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!

We Dig These Gems! New Genealogy Records Online

We dig these gemsEvery 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!

AUSTRALIAN CONVICTS. A variety of convict records for New South Wales and Queensland, Australia, are now searchable on Findmypast. The NSW records include certificates of freedom and death records beginning in the 1820s. Queensland data includes convict indexes from 1824-1936.

CALIFORNIA DEATHS. Over 2 million deaths in California from 1905-1939 are now searchable for free on FamilySearch. “The index is arranged alphabetically by the name of the deceased, initials of spouse, age, and date of death. Place of death or county of death is coded.”

IRISH COURT RECORDS. Nearly 22 million records appear in the new FamilySearch database, Ireland Petty Sessions Court Registers 1828-1912. According to FamilySearch, “Most records contains name, address, the date in court, and whether the person was a witness, complainant or defendant. It might also contain other information to the specific case. These records were originally filmed at the National Archives of Ireland and the index was created by FindMyPast.com.”

IRISH MILITARY. Ireland’s National Army Census of 1922 is now searchable at Findmypast. Taken in the midst of the Irish Civil War, it “includes details pertaining to where soldiers were stationed, their ages and their next of kin,” according to the collection description.

KENTUCKY VITAL RECORDS. Nearly 10 million names appear in the new FamilySearch index, Kentucky Vital Record Indexes 1911-1999. The database includes “indexes of births, marriages, and deaths from January 1911 to July 1999. These indexes were created by the Kentucky Department for Libraries and Archives from data files obtained from the Office of Vital Statistics.”

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Here’s a tip: if you live far from your ancestors’ hometown, why not make a virtual visit? Google Earth is a powerful, free, interactive 3D map of the world. Use it to “fly” over a hometown or even drop down into a Street View that lets you see what’s there now. Maybe you’ll find an old home, neighborhood, school, courthouse, church, cemetery or other landmark relating to your family. Learn more in our free Google Earth for Genealogy video. Click here to watch it!

 

Free Genealogy – How to Find Free Genealogy Records

Elevenses with Lisa Episode 21 Video and Show Notes

Live show air date: August 20, 2020
Join me for Elevenses with Lisa, the online video series where we take a break, visit and learn about genealogy and family history. 

How to Find Free Genealogy Resources

In the genealogy community it’s often said, “Only a fraction of genealogical records are online.” That’s true indeed, but it’s not a reason not to start your search online. A more helpful and accurate piece of advice would be “while not everything is online, all search for genealogical information starts online.”

The reason for this is simple. Online research before you go will reveal:

  • If the materials are available at a more convenient location
  • If the materials are available somewhere online for free
  • The call number, location, and other specific information you need to quickly access the materials once you arrive.
  • Details about gaining access to the facility and materials.

The last bullet point above will help you avoid the disappointment of discovering an unforeseen closure, or that the specific records you need are actually help at a satellite location.

New genealogical information and records are uploaded daily to the internet. Some of this information is available for free. In this article and episode we will cover strategic ways to locate and access free genealogy online.

The Amount of Data Continues to Increase – Read more about the growth of online information here.

The Path of Least Resistance to Free Genealogy

Most genealogists want to obtain records at the lowest available cost with the least amount of travel. Therefore, always starting your search online just makes good sense.

Here’s our path of least resistance:

  1. Free and Online: FamilySearch, Google, WorldCat
  2. Online and Subscription: Ancestry, MyHeritage, Findmypast, niche sites
  3. Free and Locally Offline: Libraries, Archives, Universities
  4. Offline and Distant: Examples include the National Archives, Allen County Library, Family History Library, NEHGS
The path to free genealogy

www.GenealogyGems.com

Free Genealogy Records Online

FamilySearch

FamilySearch is a free genealogy website.

The FamilySearch Catalog: New digitized images are added daily from microfilms & digital camera operators. These include books, maps, compiled family histories, and more. The catalog also includes materials that are not online but are available at the Family History Library in Salt Lake City or through Inter-library loan.

 The FamilySearch Wiki is a free online genealogical guide comprised of more than 93,000 articles. It covers 244 countries, territories, and islands. It includes links to genealogy databases and online resources as well as how-to information.

