On May 18, 1917, Congress passed the Selective Service Act, which authorized President Wilson to temporarily increase the military. Less than a month before this bill was passed, war was declared on Germany by the United States. One of the things this bill authorized was the taking of a military census, commonly known as the World War I Draft Registration. The cards generated from this registration are available for research today.
Twenty-four million men born between 1873 and 1900 were required to register in three World War I drafts. Those that were required to register were male citizens and aliens who had declared intent to naturalize. The registrations were carried out by local draft boards with each man completing a card.
The World War I Draft Registration Cards are not military service records. In fact, they contain no information on military service. It is impossible to determine by the registration card if a man served in the military during World War I. The cards contain personal information about the man registering and his family.
There were three registrations:
Information that you can expect to find on a registration card is full name, address, age, birth date, birth place, father’s birth place (2nd registration only), citizenship, Indian citizenship (3rd registration only), occupation, dependents, nearest relative, previous military experience, physical description, and signature.
The original World War I Draft Registration Cards are housed at the National Archives and Records Administration, South Region, East Point, Georgia. They have been microfilmed and are available at the National Archives in Washington. Regional National Archives facilities have the films for the states in their region. The Family History Library has a complete collection of the microfilm and films can be ordered through area Family History Centers.
The cards are arranged alphabetically by state, then within the states they are filed by county, city, local draft board, and alphabetically by name. They are filed and filmed with all three registrations mixed together.
It is important to note that not all men who registered for the draft served in the military and not all men who served in the military during World War I registered in one of the three drafts.
If you would like to find out more about World War I Draft Registrations, the following guide is very helpful. Uncle, We Are Ready! Registering America’s Men 1917-1918 by John J. Newman (North Salt Lake: Heritage Quest, 2001).