World War I United States Military Records, 1917 to 1918
The United States entered World War I in April 1917. Over 4.7 million men and women served in the regular U.S. forces, national guard units, and draft units. There were 53,402 killed in action, 63,114 deaths from disease and other causes, and about 205,000 wounded. New York, Pennsylvania, Illinois, and Ohio furnished the most soldiers.
- 1 Service Records
- 2 Draft Records
- 3 Census Records
- 4 Allies and Adversaries
- 5 State Records
- 6 Cemetery and Death Records
- 7 Uniforms
- 8 Sources for Further Reading
- 9 Branches of the Military
- 10 Websites
The National Personnel Records Center (NPRC) in St. Louis maintains World War I Official Military Personnel Files (OMPF).
Please Note: On July 12, 1973, a disastrous fire at the NPRC destroyed approximately 16-18 million Official Military Personnel Files. The affected record collections are described below.
|Branch||Personnel and Period Affected||Estimated Loss|
|Army||Personnel discharged November 1, 1912 to January 1, 1960||80%|
|Air Force|| Personnel discharged, September 25, 1947 to January 1, 1964
(with names alphabetically after Hubbard, James E.)
No duplicate copies of the records that were destroyed in the fire were maintained, nor was a microfilm copy ever produced. There were no indexes created prior to the fire. In addition, millions of documents had been lent to the Department of Veterans Affairs before the fire occurred. Therefore, a complete listing of the records that were lost is not available. Nevertheless, NPRC uses many alternate sources in its efforts to reconstruct basic service information to respond to requests.
To order records from the National Personnel Records Center, in St. Louis:
- If you are a veteran or next-of-kin of a deceased veteran, use eVetRecs, at vetrecs.archives.gov (or use the paper form, SF-180);
- All others, use Standard Form 180;
- Written requests (using Standard Form 180, or letter) should be mailed to: National Personnel Records Center, 9700 Page Ave., St. Louis, MO 63132-5100
Access to Military Service Records is limited. See Services for Veterans, Next-of-Kin, or the Veteran's Representative for more information.
Other Sources for Records
Check with a nearby Veterans Administration for other kinds of records such as hospital and disability records.
State archives in the state where your ancestor lived may have records. (For addresses, see the state articles.)
County courthouses may have discharge papers. (For addresses, see Everton'sHandybook for Genealogistsor the internet.)
Indexes mentioning some sailors are the following:
- Index to Rendezvous Reports, Naval Auxiliary Service, 1917–1918. National Archives Microfilm Publication T1100. (Family History Library film 1380690.) Lists the name, enlistment date, date of assignment, and place.
- Index to Rendezvous Reports, Armed Guard Personnel, 1917–1920. National Archives Microfilm Publication T1101. (Family History Library films 1380696–98.) Lists the name, enlistment date, rank, dates of service, and name of vessel served on.
Unknown total casulaties, but estimated at 118,500
World War I Honor Roll by the American Battle Monuments Commission http://www.abmc.gov/search/wwi.php Database of 33,717 casualties buried in their cemeteries or listed on the Walls of the Missing.
- American Army Overseas casualties, GenealogyBuff.com
- World War 1, US Navy and Coast Guard casualties, complied by Gordon Smith (Naval-History.Net)
The following Internet sites have information about minorities during WWI:
Prisoners of War
There is no complete list of prisoners of war (POWs). However there are several partial lists. The following site lists POWs. Click on POW, then a state. Gives name, rank, and name and address of next of kin.
To find other lists, do a Google search for US POWS WWII [country where a prisoner]. Also try by spelling out US, POWs, and WWII.
The Department of Veteran Affairs has benefit claims files. Veteran files are located at the regional office closest to the residence of the veteran at the time of application. Ask the staff at the Veterans Affairs office in your area for help in obtaining copies of papers in the files. The staff can process requests of families of veterans. To find phone numbers and addresses look in the following source:
- Johnson, Richard S. How to Locate Anyone Who Is or Has Been in the Military. (7th ed. Ft. Sam Houston, Tex.: Military Information Enterprises, 1996). (Family History Library book 973 M27j 1996.) This book discusses various methods and addresses to locate and contact present and former military members of the Army, Navy, Air Force, Marine Corps, Coast Guard, and Reserve components.
Twenty-four million men who were born between 13 September 1873 and 12 September 1900 (between the ages of 18 and 45) registered for the draft. A good index for men born between 1872 and 1899 is the WWI draft registration cards. There were 3 registrations:
- The first, on June 5, 1917, was for all men between the ages of 21 and 31.
- The second, on June 5, 1918, registered those who attained age 21 after June 5, 1917. (A supplemental registration was held on August 24, 1918, for those becoming 21 years old after June 5, 1918. This was included in the second registration.)
- The third registration was held on September 12, 1918, for men age 18 through 45.
Draft registration index and images are available online at ancestry.com ($) Check with a regional family history center or public library for free access.
Copies of WWI Draft Registration Cards can be ordered online for a fee through the National Archives.
The Family History Library has acquired this collection as well.
- World War I Selective Service System Draft Registration Cards, 1917–1918. National Archives Microfilm Publication M1509. (Family History Library 4,383 films.) To find specific microfilm numbers, look in the Locality search of the Family History Library Catalog under: UNITED STATES - MILITARY RECORDS - WORLD WAR, 1914–1918 [STATE] - MILITARY RECORDS - WORLD WAR, 1914–1918 - REGISTERS
How to Find a Draft Card
The records are arranged alphabetically by state, including Alaska, Hawaii, Puerto Rico, and the District of Columbia; thereunder, alphabetically by county or city (except for Connecticut, Massachusetts, and Rhode Island which are arranged by divisions and counties); thereunder alphabetically by the name of the registrant.
In rural areas one should be able to find a registrant's card knowing his name and the county in which he registered. In large cities and in some larger counties the search could be more difficult. In New York City, for instance, there were 189 local boards.
District boards were established by the President (one or more for each Federal Judical District). The average district board had jurisdiction over approximately 30 local boards, each with an average registration of 5,000 men. The district boards had appellate jurisdiction over the decision of local boards in some claims and original jurisdiction in others.
Local boards were established for each county or similar subdivision in each state, and for each 30,000 persons (approximately) in each city or county with a population over 30,000. The local boards were charged with the registration, determination of order and serial numbers, classification, call and entrainment of draftees.
Finding your ancestor’s street address in a city directory will help you determine the board number if he lived in a large city. To find board numbers for Chicago, New York, and 35 other major cities, see: United States. Selective Service System.
- United States of America Maps of World War I Draft Registration Boards'.Salt Lake City, Utah: The Genealogical Society of Utah, 1989. (Family History Library film 1498803.)
- Register of World War I Draft Registration Cards, 1917-1918. (Family History Library 973 M2frd 2nd & 3rd Ref. Area)
Information in a draft card
The information included on each registration differs somewhat but the general information shown includes order and serial numbers (assigned by the Selective Service System), full name, date and place of birth, race, citizenship, occupation, personal description, and signature.
It is important to note that not all of the men who registered for the draft actually served in the military and not all men who served in the military registered for the draft. Moreover these are not military service records. They end when an individual reports to the army training camp. They contain no information about an individual's military service.
Related records include Classification Lists of Docket Books maintained by local boards to show the process of classification, physical examination, claim for exemption or discharge from the draft, and the appeals process for each registrant. Each local board also maintained lists of men ordered to report to the board for induction. These show (for each individual ordered to report) name, the mobilization camp to which he was to report and the date he was to report, and the certification of officials of the mobilization camp that the man had (or had not) reported as ordered. These records are in the Field Archives branches in the appropriate regions.
There are also records of the appeals process, and records relating to American registrants living abroad and aliens living in the United States. These records are held in the National Archives in Washington, D.C.
