To my surprise – after I decided to give the genealogy site Ancestry.com a try – I was pointed in the direction of a World War I Draft Registration Card for our grandfather Emil Borreson. How strange a document, I thought, given his age at the time, but it’s so.
The card image is difficult to read in places, especially the printed form itself, but it contains descriptions worthy of note. Emil, whose age was 45 at the time, is described to be of “medium” height, “stout” build, with “blue” eyes and “dark” hair. His occupation was farming, his nearest relative Mrs. Gina Borreson (wife), and he still signed Borresen with an old country “e.” The date of the Registration Card was September 12, 1918.
Ancestry.com provides a helpful history of this registration, and I’ve excerpted a few sentences.
In 1917 and 1918, approximately 24 million men living in the United States completed a World War I draft registration card. These registration cards represent approximately 98% of the men under the age of 46. The total U.S. population in 1917-1918 was about 100 million individuals. In other words, close to 25% of the total population is represented in these records.
On 6 April 1917, the United States declared war on Germany and officially entered World War I. Six weeks later, on 18 May 1917, the Selective Service Act was passed, which authorized the president to increase the military establishment of the United States. As a result, every male living within the United States between the ages of eighteen and forty-five was required to register for the draft.
[Emil was part of the third registration. This] registration on 12 Sept 1918, was for men aged eighteen to twenty-one and thirty-one to forty-five—men born between 11 Sept 1872 and 12 Sept 1900. [Born Sept. 17, 1872, he made it by six days!]
[I don’t know what happened in Whitehall, especially by the third registration, but…] In many areas, the draft registration was an event. Some cities held parades and closed businesses for the day. Other cities announced the start of registration by blowing whistles, ringing church bells, and firing canons.