This year, the United States commemorates the 100th anniversary of entering World War I. People across the country are finding ways to remember and honor those who fought in the war. But for people who had ancestors involved in it, perhaps the most meaningful way to commemorate the Great War is to uncover and share those ancestors’ stories, and FamilySearch is a great place to start your search.
Identifying Your World War I Ancestor
With over 4.7 million US troops serving in places around the world and countless other men and women involved in supportive services, the chances are pretty high that someone in your family tree participated in World War I—and created records in the process. Some families are already familiar with the individuals on their family trees that were involved while others will need to first identify these World War I ancestors.
If you don’t know which of your ancestors served in World War I, a good place to start is with the 1930 census. This census asked if the person was “a veteran of the US military or naval forces mobilized for any war or expedition” as well as “what war or expedition.” (On the 1940 census, this was a supplemental question and only 5% of the population was asked.) You can access the 1930 US census at FamilySearch here.
Another way to identify ancestors who may be included in World War I is simply to look at dates. Male ancestors born between 1886 and 1897 are particularly likely candidates as they were included in the first two drafts. The draft of September 1918 greatly expanded the age range (see the next section for dates). And of course, these and other records related to World War I can include a much wider range of people.
Once you have identified an ancestor, it’s time to start searching! FamilySearch has a robust collection of World War I records that can help you find your ancestors and understand their stories. Here are a few to get you started:
- United States World War I Draft Registration Cards, 1917–1918. Perhaps the most important record collection for people with US ancestors who served in World War I is draft registration cards. These searchable records cover 24 million people and include information such as occupation, city of origin, birth date, and a signature. Three registrations occurred on these dates:
- June 5, 1917, covering men ages 21–31
- June 5, 1918, covering men who had turned 21 during that year
- September 12, 1918, covering men ages 18–45
- United States, YMCA World War I Service Cards, 1917–1919. This unique collection of over 27,000 index cards includes names of people who served with the YMCA (Young Men Christian’s Association)—an organization that supported the troops by providing care to the sick and wounded as well as helping with other programs. The cards include names, addresses, religious affiliation, army service and other information.
- United States, Index to Naturalizations of World War I Soldiers, 1918. This is an index to over 18,000 records of individuals who served in World War I and were later naturalized.
- United States Muster Rolls of the Marine Corps, 1798–1937. Although not specific to World War I, these muster rolls include the period of World War I. They can tell you the rank and unit your ancestor served in, date of enlistment, name of ship, and other personal notes.
- Various State Collections. FamilySearch also has some great collections that are more locally based. Some of these include:
- United Kingdom Records. FamilySearch has some useful collections covering British World War I soldiers as well. These include:
- United Kingdom World War I Service Records 1914–1920. These are the service files of soldiers who were discharged from the British army between 1914 and 1920. For more information, read the FamilySearch article “United Kingdom, World War I Service Records.”
- United Kingdom World War I Women’s Army Auxiliary Corps Records 1917–1920. This interesting record batch covers 7,000 women.
Finding Additional Records
- The majority of the official military personnel files (OMPFs) for World War I were destroyed during a fire at the National Personnel Records Center in St. Louis in 1973.
- Many British records were destroyed during enemy bombings.
However, other types of records still exist and can shed light on your ancestor’s World War I experience. Here are a few records to consider outside of FamilySearch. Remember that many online records are free to everyone or accessible for free to those with LDS partnership memberships.
- Soldiers of the Great War by William Mitchell Haulsee, Frank George Howe, Alfred Cyril Doyle. This three-volume work found online lists of soldiers that died in the war as well as some basic information about them. Some entries also have photographs.
- Prisoners of the First World War 1914–1918 from the International Committee of the Red Cross has information on 5 million prisoners of war.
- For a comprehensive overview of the war and its history as well as an in-depth look at the records it created, don’t miss the National Archive’s page: World War I Centennial: Commemorating the Great War.
- Be sure to check Fold3’s World War I collection. In addition to having some of the same records mentioned above, they also have unique collections. Fees apply.
- You can see what World War I records Ancestry has available here. Some of the most important collections include World War I service records, 1914–1920; World War I pension records, 1914–1920 (This actually contains more service records than pension records since service records used to determine pensions.); and World War I medal rolls index cards, 1914–1920 (with lots of information on British soldiers). Fees apply.
- Those who had ancestors who fought with the United Kingdom won’t want to miss Findmypast’s World War I collection. Fees apply.
With these records at your fingertips, you’re sure to find more information about your World War I ancestors. Log in to your FamilySearch account, and see what you can discover today.