Wednesday, March 22, 2017

Women's History Month 2017: Women and the WWI Draft

Library of Congress
Let's start to explore women in the World War I era by using records that involve the men in their lives.

Women leave fewer records behind. They have historically lived lives of domesticity, denied full citizenship and rights until well into the 20th century. So they have not left a multitude of official records.

However, women can be found in the records of the men they are related to. Aside from marriage records, you might find them mentioned in a military pension or a mortgage. So in order to exhaustively research a woman you need to research the men she's related to.

The genealogist's most familiar World War I resource is the World War I Draft Registration available on various genealogy websites. The Draft Registration is one of those records that we tend to just use and not study. I highly recommend the book Uncle, We are Ready! Registering America's Men 1917-1918 by John J Newman. This book was published before the WWI draft could easily be searched online but provides historical information about the three draft registrations and all the different types of men who registered (including non-citizens).

Newman begins his book with a  history of the  World War I draft and then explains that:

The means to execute the military census was through use of registration cards. These were designed to determine who was eligible for meeting draft criteria, if occupation or family situation could be cause for exemption, and to determine general physical characteristics and conditions...Men were to be chosen for military service who would impact least the family and society while at the same time proportioning those eligible to the lowest jurisdiction possible. {9}*

This "military census" was done via three different registrations and each registration had its own card. Two of the registrations asked for information on the person's nearest relative.  The first registration didn't ask for information about the nearest relative but it did ask if the man was married or single. So while the first registration provides a clue if the man was married the other two registrations might list a wife, mother, or other female relative.

Additional Resources:

FamilySearch - United States World War I Draft Registration Cards, 1917-1918

FamilySearch Wiki - United States World War I Draft Records

National Archives - World War I Draft Registration Cards

*Newman, John J. Uncle, We Are Ready!: Registering America's Men, 1917-1918.  A Guide to Researching World War I Draft Registration Cards. North Salt Lake, Utah: Heritage Quest, 2001.

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