Using Search Tips for WWI Draft Registrations

Community Veterans' Memorial, Munster, Indiana (WWI Memorial)Searching World War I draft cards is significantly easier than before thanks to the online index at This is particularly true for those whose ancestors were urban dwellers or in cases where the residence is not known.

There were three separate registrations for the draft (with slightly different cards and questions) and all three are included in this database. More information on the various registrations, who they included, and what questions were asked can be found towards the bottom of the database search page.

Keeping this in mind, let’s take a look at some search options.

First Name
The first name box allows for searches of any name other than the last name. Many registration cards contain one or more middle names and these names are also searchable using the “first name” search box. For cards that include a first and a middle name, it is possible to locate the card using either the first name alone, the middle name alone, or the first and middle name together.

The only restriction would be that the name would have to be spelled in the index the way it is entered in the search box. Wildcard operators can be used in the name box to get around this limitation; the only restraint is that three characters must be used before the wildcard operator. The * and ? can be used to create broader searches. Joh* will result in matches such as Johan, Johann, and John. (The * can be replaced by any number of characters.) Joh? will catch John, but not Johann and Johan. (The ? is replaced by only one character.)

Wildcard operators can be used when multiple names are used in the first name box. Searches of a first name like mic* joh* are allowed and would catch names such as Michael John, Micheal Johann, John Michel, Johan Carl Michael, etc.

Last Name
With any last name and any database, consider all reasonable spellings and variants. Name variants are not as problematic with the draft cards as they are with earlier records. However, names still get misspelled, misread, and incorrectly indexed. Wildcard operators are again helpful and the use of the Soundex option (which catches names with similar sounds but different spellings) will catch most alternates. Soundex works reasonably well with names that have English or Germanic origins. Names from other languages are not always easily found using a Soundex-based search. Wildcard operators may be a better approach with these names.

Registration Place
When searching based upon the registration place, keep in mind that in rural counties, the only information in the index may be the state and county; the “city” of registration may not be listed on the index (more precise information should be on the card). Because of this, begin a search for any non-urban relative by using a state and if necessary, a county. Keep in mind that your family member might show up in an unexpected place and only use registration locations when necessary to reduce the number of hits to a manageable level.

This was required on the cards of men who registered for the first and second registrations (generally those with dates of birth between 6 June 1886 and 5 June 1897). The third registration did not require the birthplace and the birthplace box should always be left blank for registrants outside the 6 June 1886-5 June 1897 time frame. Even for men within that birth range, the information extracted may vary in terms of specifics. Cards may list the town and state of birth, but in many cases the town does not appear in the index. Entering in a specific town in the city box for birth will result in fewer hits and less desired results.

Date of Birth
Dates of birth on the draft cards are usually correct, but there are always exceptions. There are known cases where the year of registration has been substituted on the card for the year of birth. In other cases, the precise date or month may have not been provided on the card. In all these situations the error or omission affects what is in the index. It is generally good advice to begin a search using only a year of birth and refine the search by adding a more precise date only if necessary.

This box may appear self-explanatory, but one must exercise caution when using it to search. Results may appear as African, Asian, Black, Caucasian, Colored, Mongolian, Mulatto, White, etc. Care must be taken or hits can easily be missed.

This field searches all the fields in the database. Entering Wilken in the Keyword field will result in matches where the first, middle, or last name was Wilken. This is a neat little tool when you are not certain of the name or when you are looking for middle names that might have been a mother’s maiden name.

Left Things Blank
The draft card for James P. Hoone in New York City is particularly interesting. Other than his name, it is blank. Hopefully, your ancestor’s card is more like the typical registration and is filled with helpful information!

Michael John Neill is the Course I Coordinator at the Genealogical Institute of Mid America (GIMA) held annually in Springfield, Illinois, and is also on the faculty of Carl Sandburg College in Galesburg, Illinois. Michael is currently a member of the board of the Federation of Genealogical Societies (FGS) He conducts seminars and lectures nationally on a wide variety of genealogical and computer topics and contributes to several genealogical publications, including Ancestry Magazine and Genealogical Computing. You can e-mail him at or visit his website at:, but he regrets that he is unable to assist with personal research.

25 thoughts on “Using Search Tips for WWI Draft Registrations

  1. My father was in the Marines in WWI,but I did not find his name in this particular index before. I think that is so because perhaps he enlisted rather than being drafted. Hope I made the correct assumption.

  2. Great article! I use this database quite often, but I learned a lot from this article. Besides the indexed fields, there is a wealth of information that can be gleaned from this database. Occupation, name and address of employer, contact person (usually a relative, and often spelling out their names in full with relationship and address), height, build, eye color, hair color, and other physical attributes are noted.

  3. I finally found my great-uncle, Louis G. Kupetz, in the index for WW I Draft Registrations. However, when I click on his name, the screen brings up another man’s registration card (Alfred Kessell). I checked the cards before and after the one on the screen, and even went through the entire listing forthis particular registration district in the Bronx. No luck finding my uncle.
    Are there any suggestions how I might find his actual registration card? I brought this problem to the attention of ancestry when the index was first put online.

  4. I have used the WW I Draft Registrations index to check the birth date of two brothers who had same birth year in their obits with a five month difference in age. On this site I found there was actually 10 years difference in there ages. I then checked this information with the US Census site.

  5. This is one of my favorite tools to use to find complete names, birthdates, spouses, employment, and sometimes # of children. It also has helped with finding new locations for my nomadic family as they moved around the country. I also love having the physical description for my files.

  6. I’m not sure how many others will agree with me, but I MUCH PREFER the daily dose of your newsletters. It was the highlight of my day. I feel like I’m missing something by not getting your news daily. Even the 24/7 isn’t daily.

  7. When I tried to find my gr.Uncle Joe in this database, I had to look at all men with the same last name that lived in Chicago, and read each entire draft card to find him.(thankfully that wasn’t too many)His parents and where he came from were a match so I knew it was him. He was listed as “George Osetek” even though at the bottom he clearly signed his name “Joe Osetek”. Since he immigrated from Poland in 1905 he must have been hard to understand because the person taking his info messed up with his first name. But you would think after reading his signature the name at the top would’ve been corrected. Ah well, don’t give up is the moral here.

  8. There used to be a place called “printer friendly” to print out an article and less paper is used. Can you add that to articles? Thanks, Lola Pinder

  9. – -I agree HEARTILY w/ B Huelle – – I also think the DAILY NEWS was MORE informative !!, interesting, and made my day !!
    – – Am sure it is hard to keep coming up w/ new subjects : so, do reprints of Baacckk issues .. and, maybe ‘combining like subjects’ in the daily…. would think ‘repeats’ or, will be “new” to others.
    – – There are many times, I wish you wouldn’t ‘fix’ something that isn’t broken !! Am not pleased w/ soundex – – is not good.

    — Thanks for all the hard work.

  10. Invaluable in many respects. I found my grandmother’s missing brother in Maine (they were raised in PA) with his middle name and birthdate because he listed his nearest relative as my grandfather who had already remarried after my grandmother had died. This led to their probable parents which I have not been able to find in 15 years of exhaustive digging. I have confirmed a number of other people over the last few months.
    Thanks for the article and helps!

  11. BIRTH DATE on the WW1 draft card may be incorrect! I’ve found an ancestor or two who, apparently nearing 40 and unwilling to be drafted, back-dated his birth year to appear older. When his mother answered the 1880 census you’ll find that little Georgie, maybe, was 4 months old, born 1879; but his WW1 draft card claimed his birth was 1877. Mother knew best!

  12. You should not say that the birthdates on draft card registrations are correct. I had a family member who lied about his birthdate when he enlisted. This was my Grandpa. He was only 17 when he enlisted. He lied on his enlistment papers saying his birthday was January 12th instead of the actual February 13th because he didn’t want to wait. When he got ready to retire, he had to go to court and have his birthday legally changed to the January 12th date so that all his military papers would agree with his other official documents for retirement purposes. Needless to say for those who come after me, I have noted his actual birthdate in my genealogical software and put an explanation in the notes about his conflicting records so that future genealogists won’t be completely confused.

