They called it the “Great War.” “The war to end all wars.” If only.
The costs were great, both in terms of lives and in property. An estimated 9 million lives were lost on the battlefield and more than double that were wounded. As we entered the World War I centennial this year, it’s a good time to reflect on the sacrifices of that generation. Here are some of the resources you can find on Ancestry.
Between 1917 and 1918, more than 24 million men living in the U.S., both native-born and immigrants, were required to register for the World War I draft. The draft included men born between roughly 1872 and 1900 and there were three versions of the two-page card that include valuable biographical details. Note that not everyone who registered was called up for service, and that men who were already in the service or who enlisted will not be included.
Only a portion of those 24 million men who registered actually got called into service. Those who were called reported to their local draft board and then boarded a train for a mobilization camp. These are records of men ordered to report (whether they reported or not) from the states of Alabama, Florida, Georgia, Kentucky, Mississippi, North Carolina, South Carolina, and Tennessee.
The BIRLS (Beneficiary Identification Records Locator Subsystem) is a database of the Veterans Administration that include the records of 14 million veterans and their beneficiaries who collected benefits while they were alive and who died between 1850 and 2010. Details include names, birth and death dates, cause of death, branch of the service, and enlistment and discharge dates.
Muster rolls record a Marine’s assignments and can be useful in tracing where he spent time while in the service. These rolls typically include the soldier’s name, rank, enlistment date, muster date, and assignment. You may also find remarks regarding conduct, illnesses, injuries, and more.
The National Homes for Disabled Volunteer Soldiers was instituted following the Civil War. The purpose of these homes was to provide a place for disabled American soldiers and sailors to live. Admission to a home was voluntary and soldiers could request which home they wanted to live in. Since admission was voluntary, soldiers could also choose when they wanted to leave, both temporarily and permanently.
While the forms can vary from place to place, and time to time, they generally contain sections on military history, personal (domestic) history, home history, as well as various remarks. Military history includes dates and places of enlistment and discharges, the type of discharge, company and regiment, and rank. Domestic history provides a physical description, age and birthplace, occupation, marital status, religion, and in many cases, the name and location of the nearest relative (sometimes just a town, and other times a complete address).
Home history gives the name of the home, dates of admission, dates of discharge (or sometimes expulsion) and the reason. If the veteran died in the home, death and burial information was included, as was sometimes an accounting of personal affects and to whom money was disbursed. Pension numbers are sometimes noted as well.
This collection from the Oregon State Library includes registers of active and retired personnel in the U.S. Army, Navy, Air Force, Marine Corp, National Guard, and the Reserves for various years. Depending on the register type, other details you may find include rank, unit, service history, birth date and place, education level, promotion dates, awards, and retirement date.
These surveys were sent out by the American Jewish Committee (AJC) Office of Jewish War Records as part of an effort to document the service of Jews in the American armed forces. The AJC felt it important to record and publicize Jewish service—in particular casualties and decorated soldiers—in the war and sent out 16,000 questionnaires soliciting information on soldiers they believed to be Jewish. The questionnaires came in 2- and 4-page versions, though both forms asked for the same information. The longer forms were typically sent to officers, casualties, or next of kin.
In addition to records created on the federal level, you’ll find many World War I collections on the state level and Ancestry has made some of these collections available thanks to partnerships with state archives. Below is a sampling, but you can explore the collections available from your relative’s home state by clicking on the Search tab, and scrolling down to the map in the lower left corner of the page where you can view records by state.
New York sent more soldiers to fight in World War I than any other state in the Union. In fact, New Yorkers represented more than 10 percent of U.S. troops. This collection includes cards with details abstracted from federal military service records for Army officers, enlisted men, sailors, and Marines who enlisted or were drafted in New York. This collection also includes some women who served as Army nurses or Navy yeomen (women working in secretarial and clerical jobs) or nurses. The majority of the records begin in 1914 and continue through 1919. The cards can include name, serial/service number, race, date and place of enlistment or induction, place of birth, age or date of birth, service organization with assignment dates and transfers, rank with date of appointment, engagements, whether wounded in act, how badly and the date, overseas action dates, discharge/separation date and information, and degree of disability at discharge.
This collection of over 4,000 records is held by the California State Library and was created by the War History Committee, which was formed by the California State Council of Defense in 1918 to assemble historical material pertaining to California’s participation in WWI. A committee was created for each of the 58 counties in the state to collect newspaper clippings, war programs, war addresses, photographs, manuscripts, documents, posters, and other memorabilia.
This collection from the Adjutant General of New Mexico contains a diverse array of records documenting the state’s service in World War I. Among the rich records in this collection, you’ll find service records, biographical materials, letters, casualty lists, awards and commendations, and photographs.
This post is part of our Veterans Day series highlighting American service members that helped shape our great country. Follow the series each day from November 5-11, 2014.