Opinion

WW1 draft records

Initially, the United States wanted no part of what we now call World War I.  But as war became inevitable the U.S. instituted a draft.  All men, young and old, were legally obligated to register with their local draft boards. These draft records offer us a snapshot of our ancestors at a particular time and give hints for further research.  If you haven’t used them — or even if you have — you may have missed some of the clues in the questions and answers.  Time to revisit. Here are two examples of what you can learn from draft records.

Let’s take a look at a Connecticut draft card filled out by Frank Bartell in September 1918.  Frank lived in Wallingford at 17 Clifton St.  His birthdate is listed as October 15, 1880, making him 37 years old.  He was a naturalized citizen and worked for the H.L. Judd Co. in Wallingford.  Frank‘s next of kin was his wife Anna.  Frank’s description says he was medium height and build, brown eyes, black hair and had no disabilities.  Connecticut required an additional form which offers more details.  Frank was a Brass Plater, 5’7” tall and weighed 168 pounds.  He had three dependents. The surprise in Frank’s background was that he had served as a private for two years in the German Army infantry before emigrating to the U.S.  Military service was compulsory in Germany at that time. Frank’s descendants may not know this.

Let’s examine a Maine registration card filed in June 1917 by Alexander Matthews Wetherbee, who listed his residence as Lincoln.  He was born May 22, 1895, in Phillips, Maine.  Alexander was employed as a store and post office clerk by the Skinner Lumber Company in Skinner, Maine. He was married, had no military background, and asked for an exemption because “my wife needs me.”   Alexander was described as short, medium build, light brown hair and eyes and had no disabilities.  Interestingly, his draft registration was witnessed by Roy D. Skinner, Deputy Clerk.  

If this was my ancestor I’d assume Alexander was working in a company lumbering town.  I’d want to find out why he listed Lincoln as his home when he worked in Franklin County.  Clearly he didn’t commute. And who were the Skinners?  Is the town still there?  (You can find photos of Skinner on the internet).

Did either man serve in World War I for the U.S.?  I couldn’t find any records, so perhaps Frank’s dependents or even his service in the German Army kept him out of the military.  Alexander was married as well.  We came into the war late in 1917, so both men may have been temporarily spared and the war ended in 1918.  Usually single men were drafted first.

You can find World War I (and World War II)  draft records on Ancestry.com, U.S. version. For free access check a library near you.  The information on these cards may open other avenues of research or reveal unknown information about your ancestors’ lives.

Columnist Nancy Battick of Dover-Foxcroft has researched genealogy for over 30 years. She is past president of the Maine Genealogical Society, author of several genealogical articles and co-transcribed the Vital Records of Dover-Foxcroft.  Nancy holds an MA in History from UM and lives in DF with her husband, Jack, another avid genealogist. Reader emails are welcome at nbattick@roadrunner.com. 

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