  13. I agree with Barb Huelle about missing the daily Ancestry news letter!! While the weekly Journal is not bad,it is much too long between issues. I also looked forward to the daily input of ancestry informationj and I truely miss the daily newsletter. I hope reconsiders and eventually reinstitutes the daily newsletter.

  14. I too miss the daily newsletter and found it far superior to this weekly “Journal”. I always looked forward to my daily dose of fun, encouraging and informative genealogy articles. Weekly is the pits.

  15. I hope that Ancestry sees fit to reinstate the Daily Newsletter. I really enjoyed it. The Weekly Journal is not nearly as useful.

  16. Louis G. Kupetz is on page 287 in the L cards of the Bronx.

    I’ve seen this type of problem happen before.

  17. With great difficulty I was able to read most of the information on my father’s WWI draft card. The part where it asked for his nearest relative was unreadable. I read about how the National Archives and Records Administration (NARA) branch in George would send you a COLOR copy (JPEG file)of the ORIGINAL card by email. It cost $10.00 so I sent off a check, my email address and a copy of the microfilmed card, just to give them a little help, and within a few days the NARA sent me an email with the file attached.

    The card looked like it was filled out yesterday and everthing was readable. I discovered that his sister who was missing in the 1920 Census was attending nursing school only a few miles away.

  18. I hesitate to add another “me too” comment about preferring the Daily News to the Weekly News, especially when the topic is supposed to be WWI draft cards, but I can’t resist. I like the blog format and the option to read and make comments, but I really miss the daily news. It used to be my treat to myself after a long day at work. I would read all my other email first, saving the Ancestry Daily News for last, like dessert! It was always a pleasure, especially when I opened it to find an article by Julianna. It is really missed.

  19. Contrary, it seems, to most other readers, I prefer the new weekly version of the newsletter. It’s much more attractive, the comment section is fun, and it cuts down the number of emails I get helping me to keep up with the glut of information I receive daily.

  20. I prefer the previous type of ‘Weekly News’ where I could use the ‘print’ version or e-mail to a friend. I do not find this new version as easy to read. Not sure I like the blog either. It takes too long to go thru the newsletter if I read all of the comments.
    I print out the information that I might need to refer to later and put it into a notebook by subject matter.

  21. I like the weekly newsletter. I just read things as I have time. Often times the weekly ones piled up and were overwhelming to read. I also enjoy reading the “blog” sections.
    Thank you for your efforts.

  22. I much prefer the daily news from Ancestry. I can’t find out what new files have been added and I find this website to long to read. I do not feel as though I am getting my money’s worth.

  23. When did this article become a place to vote for or against the new format? The votes for the new format are winning, in a way — since none of these comments would be read or available in the previous format.
    Works fine for me when I want to simplify printing — also, cut and paste is easy.
    What a great interactive tool you have created! Not just good fun, but I get to understand things from so many more view points. I appreciate not feeling like I have to read a daily news and can use that time to organize and research — what this is really all about. So I now have more time to utilize the info given. Thanks!
    PS Good article, Michael — am saving it and printing for future reference — can’t keep all the info in my brain at once but know where to find it in my computer.

  24. I love the listing of WWI draft registration cards and have used it successfully several times, but had been unable to find my grandfather, James Elbert Campbell, who I knew had registered in Dallas and was born in TN on May 4, 1896. I entered all the info and used all the variations on his name that I could think of, without any luck, until one day I finally decided to forget what I knew and just entered his last name and date of birth. Eureka! There he was, with all the same info and I don’t know why it wouldn’t show up before, but you might try this tactic when you are looking without any result.

  25. Hi There:

    I am in possesion of a WW1 medal that was awarded to PTE Jonathan Cranston.
    I would like to return this medal to the closest living relative of PTE Cranston for sentimental reasons and would like to know how to get information on how to track family members down.
    Please e-mail if you have any sort of information that might help me return this medal to the rightful owners family.
    Kind regards

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