Use the FamilySearch Wiki Watchlist to follow pages of research interest. Here’s how to watch Wiki pages for new and free genealogy content:

  1. Log in with your free FamilySearch account
  2. navigate to the desired page
  3. click the Watchlist link in the upper right corner of the page.
Click the Watchlist button to follow the page

Look for the Watchlist link, and the blue buttons that lead to free online genealogy records for that location.

Google.com

Google is still your best bet for finding sources both online and offline.

You can dramatically improve your search results by incorporating search operators into your search. Watch episode 13 of Elevenses with Lisa to learn about how to use search operators when googling for genealogy.  

Get all of the Elevenses with Lisa episodes here.

how to get better google search results

Learn how to google for free genealogy in episode 13.

Find More Free Genealogy with these Google Search Strategies

The most comprehensive and best-selling book on the topic of using Google for genealogy: 
The Genealogist’s Google Toolbox, by Lisa Louise Cooke. 

Google Alerts Finds Free Genealogy for You

Set up free Google Alerts to be on the lookout for new and updated search results. You’ll receive them by email, and you can control the frequency.

Google Alerts for genealogy and family history

Google Alerts do the work of searching for free genealogy for you.

How to Create a Google Alert:

  1. Highlight and copy (Control C on Windows or Command C on Mac) the search query that you typed into the Google search box
  2. Go to www.google.com/alerts
  3. Sign into your free Google account
  4. Paste (Control V or Command V) your search query into the Search Query box on the Google Alerts page
  5. Select the Result Type you desire (ex. Everything, News, etc.)
  6. Select how often you wish to receive alerts
  7. Select How Many results you want to receive (I recommend Only the Best Results)
  8. Enter / Select the email address you want your alerts to be sent to
  9. Click the Create Alert button

Partnerships Make Free Genealogy Available

Many of the genealogy giants enter partnerships with each other in order to facilitate digitization and indexing of genealogical records. This means that the same materials may be found in different locations on the web, and sometimes for free.

WorldCat.org

17,900 subscribing member libraries in 123 countries collectively maintain WorldCat’s database which is the world’s largest bibliographic database.

Use WorldCat to check that you are indeed accessing the resource from the most convenient repository and if it’s available for free. Here’s how:

  1. Run your search
  2. Click an item
  3. Under Find a Copy in the Library enter your zip code
  4. The library closest to you will be listed at the top

Once you get your search results, look to the left in the Formats box. There you can quickly narrow down to only items that are online by clicking boxes like Downloadable Article. Some of these may require a log in on the website you are referred to.

How to Find Free Records at Genealogy Websites

Ancestry.com

If you don’t have a paid subscription to Ancestry.com you can still take advantage of their many free collections available here. Then read my article Why Use Ancestry for FREE if You’re NOT a Subscriber for more tips of free stuff at Ancestry.

MyHeritage.com

To find free records at MyHeritage.com, go to https://tinyurl.com/LisaMyHeritage. In the footer menu of the website, click on Historical Records. Then fill in your search criteria.  (Update: If you don’t see Historical Records in the footer, go to Research > Collection Catalog and search on the keyword “free.”) Scroll down the search results and look for the green free tags. 

Findmypast.com

To find free records at Findmypast which specialized in British genealogy but also includes records from around the world, go to https://tinyurl.com/FMPLisa.

(Some links in our articles are affiliate links. We will be compensated at no additional cost to use when you use them. This makes it possible for us to bring this free show to you. Thank you!)

Google Site Search Can Help Locate Free Genealogy

A site search works like many search operators as previously discussed in Elevenses with Lisa episode 13 (watch and read here.) It provides Google with specific instructions about the type of search you want to conduct with your search terms and keywords.

Google Site Search for free genealogy

This Site search tip comes from Lisa Louise Cooke’s book The Genealogists’s Google Toolbox.

Site search runs your query only on the specified website. This is extremely helpful and efficient if:

  • you have a particular website in mind that you want to search,
  • you aren’t having success using the search field provided by the website,
  • the website you want to search doesn’t have a search field.

Here’s an example of a Site search:

Free Pennsylvania site:ancestry.com

Try running the search above for yourself. You’ll find results that include many free genealogy records pertaining to Pennsylvania. Substitute the words to meet your search needs.

