inside help. That’s why we published the must-have quick reference guide, Genealogy Giants: Comparing the 4 Major Websites, your personal comparative tour of Ancestry.comFamilySearch, Findmypast, and MyHeritage.

This inexpensive guide can save you hours of wasted time hunting down the records you need. It can save you hundreds of dollars by helping you invest in the genealogy websites you most need to use right now–because your research needs change right along with your growing family tree! The guide is available for your immediate reference as a digital download or get a handy, high-quality printed copy you can keep with your genealogy research files.

Discover Your Scandinavian Ancestors in New and Updated Genealogy Records Online

Look for your Scandinavian ancestors in new and updated online Swedish marriage records, as well as population registers and vital records indexes for the Netherlands. Also: English parish registers, an Israeli collection for the Six Day War, and several U.S. collections: biographies, WWII draft registrations, Indian wills, Arkansas, Florida and Georgia.

Netherlands – Population Registers, BMD

In May, MyHeritage published major new collections for the Netherlands. Among them are indexes to civil births, marriages and deaths, as well as church baptisms, marriages and burials. You’ll also find their new Netherlands, Population Registers, 1810-1936 index, with more than 16 million records from population registers across the Netherlands. “Records typically list name, birth date, birthplace, residence date, and residence place. Sometimes an individual’s age, occupation, and names of their parents or spouse is also included.”

TIP: Use the source information given to go to browse-only collections of register images at FamilySearch (free) or Ancestry.com (subscribers or library users).

Sweden – Marriage records

Over 6.5 million records are in the new Ancestry.com collection, Sweden, Indexed Marriage Records, 1860-1943. According to the collection description, “records in this database were created by Statistics Sweden (SCB), a government agency established in 1858 that extracted and transcribed birth, marriage, and death information from Evangelical Lutheran Church in Sweden parish record books from 1860 to 1941.” You will likely find the names (including maiden name), dates of birth, gender and number of marriage for the bride and groom, along with dates and place of marriage. Later records may add more details: occupation, residence, nationality, religion and previous marital status. TIP: See the collection description for an explanation of Swedish naming traditions.

FYI–Ancestry.com’s Sweden, Indexed Death Records, 1840-1942 has also been recently updated (it’s now got 12.5 million records).

England – Parish Registers

Findmypast.com has recently posted the following new and updated parish records:

Israel – Military

The Israel State Archives has released a digital archive from the Six Day War. According to an article at Arutz Sheva, the collection numbers over 150,000 pages and includes “minutes of 36 meetings of the Ministerial Committee on National Security from January-July 1967, Cabinet protocols and documents pertaining to the war from various ministries (Prime Minister’s Office, Foreign Ministry, Interior Ministry, Religious Affairs Ministry, Tourism Ministry, Justice Ministry, Housing Ministry and others), as well as sound and video files, still photographs and materials from the personal archives of Levy Eshkol, Yaakov Herzog, Aviad Yafe, Moshe Sasson and Rabbi Shlomo Goren.” Click here for the Six Day War Collection on the Israel State Archives website.

