Posted by Ancestry Team on March 12, 2017 in Who Do You Think You Are?

When Julie Bowen began her Who Do You Think You Are? journey to learn more about her great-grandfather “Big Charlie,” she had learned that he served in World War I, but she was shocked when she learned what that service entailed.D-170533 WDYTYA Tune-In Cards_JULIE BOWEN_V3

World War I was a major event in the history of the United States, and, as major events often do, it resulted in a wealth of unique resources for genealogical research. War leads to an increased need for organization on the part of governments, which in turn leads to an increase in official, detailed documents concerning the lives of everyday people. World War I was no exception.

World War I Draft Registration Cards

During the early years of the war, the United States preferred to remain neutral and maintained only a small standing army. The United States’ entry into the war in 1917, however, meant that the United States needed to grow its military quickly. The United States officially declared war on the German Empire on 6 April 1917, and just over six weeks later, on 18 May 1917, the United States Congress passed the Selective Service Act, which authorized a military draft.

At first, all men aged 21 to 31 were required to register (unless they were already in a military unit), but this was later expanded to 18 to 45 in the third registration. Compliance was quite high, with about 98 percent of men in these age ranges filling out a draft registration card.

The men had to provide their name, home address, and exact birth date, as well as  the name, and in some cases the residence, of their “nearest relative.” Perhaps most importantly, the men who signed up in the first two registrations (those men born between 6 June 1886 and 28 August 1897) were asked to provide their exact place of birth. Birth records are hard to come by before the early 1900s, so the information in a World War I Draft Registration can fill in this gap and many others. It is also important to note that men were required to register regardless of their citizenship status, so unnaturalized immigrants also appear in these records. The United States experienced large waves of immigration beginning in the 1880s and continuing through World War I, and these cards can often be key to identifying an immigrant’s place of birth in the old country.


Charles Daniel Frey’s draft registration.
He registered on 5 June 1917—the first registration—so his exact birthplace is listed.

Alien Enemy Registration

Immigrants living in the United States may show up in more records related to the war than just draft cards. Germans were among the largest groups of immigrants arriving in the U.S. in the late 1800s and early 1900s. As with most Americans, leading up to the United States’ entry into the war, many German-Americans preferred that America remain neutral. Many had friends and relatives still living in Germany and/or serving in the German military, and a small number of German-Americans even decided to return to Germany to fight. During this time, German-Americans came under suspicion. When America declared war on the Austro-Hungarian Empire in December of 1917, immigrants from Austria-Hungary’s diverse lands were also put under scrutiny.

Casual suspicion by neighbors could quickly become official inquiry by the government as the American Protective League grew in influence. Julie Bowen’s ancestor,  Daniel Frey, a descendant of recent German immigrants, was a prominent leader of the American Protective League. On 19 April 1918 President Woodrow Wilson made a proclamation requiring “all natives, citizens, denizens, or subjects of Germany or Austria Hungary of the age of fourteen years and upwards, who shall be within the United States and not actually naturalized” to register with the government as “alien enemies.”

Although a controversial chapter in American history, the documents created as a result of this proclamation are treasure troves for people researching their German and Austro-Hungarian immigrant ancestors. Unlike the draft registration, both males and females were required to fill out their own cards, and the age range was much broader. In addition to providing an exact birth date and place for the “alien enemy,” the forms also required information about when the alien arrived in the United States, names and birthdates of the alien’s immediate family (including parents and siblings), prior military service, and the names of any relatives serving in the war on either side. These files also include a photograph. Due to the controversial nature of these records, most have been destroyed, but some still exist—most notably for Kansas, Minnesota, Missouri, Arizona, and the city of San Francisco.

Tips from AncestryProGenealogists

  • Examine any and all World War I draft registration cards that apply to your ancestors and their relatives. Even if your direct ancestor was not in the right age range at the time, it is possible that a relative was and that this relative provided a residence or birthplace that could also apply to your ancestor.
  • Check if your ancestor could be in a surviving alien enemy file. It’s a long shot, but if your ancestor was an unnaturalized immigrant from the German Empire or Austro-Hungarian Empire and was alive during World War I, they may have lived in an area where alien enemy records survive. Apart from providing valuable genealogical information, they are an oft-forgotten piece of American history. The records of Kansas aliens who registered are online at Ancestry.
  • Try various spellings and wildcards when searching for your German ancestors. It has always been common for record-keepers unfamiliar with foreign surnames to spell them however they liked (as in the case of Charles Daniel Frey being recorded as Charles Daniel Frye), but anti-German sentiment during World War I led many Germans to change their names to less “German” versions (Hans Schmidt became John Smith, Ludwig Alexander von Battenberg became Louis Alexander Mountbatten, etc.).
  • Wondering if your ancestors were part of the American Protective League? Search for them in these collections on Ancestry.

Learn more about Julie’s journey or see videos about other celebrities’ ancestries on Watch full episodes of the show on Discover more celebrities uncovering their family history on all-new episodes of Who Do You Think You Are? Sundays 10|9c on TLC.



  1. Liz Brown

    If WDYTYA is going to turn into yet another platform for celebrity political views, I won’t be tuning in again.

  2. Marion Dimond

    Arrogant actress’ political liberal propaganda on a genealogy show? What a stretch to pass political judgment on ancestors, and relate to “terrible” Muslim screening for terrorists today.

