Discover Your Ancestors in World War I Records

October 17, 2017  - by 

People around the world find ways to remember and honor those who fought in World War I. 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.

FamilySearch Records

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:

  1. Draft registration cards can help you find military ancestors.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
  2. 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.
  3. 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.
  4. 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.
  5. Various State Collections. FamilySearch also has some great collections that are more locally based. Some of these include:
  6. United Kingdom Records. FamilySearch has some useful collections covering British World War I soldiers as well. These include:

Finding Additional Records

How to find WWI records to learn more aobut your ancestors.Are you still wanting more? First, it’s important to be aware of a couple of limitations:

  • 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.  

Remembering World War I

Search new WWI family history records on FamilySearch to find your soldier ancestors.

 

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Comments

  1. Excellent synopsis of English language records for the USA and Great Britain. Family Search has, of course, log since progressed well beyond such confines even so. What about similar records for Australians, Canadians and New Zealanders? Significant foreign language sources are also operative and available: I have used several German Army and Navy sources; there are also Austro-Hungarian sources. Certainly French, Japanese, Russian, Italian military records exist is some form. What about civilian casualty records from Belgium, the Netherlands, Poland, the Ukraine, etc. Some German sources reach back to the Franco-Prussian War of 1871. What about the Spanish-American War of 1898 and the records from Cuba and the Philippines? Just thinking out loud. Hmmm; this work won’t be finished by next Tuesday at 3:30, that’s for sure.

  2. Searching for grandfather Cruz Uranga Acosta fought in France 1917 USMC. I want to find his interment plot.He entered at the age of 22.

    1. The Red Cross took photographs of each American cemetery plot. Does your family have that photograph? It would be a start. We discovered my uncles interment through the “Removal Project Information” report when his parents requested his remains returned to the US. It was full of amazing information. I would ask the National Archives.

  3. Thank you for taking the pain of gathering all these photos, digitising them and putting them up on your blog. These rare unseen photographs are not only eye soothing, they glorify our past as well. The history associated with them is just magnificent.

  4. My Grandfather Talmage Edward Dawson (1894-1974) served in the Great War as an American soldier from Topeka, Kansas. I obtained a WWI Kansas Bounty Claim record about him from the Kansas State Historical Society. His unit was HQ Co., 351st Inf Reg, 176th Inf Brgd, 88th Inf Div. He fought in Haute Alsace Sector in France. He lived to see Armistice Day.

  5. My uncle served in the 91st “Wild West” Division, 347th Machine Gun Battalion. I feel close to him through all the amazing sources I have discovered and included in my book about him called “Evidence is Lacking. Yet I Still Hope.” I look forward to meeting him some day.

  6. I am Kathryn Norstrom. I KNOW that my father, Alvan Edward Norstrom was a non commissioned soldier in the US Army in WWI, PFC, I believe. (I have found no information about his service on Family Search.) He volunteered (from San Francisco) rather than was drafted. He served active duty in France and was wounded twice, the second time because of mustard gas.

    I have the correspondence between his mother, Clara Belle Norstrom, and the Army hospital which brought about his release from the army hospital (in Arizona, I believe). Would there be a government/official organization which would be interested in having this correspondence?

    1. I can think of two possibilities. First scan the materials onto “Memories” in FamilySearch and tag them to his record. A consultant can help you if you haven’t scanned to your account before. Second you might consider contacting the Wirkd War One Centennial p Commission for suggestions for a permanent archive of the originals.

  7. I am looking for my father’s WWI records. His name is Carl Benjamin Moore from Georgia. I have photos of him in his uniform but both parents are deceased and I do not know where he enlisted or served or any papers that might revealed information about him. His mother was Mary Ida Wilson Moore.

  8. Both grand fathers served with the British Army in WW 1 and fought in the trenches of the Western Front. My father served in the British army during WW 2. Have multiple relations in England and Australia who served in both world wars and a number were killed in these wars. Have been a church member in Australia for close on 40 years and was researching my family tree before then. As good as Family Search is there all ways seems to be that America First bias/attitude in the format of Family Search.

    1. Probably the easiest records to curate are American records. Though the Facebook group World War II Education may give you some ideas as the records are often the type for both wards.

  9. I knew that my uncle left the US on The Ulysses, but had never seen the manifect until I found the document on Ancestry per this article. Thank you so much!