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

Here’s our weekly roundup of new genealogy records online. This week: Australia, Belgium, Czech Republic, England, Germany, Japan, Mexico, Wales and U.S. passport and homestead records.

AUSTRALIA – QUEENSLAND. Ancestry.com has added several indexes for Queensland, Australia: Prison and Reformatory Indexes (1824-1936), Property Indexes (1842-1895), Index to Aliens (1913) and Occupational Indexes (1857-1922). These indexes all come from the Queensland State Archives. You can search them for free at Ancestry.com or from the QSA website.

BELGIUM CIVIL REGISTRATIONS. FamilySearch has updated its civil registration collections for several parts of Belgium (dating back to the 1500s for some areas): Antwerp, Brabant, East Flanders, HainautLiège and West Flanders. According to FamilySearch, these collections include “civil registration(s) of births, marriages and deaths from the Belgium National Archives. The collection also includes marriage proclamations, marriage supplements, and some original indexes.”

CZECH REPUBLIC SCHOOL REGISTERS. Over a million browsable digital images from the Opava State Regional Archive have been added to a free collection of Czech Republic School Registers (1799-1953) at FamilySearch.org. “School registers contain the full name for a child, birth date, place of birth, country, religion and father’s full name, and place of residence.”

ENGLAND AND WALES SCHOOL RECORDS. Findmypast.com has just added about 687,000 new school admission records for 41 counties in England and Wales (1870-1914). Original records may include names, residence, birth data, school name and location, parents’ names, admission information, father’s occupation, any exemption from religious instruction, previous school attendance, illnesses/absence and even exam results.

ENGLAND – CORNWALL. Several new collections on Cornwall are searchable at Ancestry.com: Congregational and Baptist Church Registers (1763-1923), Workhouse Admission and Discharge Records (1839-1872), Militia and Sea Fencibles Index (1780 – 1831), Bodmin Gaol Records (1821-1899), Penzance Dispensary Admissions (1828-1841), Truro Police Charge Books (1846-1896) and Inmates at St. Lawrence’s Asylum, Bodmin (1840-1900).

GERMANY VITAL RECORDS. Ancestry.com has recently added a new collection of death records for Mannheim. It has also updated collections of birth records for Hamburg; birth, marriage and death records for Regen County (dating to 1876) and birth, marriage and death records for Oldenberg.

JAPAN GENEALOGIES AND VILLAGE RECORDS. FamilySearch.org has added nearly a quarter million browsable images to its collection of Japanese village records (dating back to 709 AD) and nearly 60,000 browsable records to its collection of Japanese genealogies (dating to 850 AD).

MEXICO CIVIL REGISTRATIONS. Ancestry.com has updated its collections of indexed images to Chihuahua, Mexico birth, marriage and death records from civil registrations. The collections are in Spanish, so use Spanish names and locations.

U.S. HOMESTEAD RECORDS. Ancestry.com’s collection of U.S. Homestead Records (1861-1936) has recently been updated. According to the collection description, “Homestead files consist of unbound documents that include final certificates, applications with land descriptions, affidavits showing proof of citizenship, register and receiver receipts, notices and final proofs, and testimonies of witnesses. These documents are part of the Records of the Bureau of Land Management (formerly known as the General Land Office), Record Group (RG) 49. The collection currently includes records from Arizona, Indiana, Nebraska, Nevada, Ohio, and part of Iowa. Additional records will be added in future updates.”

U.S. PASSPORTS. Nearly 40,000 indexed names have been added to FamilySearch.org’s free collection of United States Passport Applications (1795-1925). These are a fantastic resource for finding immigrant ancestors and those who traveled a lot. Click here to learn more about U.S. passport records.

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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.

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