11 Ways to use a WWI Draft Registration Card

My great grandfather, James Albert Rains, signed his WWI draft registration card on September 12, 1918. He was 41 years old. 

Between 1917 and 1918, 24 million American men did the same thing. The draft was a result of the Selective Service Act passed on May 18, 1917 authorizing the President to temporarily increase our military. There were three registrations: on June 5, 1917 for men between 21 and 31; June 5, 1918 for those who attained age 21 after June 5, 1917; and September 12, 1918 for men age 18 through 45. 1)World War I Selective Service System Draft Registration Cards, M1509, National Archives

Information on WWI Draft Registration Card

This information on my great grandpa’s draft card may seem obvious or even unimportant, but it gave me a little insight into a man I never had a chance to meet … a man I only ever heard about from my grandpa.

His registration card includes the following information:

  • Full name
  • Address
  • Age 
  • Date of Birth
  • Race
  • Citizenship (native born vs naturalized, declared vs non-declared alien)
  • Occupation, employer’s name, place of employment
  • Nearest relative name and address
  • Height and build (tall, medium, short and slender, medium, stout)
  • Eye and hair color
  • Any obvious disability that would disqualify a man from service
  • Signature

There really is a wealth of information here, possibly something to help solve puzzles (or create them!)

James Albert Raines WWI draft registration card front

James Albert Raines WWI draft registration card

James Albert Raines WWI draft registration card back

James Albert Raines WWI draft registration card

What to consider and do with the information

My great grandpa’s information wasn’t surprising … except his birth year is listed as a year later than it actually is … and the transcription stated three years earlier than that. Here are 11 ways to use this information … what to watch out for and what to do to learn a little more. 

  1. Always make sure to look at the actual document; never take the word of a transcription.
  2. Double check against other documents you have on the same person if there is different or unusual information.
  3. Remember nicknames and different spellings of the surname as you’re searching. We spell Raines with and without the ‘e’, so I check both spellings always.
  4. There are a lot of James Rains’ in the world, so knowing at least something about your ancestor will help narrow in on the correct draft card. 
  5. Take time to look into that nearest relative. You never know what you’ll find. 
  6. Remember, this isn’t a service record … not all 24 million men actually served in WWI. If your ancestor did, keep digging. 
  7. Make a note of the employment information. Depending on the who and where, you might be able to find additional records through an employer. You could at least find information about the employer, which may give you more insight into your ancestor. 
  8. Research the occupation given the time period. My great grandpa was a teamster and self employed … which gives me a little clue about his lifestyle and whether he may have belonged to a union. 
  9. Google the address to see where your ancestor lived and what is there now! You might also be able to use this to find or confirm land or property records.  Compare to the address of the nearest relative … did they live together, next door? This gives you clues between census years. 
  10. If your ancestor was still living during WWII, search for that registration card! It’s interesting what changed for my great grandpa. 
  11. Compare the signature. This is odd, I know, but I love looking at signatures of my ancestors. Sometimes I spot similarities in handwriting. In this case, my grandpa’s handwriting (if you’d call it that 🙂 ) looked almost identical to his fathers! 

Sometimes just looking at information differently, or thinking about it in connection to what you already know may provide a new perspective. It might also provide new questions to launch you down another path of searching. Happy searching! 


11 Ways to use a WWI Draft Registration Card
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11 Ways to use a WWI Draft Registration Card
Take a peek at these 11 ways to use a WWI draft registration card ... what to watch our for and ways to learn a little more about your ancestor.
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References   [ + ]

1. World War I Selective Service System Draft Registration Cards, M1509, National Archives

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