United States – Miscellaneous

  • Biographies of Famous People: You’ve likely seen late 19th-century U.S. county histories with biographical sketches of prominent residents (perhaps you’ve even found your family among them). A national version of these “mug books” has been published and indexed on Ancestry.com. Appletons’ Cyclopedia of American Biography, 1600-1889 includes over 15,000 entries from annual volumes 1887-1889, with entries from most states. “Much of the information found within was compiled by either the subjects themselves or by their families,” warns the collection description. “Not all of the biographies found within the Cyclopedia may be accurate….Since contributors to the project were paid by space, there is speculation that the authors of the false pieces may have been financially motivated to add fabricated entries.” As always, use what you find to inform and guide your research: verify everything you can.
  • Red Cross: Nearly 20,000 newly scanned photographs from the American National Red Cross collection are now online at the Library of Congress website.
  • WWII draft registrations: Fold3 has added 21 new states or regions to its collection of WWII Draft Registration Cards. Draft registration cards are an excellent resource for determining where your family lived after the 1940 census; employer information, which can lead to business records or help you identify a relative in a city directory; and more.
  • Indian wills: Ancestry.com has a new collection of U.S., Indian Wills, 1910-1921. According to the collection description, for a time, “the Probate Divisions of the Bureau of Indian Affairs were responsible for determining the heirs of deceased Indian trust allottees. Ultimately, Native Americans submitted more than 2,500 pages of wills and probate records to the Bureau. These records span the period 1910 to 1921 and, with a few exceptions, pertain to Indian families living in the Plains and several western states. Researchers will find members of the following tribes represented in this collection: Chippewa, Sioux, Apache, Shawnee, Quapaw, Assinboin, Leach Lake Chippewa, Confederated Flathead, Ponca, Cheyenne, Crow, Sac & Fox, Nez Perce, Southern Ute, Omaha, Osage, and more.”
  • Arkansas: The Arkansas State Archive Newspaper Digitization Project has now digitized and indexed over 200,000 pages that will appear on Newspapers.com in June. Click here to learn more about this project.
  • Florida: Flagler College (St. Augustine, Florida) has digitized its archive of yearbooks and photos, articles, college catalogs, and more. Now available to the public online
  • Georgia: Now on the Georgia Archives is a digital version of its Bible Records Microfilm Index. These are images of the “card catalog (compiled by Georgia Archives staff) of the Archives’ holdings of Bible records on microfilm. The cards have been scanned and saved in PDF format.”

Got Swedish roots?

Then you’ll likely enjoy our current Genealogy Gems Book Club featured title, The Whole Town’s Talking by internationally-bestselling author Fannie Flagg. It’s the story of two Swedish-American immigrants to the U.S., who find each other and marry after the man places an ad in a newspaper. Their dairy farm becomes the core of Swede Town, which grows into a classic Midwestern town. This novel is the multi-generational story of that town. Click here to learn more about The Whole Town’s Talking and The Genealogy Gems Book Club.

We Dig These Gems! New Genealogy Records Online

We dig these gems new genealogy records online

Every Friday, we blog about new genealogy records online. Do any collections below relate to your family history? Please share with genealogy buddies or societies that might be interested! This week: Midwestern U.S. newspapers (Cleveland, OH and Chicago, IL) and records of Pennsylvania coal and canal workers’ and English and Welsh criminals.

CLEVELAND JEWISH NEWS. Technically this isn’t new content, but access to the Cleveland Jewish News is newly free, so it’s new to most of us! You do need to provide your name and email address for free access to 125 years of Cleveland Jewish newspapers. Subscribers have immediate access to all content as it is published; the public can access materials 90 days after they go online.

CHICAGO TRIBUNE ARCHIVE. For a very limited time–during beta testing of its new archive–old issues of The Chicago Tribune are free to search on its Archives website. Click here for their FAQ page or read a more detailed report on the National Genealogical Society (US) blog.

ENGLAND & WALES REGISTER OF CRIMINAL PETITIONS. Findmypast added over 77,000 records to its Registers of Criminal Petitions index to imaged registers of correspondence relating to criminal petitions. Documents usually give the outcome of any appeal and registers note the place of imprisonment.

PENNSYLVANIA COAL AND CANAL WORKERS. Ancestry just posted employee cards and applications from the Lehigh Coal and Navigation Company for first half of the twentieth century. “The cards may list name, marital status, occupation, birth date, record date, residence, spouse, nationality, number of children and their ages, citizenship, date range for jobs, who to notify in case of an accident, and pension date. Applications can contain other details, including parents’ names, schooling, employment record, birthplace, and height and weight.”

check_mark_circle_400_wht_14064When searching digitized newspaper sites, remember that the search technology used (optical character recognition) is much less thorough for historical newspapers than modern text, especially for capitalized words. Use creative search terms if searches on an ancestor’s name aren’t productive, like the person’s occupation or death date. Click here to learn more about using Google to search digitized newspaper pages, or read Lisa Louise Cooke’s newly-revised and updated book The Genealogist’s Google Toolbox, available now both in print and e-book format.

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