Military Records Can Bridge Gap Until Release of 1940 Census

By Carolyn L. Barkley

Modern research can be difficult. The 1940 census won’t be released until 2012 and many records concerning the individuals enumerated in it are closed due to privacy regulations.

One source available for some – but not all – states may provide the answer. On April 27, 1942, the Selective Service conducted the fourth in what would be six draft registrations. Prompted by the needs of a nation at war, this fourth registration, often referred to as the “old man’s registration,� included men born between April 27, 1877 and February 16, 1897 (aged 45 to 64). The intent was not a military draft, but rather one that could serve as an inventory of manpower resources available for national service. As draft cards for all other registrations are still in the custody of the Selective Service System and protected under the Privacy Act, these fourth registration cards are of particular importance for our modern research.

These registration records include the registrant’s name; serial number; residence; mailing address; telephone number; date and place of birth; name and address of employer; registrant’s height, weight, race, hair color, eye color, and distinguishing marks; his signature; and the name and address of a person who would always know the registrant’s address. The records are arranged by state and then alphabetically by surname.

The original cards are in the several regional archives of the National Archives, many of whom are filming the records. When the regional center completes its filming, a film copy is made available at the National Archives in Washington, DC. Currently microfilm is available for Connecticut (M1962), Delaware (M1936), Maryland (M1939), Massachusetts (M2090), New Hampshire (M1963), Pennsylvania (M1951), Rhode Island (M1964), Vermont (M1965), West Virginia (M1937), and New Jersey (M1986). Unfortunately, the fourth draft registration cards are no longer extant for Alabama, Florida, Georgia, Maine, Mississippi, North Carolina, South Carolina, and Tennessee. DPs (descriptive pamphlets) are not yet available for these microfilm publication numbers, but a “green sheet� is available and its information has been summarized in this posting.

Here’s an example of what these draft records can accomplish. Late one night recently, I decided to research a gentleman who owned the farm up the hill from my grandfather’s summer home in Huntington, Hampshire County, Massachusetts. He had been a fixture of all of my summers until I was about 14, but I really knew nothing (or remembered nothing) about him other than his name, Allston Gleason. After several hours searching on ancestry.com and newenglandancestors.org, I had developed several generations of an Allston family that I believed was the correct one and had discovered a World War I draft registration card that I believed was Allston’s. My problem was that this Allston F. Gleason was born in Kansas, had lived in Westborough, Worcester County, Massachusetts as a young boy, had registered for the World War I draft in California, and had lived in at least two different places in western Massachusetts according to the 1920 and 1930 censuses. Nothing I had found placed him in Huntington, where I expected him to be living in the late 1940s.

In a subsequent trip to the National Archives in Washington DC, I consulted the World War II fourth draft registration for Massachusetts and looked for Allston F. Gleason. I found the registration for Allston French Gleason, aged 54, born October 8, 1887 in Moore Township, Kansas (M2090, page 59). He listed Edwin E. Gleason of Los Angeles, California as the person who would always know his address. I knew from records I had previously found that Edwin E. Gleason was Allston’s brother who lived in California and that French was his mother’s maiden name. Best of all, however, the record listed his current address as Norwich Hill, Huntington, Hampshire Co., Massachusetts. I did indeed have the correct individual and could now document the family pedigree from Allston to his great-grandparents, Elijah Gleason (1795-?1850) and Lucy Fay (1785-?).

I hope you’ll look at these records. They just may solve a problem in your modern research.

For more information on World War II records research at the National Archives, go to www.archives.gov/research/ww2/finding-aids.html. Published World War II genealogy research how-to resources are beginning to become more available. Two titles to look at are:

World War II Military Records: A Family Historian’s Guide by Debra Johnson Knox, published in 2003 by Mie Publishing of Spartanburg, South Carolina.

Finding Your Father’s War: A Practical Guide to Researching and Understanding Service in the World War II U.S. Army by Jonathan Gawne, published in Philadelphia in 2006 by Casemate. Please note that this title does not have an index.

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