  3. Edward E Darst

    973 Goose back the King James and Henry the 8th I need a DNA sample to prove them related to the King James and Henry the 8th

  4. Ronald K. Duvall

    Passing judgement on your ancestors (bad or good) without having lived in their time is pretentious and arrogant. This show needs to get back to the mechanics of genealogical research and communicating facts, not opinions. I watched this one but won’t hang on through another one like it.

  5. Jim

    I was surprised that a genealogical investigation would be presented repeatedly through an actress’ political pontifications. That denigrated the entire program.

  6. Cheri Vorthmann

    WOW!! Agree with the other comments. To bring political opinions into this program is really stooping very low!

  7. Rick

    I found out my daughter is not related to me, she has a first cousin listed but we can’t seem to get a hold of her to see her family tree, one of her Uncles is my daughters biological Father, wish we could contact people .

  8. Susan

    Wow! Just discovered that my paternal grandfather was a member of the American Protective League in Corning, NY. Proves you never know what you are going to find in your research.

  9. Kelly

    Least favorite episode ever! The show that I enjoyed so much, lost a lot of respect. I don’t believe that we, as a genealogical community, expected this, in the least. The over exaggeration was annoying.

  10. LG

    I would like to add that this is only “over exaggeration” if your ancestors were not part of this experience. My grandfather and his siblings on my father’s side were first generation Americans. Their parents were from Germany. My mother’s parents were also first and second generation American with parents from Germany. I grew up hearing the stories of my fathers family being harassed and my great-grandfather having trouble with people that didn’t trust them because they were German and he read newspapers that were written in German. Did you know that in Iowa and probably other places it was against the law to even speak German and you could be arrested for that? My great-grandmother didn’t speak English very well and she was at risk of being arrested if she had spoken German in public or if it was overheard on a party line telephone? It is said that those who do not remember history are doomed to repeat it and that appears to be what is happening now. Those of you who refuse to see the parallels could very well be the next group to be distrusted and your lives ruined at worst and be made uncomfortable at best. Anti-liberal, anti-Muslim, anti-black, anti-Catholic, anti-Jew, anti-Irish, anti-German, anti-Japanese–these things fill our county’s history. This show has always had celebrities talking about what they find in their history. It is exactly what I expected and I’d be willing to bet that every one raising such a fuss on here have had discussions in their own homes with their own families that were very much like the talking out loud that Juli Bowen did. I know I have. I’ve been proud of some of the things my family has done and not so proud of some of the other things that they’ve done. There will always be people who do and/or say things you don’t agree with, but it doesn’t mean that we should stop listening. That’s when you stop learning.

  11. LG

    Just one more thing, just because she’s a celebrity doesn’t mean that she’s not entitled to have an opinion on her family’s and our country’s history. We all have an opinion.

  12. Sherry Mideiros

    I hope that ancestor gets forgiven by the little lefty snowflake princess must be such an ordeal for her. I just wanted to get away from all the politics and enjoy the show….only to get lectured to.

  13. VG

    I agree with one of the previous posters: “Arrogant actress’ political liberal propaganda on a genealogy show? What a stretch to pass political judgment on ancestors, and relate to “terrible” Muslim screening for terrorists today.” Ms. Bowen came across as scornful and wrathful towards the protection of our nation. I’m another fan she lost with her political melodrama. I hope the rest of this seasons shows don’t turn into political vitriol.

  14. Alma Sanderlin

    I turned the channel when Julie Bowen started her liberal rant against her ancestor who was only protecting our nation. What an idiot! And how liberal and idiot are the producers of this show that I once enjoyed and looked forward to new episodes. I won’t be watching again.

  15. Jaimie McEvoy

    I find the hostile comments toward Julie Bowen to be far more crossing of a political line than her own responses.

    As genealogists, we present, factually, as it was done by the professionals in the show. And we treat those whose ancestors we find with sensitivity and kindness. Of course people have reactions to what they learn, and of course those reactions are often tied into their own present. The celebrities on the show are presenting not as your favorite character, but as their own selves.

    To disagree with her politics is your choice, but her interpretation of her ancestors was not something that we all haven’t done.

    But the insults and hostility are out of line. They have no place in a genealogy blog, and lack any of the grace we genealogists are ethically obligated to hold when we share. I distinctly mentioned as we watch the show, “I’ll bet that historian is not getting the reaction he expected.” And so it goes. We don’t resort to insults, anger or generalizations about people.

    It took only two posts to ascribe to Bowen something she didn’t say. And no, it is not “pretentious”or “arrogant” to pass judgement on the past. It is human. And sometimes, it is necessary. And over time, every aspect of American history, good and bad, comes through the show. I am thankful they agree to do it, for our interest and entertainment. I’m not about to attack them for being genuine. For all of you upset about her views (and maybe those who might be upset by the next celebrities opposite views) – get over yourselves. It’s not FOX News. It wasn’t made to satisfy your views; or not. It’s a genealogy show. A show about people. And I prefer a show where those people stay real.

  16. Linda Bauer

    I typically really enjoy this show, but this episode drove me nuts! I am interested in learning about genealogy, not hearing the political views of an obnoxious actor. Her attitude and presence was so off putting. With a show that focuses on finding the ancestors of Hollywood actors, I anticipate that left-leaning views may be expressed. Typically it’s not a big deal, but that was obnoxious!

  17. JCP

    I would like to know who is paying for investigation and the travel? The rich are not the only ones with stories.

  18. hay3918

    Hated this episode. Turned it off half way through. She wasn’t just commenting on what went on during World War I. She was preaching to us about what is going on today — and in such a condescending and dismissive way . I think it’s like last football season. We watch sporting events and genealogy shows to get away from the constant barrage of political propaganda.

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