World War II
This set of over 49 million draft cards reveals personal details like height, eye color, and the signatures of the men who were called to serve.
Published May 20, 2020
The Ancestry® collection of World War II Draft Registration Cards provides a wealth of information about your ancestor during one of the most historic times of the 20th century. You may discover their place of residence, date and place of birth, close relatives, occupation, employer, and physical description. And to top it off, you’ll see that the signature at the bottom of the card was signed, in person, by your ancestor!
The collection has documents from every state (with varying years) except Maine, whose records were destroyed before they could be digitized. Understanding the origins of this rich collection may help you discover where your ancestor’s draft registration card might be.
In 1940, even before the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor, the United States established its first peacetime selective service draft. President Roosevelt signed it into law due to rising world conflicts.
The draft required all men between 21 and 45 to register for military service. Registering for the draft was not an enlistment for service in the military, for many men registered but never served. Instead it was the idea that they could be called upon for service when needed.
The first registration took place on October 16, 1940. Over 16 million men between the ages of 21 and 36 registered at local draft boards around the country.
John R. Allen, a teacher at Arizona State Teachers College in Tempe, Arizona, was one of the first to register. A look at the back of these registration cards typically reveals a description of the registrant, giving unique insight into their physical appearance. It seems John was an especially large person, at 6’ 8” tall and 219 pounds.
The second registration was taken on July 1, 1941 (still prior to United States involvement in World War II) for men who had reached the age of 21 since the first registration, less than nine months earlier. These registration cards are a pink or salmon color.
A Texan named Francis Leon Lively gave us an even more detailed view into his life in July of 1941. He gave the specific location of his address in the then small town of McKinney, Texas, and indicated that the person “who will always know your address” was his sister. Francis also gave a detailed account of two scars, one on his left hand and the other on the right side of his neck.
The third registration took place once the country had entered into the war and occurred just months after the attack on Pearl Harbor. In February of 1942, the draft was for “Men born on or after February 17, 1897 and on or before December 31, 1921.” This included men 20-44 years of age.
A few star-studded folks along with their famous autographs can be found within the draft registration collection. American film icon Bing Crosby filled out his registration card as part of the third draft registration. He listed his address as 9028 Sunset Blvd. in Hollywood, California and his employer as Paramount Pictures. While he did not serve in the Armed Forces, his role was a much-needed morale boost with his live performances for the troops.
The fourth draft registration is often referred to as the “Old Man’s Draft” because on April 27, 1942, it registered men who were 45 to 64 years old at the time.
Even the acting President of the United States of America was not exempt from registering. President Franklin D. Roosevelt registered for the “Old Man’s Draft” at age 60. His address was listed at 1600 Pennsylvania Ave. in Washington, D.C. and his employer was “U.S.” His “obvious physical characteristics” section of the registration card was left blank, omitting the well-known physical state of FDR in a wheelchair. An interesting omission, as he may have been the most recognizable man in America at the time!
Three more registrations occurred during WWII, including an “Extra Registration” that covered American men aged 18-44 that were living abroad.
The Ancestry WWII Draft Registration for Young Men collection includes records through 1947, two years after WWII ended. Men who were already serving in the military during the war may have filled out their draft registration after their actual service was completed, thus complying with the law established in 1940 by President Roosevelt.
One colorful example is a man named Orville Woodruff, who filled out his draft registration card in September of 1945, just days after his discharge from the U.S. Army and the official ending of World War II. His description also lists “large scar on left knee and three scars on back.” Are these scars from wounds received during his war service? It is unknown, but brings up unique questions one might ask a family member while researching a soldier’s service.
We can glimpse into the lives of the “Greatest Generation” through this rich and telling collection. With these multiple registrations more than 50 million American men aged 18–45 signed up for the draft, with 10 million inducted into the military.
Discover your ancestor’s World War II story with these collections on Ancestry: