A 1917-18 family snapshot

On May 18, 1917, six weeks after the United States declared war on Germany, the Selective Service Act was passed. As a result, every male between 18 and 45 was required to register for the draft.

Registration took place in three stages, based on age, in 1917 and 1918. About 24 million men born between Sept. 13, 1872, and Sept. 12, 1900, and living in this country filled out a card; officials estimate a 98% compliance. Not everyone who registered actually served in the armed forces, and some who served in the war did not register for the draft. Those exempt from registration were enlisted in the military or naval service, including reserves.

As a genealogical source, World War I draft registration records are relatively new. In 1987 and 1988, the National Archives contracted with the Genealogical Society of Utah (Family History Library) to microfilm all of the original registration cards. And, just recently, one of the web genealogy sites has put these images online. For a few days this spring, while the company gave a few days' free access to the images, I copied all 668 from the men in our family who registered.

The information sought for each card differs, but general information -- usually full name, home address, date of birth, occupation, personal description (hair and eye color, height, build, disabilities) and signature -- can be found on all. Additional information on some cards include address of nearest relative, dependent relative, marital status, father’s birthplace, or previous exemption from service.

Many of the cards provided previously unknown middle names. Some helped me link previously "unplaced" twigs into the main family tree. While many members of the family were farmers, I ran across quite a few who were mailmen, a restaurant owner, some railroad/streetcar engineers, several barbers and one "laborer employed by the state of Nebraska" (up in the corner of the card was printed "convict." Physical handicaps are listed; some were missing fingers, a leg or an eye. And a couple were inmates in mental institutions.

Now for the bad news: Microfilm standards varied; some cards are nice and big to read while others are so small that too much magnification makes them unreadable. Some cards are cut off. Some images are only of the corner of a card. Some microfilmers forgot to copy the back of the card. Some records have water stains. A click on nine of the links at the website led to wrong cards or no cards at all.

Nevertheless, this summer project has led to three projects: an index of family members who registered, an unscientific study of our ancestors' physical appearance, and a breakdown of the spellings of our surname.

Index of names: This page is an index to all our family members who registered, with "Parmelee" spelled exactly as they wrote it on their draft card. Also note that many men went by their middle -- not their first -- names. (My paternal grandfather, as far as I always thought, was Fred S. Powers -- but it turns out that before and my grandmother were wed, he was Simon F. Powers) If you can't find your ancestor under the first name you're certain he used, call up a Control-F search prompt from your keyboard and look through the list.

Data: This page is an unscientific study of physical characteristics broken down by the main branches (John Jr.'s 10 children) of the family. You can also see which spellings of our surname via signatures are more prevalent in each of the branches.

In probably a little more than half the cases, if one of these men is a relative of yours, I can fit you into the main family tree.

Search the site -- but remember,
"Parmelee" can be spelled dozens of ways.
If you aren't sure, use * as a wildcard:

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