The 1930 and 1940 federal population censuses identify veterans. Microfilm copies of the 1940 census are not available. Authorized representatives or heirs can request a search by using form BC-600, “Application for Search of Census Records.” It is available from:
Bureau of the Census
P.O. Box 1545
Jeffersonville, IN 47131
Allies and Adversaries
Allied countries and armed forces with links to brief WWI histories, including the casualty
The Family History Library has some indexes and records from county courthouses, state archives, and state offices of the adjutant general. For example, the library has the following:
- Michigan. State Library. World War I Card Index. (Family History Library films 1001930–66.) Contains name, address, and county: some have the soldier’s parents’ names and residence if the soldier is deceased. This is a card file at the Michigan State Archives.
Similar collections are described in the military sections for the various states under STATE NAME - MILITARY RECORDS.
Cemetery and Death Records
Sources about soldiers who died in the war include the following:
- Haulsee, W.M., et al., comps. Soldiers of the Great War. 3 vols. Washington, D.C.: Soldiers Record Publishing Association, 1920. (Family History Library book 973 M23s; fiche 6051244.) This is a listing of soldiers who died. It is arranged by state and gives the soldier’s name, residence, rank, and cause of death. It contains many individual photographs and a chronology of the war.
- Officers and Enlisted Men of the United States Navy Who Lost Their Lives during the World War, from April 6, 1917 to November 11, 1918. Washington, D.C.: Government Printing Office, 1920. (Family History Library book 973 M23u; film 1415261 item 7.) This book lists the sailor’s name, rank, date and place of death, cause of death, and name of next of kin.
- Pilgrimage for the Mothers and Widows of Soldiers, Sailors, and Marines of the American Forces Now Interred in the Cemeteries of Europe. Washington, D.C.: Government Printing, 1930. (Family History Library book 973 M23uw.) This book lists the widow’s or mother’s name, relationship, name of deceased, rank, organization, and cemetery. It is arranged by state and county.
American War Dead Commission
Lists those buried overseas in the American military cemeteries and those who died during the Korean War.
Also lists the Missing in Action from World War I, World War II, Korean War and Vietnam War.
Sources for Further Reading
- Davis, Henry Blaine, Jr. Generals in Khaki. Raleigh, N.C.: Pentland Press, 1998. (Family History Library book 973 D3dav.) Contains biographical sketches of the generals in the United States army during World War I.
- Knapp, Michael G. “World War I Service Records.” Prologue: Quarterly of the National Archives 22. (Fall 1990): 300–2. (Family History Library book 973 B2p.)
- Knapp, Michael G., and Constance Potter. “Here Rests in Honored Glory: World War I Graves Registration.” Prologue: Quarterly of the National Archives 23. (Summer 1991): 190–4. (Family History Library book 973 B2p.)
- Schaefer, Christina K. The Great War. A Guide to The Service Records of All The World’s Fighting Men and Volunteers. Baltimore: Genealogical Publishing, 1998. (Family History Library 940.41 Sch13g.) The United States is covered on pages 123 to 156.
- Yockelson, Mitchell. “They Answered the Call: Military Service in the United States Army during World War I, 1917–1919.” Prologue: Quarterly of the National Archives and Records Administration 30. (Fall 1998): 228–34. (Family History Library book 973 B2p.)
Branches of the Military
For information regarding offical military unit histories, contact:
U.S. Air Force Historical Research Agency
600 Chenault Circle
Maxwell AFB, AL 36112-6424
Telephone: (334) 953-2395
Other internet sites with information about the US Air Force during WWI:
WWI Air Force - history and discussion of the air forces of various countries with links to specific US sites.
For information regarding offical military unit histories, contact:
U.S. Army Center of Military History
103 3rd Avenue
Fort Lesley J. McNair, DC 20319-5058
Telephone: (202) 685-4042
Internet sites with information about the US Army during WWI:
Internet sites with information about Naval Aviation
- World War I Era Naval Aviation Stations - lists the stations (mostly US) with a brief history of each.
- Naval Aviation History - information about US navy aviation during WWI
- BYU WWI Document Archive This archive is international in focus
- Online World War One Indexes and Records
- The History Guide Includes documents, links to resources in different countries, medical records, treaties, etc.
- Chronology of the first World War
- World War I
- Heritage of the Great War
- World War I links to many very good maps showing military campaigns, boundaries,