Construct a Site search for Free Genealogy by first typing in the words and phrases you wish to search for. Include the word free. Leave the appropriate spacing between them and follow the last item with a space. Then type site: and add the website home page address (URL). You can copy the URL and simply paste it in place. There is no space between the colon and the URL. And note that www is not required.

Searching for Offline Local Sources with Free Genealogy Information

To find what’s local and free:

  • Search WorldCat.org (be sure to use the Zip Code filtering to find the genealogy materials at the location closest to you.)
  • Use Google to search.
  • Find your local Family History Center here. These centers have unique free resources as well as free access to some subscription genealogy websites.

When you find a library, archive or other repository, visit their website and look for:

  • Databases they offer
  • Their online catalog to plan your research
  • Other associated libraries
  • Details on planning a visit

Get Free Genealogy Help on Facebook

Search for Random Acts of Genealogical Kindness (RAOGK) on Facebook. 

RAOGK on Facebook

Get free genealogy records help on Facebook.

Learn More with these Resources

Free Tools at MyHeritage for a Limited Time

Now through Sept. 10, 2020 you can get free access to Myheritage Photo Enhancer and MyHeritage In Color here

Click to use MyHeritage for free for a imited time.

 

Resources for this Episode

 

 

 

Military Ephemera Treasures Online

Military ephemera outside of photographs are abundant and located at many research libraries and other facilities across the United States.  Familiarizing yourself with historical collections and the finding aids online at many places can make all the difference in...

Best of New and Updated Genealogy Records Collections

This week the entire Genealogy Gems team is heading to Dallas to present a two day event at the Dallas Public Library. With Lisa, Sunny and Diahan so busy, I’ve decided to take the reins this week and bring you a roundup of my favorite genealogy records of 2017! This compilation includes collections that are new, updated, and just plain fun! I’ve really enjoyed digging back into these and finding new genealogy gems. And I’d love to know: what exciting and helpful collections have you been using this year? Please share in the comments below!

The Catholic Heritage Collection at Findmypast

In February of 2017, Findmypast announced the new Catholic Heritage Archive. Roman Catholic Church genealogical records go back centuries and are meticulously preserved, but difficult to obtain for the general public. Findmypast partnered with British and American Archdioceses to bring up to 100 million Catholic Church records online. Millions are available to search online now, and more will continue to be added.

English Roman Catholic Records
Irish Roman Catholic Records
Scottish Roman Catholic Records
United States & Canada Roman Catholic Records

 

Sanborn Fire Insurance Maps at the Library of Congress

The Library of Congress has put online nearly 25,000 additional Sanborn Fire Insurance Maps–and more are coming! Over the next three years, more will be added monthly until all 50 states are covered from the 1880s through the 1960s. This is definitely a collection to keep an eye on!

Sanborn maps show detailed information about neighborhoods, buildings, roads and more for thousands of towns in the U.S. and beyond. A sizable collection of pre-1900 Sanborn maps are already online at the Library of Congress (use the above link). Watch the short video below to learn more about them. The full length class is available to Genealogy Gems Premium Members.

https://youtu.be/Rhv5vtWwONM

Click here to learn more about how to use this outstanding online collection.

 

WWI Centennial – Free Records at FamilySearch

2017 marked the 100th anniversary of the United States entering World War I, and there was a wealth of records and historical resources featured online. I’m highlighting the collection of millions of WWI records available for free at FamilySearch.org, because who doesn’t love free?!

United States World War I Draft Registration Cards, 1917–1918
California, San Francisco, World War I Enemy Alien Registration Affidavits, 1918
Louisiana World War I Service Records, 1917–1920
Maine, World War I Draft Registration Index, 1917–1919
North Carolina, World War I Service Cards, 1917–1919
Texas, World War I Records, 1917–1920
United States Index to Naturalizations of World War I Soldiers, 1918
United States, YMCA World War I Service Cards, 1917–1919

 

Italian Civil Records at FamilySearch

Back in March, FamilySearch added to their unique collection of Italian genealogy records. Five specific locales in Italy have Civil Registration records online. Civil registrations include such things as births, marriages, and deaths. They can also include marriage banns and ten-year indexes. Of course, availability of records will depend on the time period and the location. In some cases, this collection goes back as far as the 15th century!

