Over the weekend I received an email from a cousin asking if I had done any research on Elmer Dudgeon, a distant uncle. I checked my family tree, but I as my research has to date been mostly centered on direct-line ancestors I did not have any information on Elmer. So I began to dig. I found him on the 1900, 1910 and 1920 censuses. I found him on the Social Security Death Index. I even found him on findagrave.com (thanks to my cousin). But that is where the joy ended.
I looked for Elmer in the WWI draft registration database on Ancestry.com, but he wasn't there. I knew Elmer to have been born around 1900 which would require him to register. This led me to do some research to better understand who was required to register for the draft in 1917.
The United States declared war on Germany April 6, 1917, officially entering World War I. Weeks later on May 18, 1917 Congress passed the Selective Service Act which mandated that all men of a certain age group register for the draft, the first conscription since the Civil War. There were three registration dates over a 15-month period resulting in the registration of 24, 234, 021 men, 12% of which were actually inducted in to military service. The first registration on June 5, 1917 covered men ages 21-31. One year later the second registration included men that had turned 21 in the past year, with a similar supplemental registration added on August 24, 1918 (this was considered part of the second registration). The third and final registration was held September 12, 1918 and extended the age limit to men ages 18-45.
Draft boards were set up across the country and on the given day of the registration, every eligible male, in theory, stood in line at their local draft board to register. Each of the three registrations utilized different forms with the questions varying in number from 10 to 20.
Card from the first registration held June 5, 1917
Card from the third registration held September 12, 1918
When looking for your eligible male ancestor in the draft registration cards, it is important to note that there were county draft registration boards, but also boards for large cities. For instance, Pulaski County, Arkansas had two draft boards. One for the county at large and one in the city of Little Rock. The cards for these boards were alphabetized under "P" and "L", respectively. Also, some men traveled to the board closest to them, which was not always the board in the county they lived in, and requested the results to be forwarded to their county board. This can sometimes mean they even registered in another state.
What about Elmer? His listing in the SSDI and his headstone list his date of birth as 1900. On the 1900 census he is listed as 5-months-old, having been born December 1899. Technically, Elmer Dudgeon's birth date fell within the requirements for him to participate in the third and final registration. Is it possible that he fudged his birth date by one year in order to miss the draft? If so, he carried that change of date throughout his life. I will never know why Elmer did not register for the draft, but at least his exception led me to the rules.
St. Louis County Library WWI Draft registration cards "Quick Tips."