Italy, Viterbo, Civil Registration (State Archive), 1870-1943
Italy, Mantova, Civil Registration (State Archive), 1496-1906
Italy, Grosseto, Civil Registration (State Archive), 1851-1907
Italy, Rieti, Civil Registration (State Archive), 1840-1945
Italy, Enna, Civil Registration (State Archive), 1866-1944

Learn more about Italian genealogy: In the video below, Lisa sits down with Mary Tedesco of Genealogy Roadshow (on PBS in the US) and talks about doing the TV show, and her tips for conducting Italian genealogy research. This is just one of the many genealogy videos on our Genealogy Gems YouTube Channel.

https://youtu.be/6E8BuprPqsw

 

New England Vital Records

Millions of New England vital records became available online in May of this year, dating back as far as the 17th century. Collections are highlighted below:

Connecticut. More than 755,000 indexed names added to FamilySearch.org’s free collection, Connecticut Marriages, 1640-1939.

Maine. FamilySearch.org added nearly a half million indexed names to its collection of Maine Vital Records, 1670-1921.

Massachusetts: New images have been added to the New England Historic Genealogical Society’s collection for the Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Boston, 1789-1900: Immaculate Conception (Salem)St. Mary (Salem), and Sacred Heart (Roslindale).

Rhode Island. FamilySearch added over a half million new indexed names and 30,000 digital images to its free collection, Rhode Island – Vital records. These are described as “Certificates and registers of births, 1846-1898, 1901-1903, marriages 1901-1903 and deaths, 1901-1953 acquired from the State Archives in Providence.”

 

British Emigration Records at Findmypast

We often talk about immigration, with an I, but have you researched your ancestors emigration records with an E? The 1600s saw a boom in British emigration, and Findmypast has curated several fascinating collections:

Early emigration from Britain 1636-1815 is a collection from Findmypast containing over 21,000 records that allow you to learn if your ancestors left Britain for North America or the West Indies. The collection includes 10 pieces from The National Archives including colonial papers, general entry books, passenger registers, and weekly immigration returns.
Britain, early emigration to Barbados
 centers on your British ancestors who left for a settlement in Barbados between 1678 and 1715. With over 20,000 assorted documents, this collection includes baptisms, burials, censuses, landowner lists, and more.
Britain, Royal African Company, 1694-1743 is a collection of over 55,000 records to uncover the details of those on board the Royal African Company’s ships to and from Africa as well as the names of those who lived and died at company forts. These Findmypast records came from The National Archives T 70 series, Company of Royal Adventurers of England Trading with Africa and Successors.

Click here to learn more about researching and working with emigration records.

 

…and just for fun…

Sydney, Australia – 19th Century Complaint Letters

When I saw this collection, I was totally tickled! I would love to find an ancestor’s complaint letter, as a window into their daily life and surrounding neighbors.

Over 56,000 letters written by residents to the City of Sydney in the latter part of the 1800s have been digitized and added to the City of Sydney Archive online. A city historian quoted at the Daily Telegraph.com said people’s complaints “range from the mundane to the bizarre,” such as “foul smells, night time noise, stray farm animals and smoke billowing from homes and blacksmiths’ forges.” This same online city archive also hosts a collection of historical photographs, a full run of Sands directories, postal directories, and other resources for researching your house history. Find this collection by clicking Archives Investigator and then “Letters Received by Council, 1843-1899.”

 

If you want to see what other records we’ve covered, there’s any easy way to narrow down to your specific ancestors! Visit our home page at www.GenealogyGems.com, and select a category from the drop-down menu on the left:

You can choose categories like Canadian, German, Irish, African-American, Australian, and more. You’ll receive of list of every article where that topic was featured or included. This is a super easy way to find new records collections for any area you’re currently researching. You can also choose other categories like newspapers, technology, organization, etc. for helpful how-tos, research strategies, and updates. And you can always use the search bar in the top right corner of our website if you don’t see your topic listed.

There’s a treasure trove of genealogy gems on our website!

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