Friday, March 4, 2016

The 21 Day Genealogy Challenge - Day Eight: Federal Census Records, City Directories and WWI/II Draft Cards

 "All we want are the facts, ma'am." -- Joe Friday, Dragnet.

Welcome to day eight of the 21 Day Genealogy Challenge!  By now you have begun your Family Tree and have an ancestor you would like to focus on.  Whether this is your grandfather or 3rd great grandparent, let’s find some documentation to attach to his/her record.  By providing sources for your ancestor, you will be assuring others who view your tree that your work is authentic.  

There are many different source types to choose from.  Today we will focus on the following three: U.S. Federal Census Records, City Directories, and WWI/WWII draft cards.  These records are beneficial for a couple of reasons.  They provide residential information, occupation, as well as naming relatives or social acquaintances.

U.S. Federal Census Records

The U.S. Federal Census began in 1790 when federal U.S. Marshals would travel from house to house collecting information.  Today, the census is taken electronically, by mail, or citizens may volunteer to go door to door to collect census information in a specific location.  

If you take a look at census records from various decades, you will see that the style and questions have changed.  Where at one time only heads of household were listed and all other inhabitants were merely check marks, today, everyone residing in the home is listed by name.  Keep in mind that information provided may not be accurate.  The individual providing the information for the household may not be the head of the house or remember correctly the details of each member living in the home.  It is possible that the person answering the questions may be lying for any given reason, or may make assumptions based on information he or she had been told.  For this reason it is important that we compare the information on each census record, as well as with information provided in other records we come across in our research.

It is important to take a close look at the questions asked in each census record.  Over the decades these questions have changed and additional information added to the census form.  Let’s compare the 1910 and 1940 United States Census records.

1910   The 1910 Census provides a street and house number for each residence.  We see the name of the individuals living together, as well as their relationship to one another.  The sex, age and race is also listed.  One piece of information added to this census, is the number of children a mother gave birth to, as well as the number of children still living.  Your ancestor may have had more children than you were aware of. The census also asks for the number of years of the present marriage.  Looking at the age of the children and comparing with the number of years the couple have been married may give a clue to a previous marriage.  

The 1910 census also provides the year of immigration and naturalization, if applicable.  If your ancestor immigrated to the United States, this is a lead you can follow in searching for your ancestor’s immigration record.  Note however, that sometimes the year given on the census is not exact.  If you do not find your ancestor on any ship manifest for the year listed on the census, take a look at other manifests in the surrounding years.  

Do you know if your ancestor was a part of the Civil War?  The 1910 census poses the question, asking if the individual listed is a survivor of the Confederate or Union Army.  How your ancestor answered this question will help you further your research in other areas.

1940    Like the 1910 census, the 1940 census provides a street and house number.  The census will give the value of the home and indicate if the place of residence was owned or rented.  Like prior census records, the relationship to the head of house, as well as place of birth and citizenship is revealed for each individual. While the 1910 census asks about activity in the Civil War, the 1940 census also inquires about veteran status.  Again, this piece of information can be used as a lead in other areas of research.  

The 1940 census also asks where each person resided in 1935.  Pay close attention to this.  Your relative may not have been living in the same house or town five years prior, even if the 1930 census shows that they did.  This will be a clue to you regarding some movement and activity not previously known.  

New to the census is the question regarding Social Security.  Residents were asked if they had obtained a social security number.  Perhaps you have searched the Social Security Death Index (SSDI) and not been able to find your ancestor listed.  Check the 1940 census and see how your ancestor answered the social security question.  

I have not covered all the questions posed in either of these census forms, but instead picked out some that you may have overlooked which could lead you to tearing down some brick walls.  Keep in mind when reviewing any census record that you do not stay hyper focused on the left side of the form.  While the left side of the document appears to provide the answers to some obvious questions, the far right side of the form also provides valuable information. 

Your ancestor may be located in the middle or bottom of the census page, requiring you to scroll up and down the page to view the questions posed.  You may want to print a copy of each census form to consult as your review your ancestor's census information. You can find these forms at

City Directories

City directories may be one of the most overlooked sources in genealogical research.  I will admit that until about 10 years ago, it never crossed my mind to look in a city directory to find information on my ancestors.  So, what can be found here that will help in research?

Like the federal census records, a city directory will provide you with an address of the relative you are seeking.  In some cases, the directory will list who is living together in the same house.  I will say, however, that some directories will list the individuals separately, under their own name.  So, if your ancestor is residing with relatives that have a different surname, you may not see them listed together.  You would have to already be aware they are living together and look each person up by their last name.

A city directory will tell you if a person has recently moved.  The individual will be named and following their name will be the word “removed.”  This doesn’t mean they were forced out of town.  It simply means they moved away.  Unfortunately, the city directory may not provide the forwarding address.

If an individual is deceased and left behind a widow or widower, the city directory may provide that information for a handful of years.  By looking in the directory year by year, you will be able to ascertain when the last time your ancestor was alive and living with his/her spouse in that town.

Sometimes the city directory will list not only the house the individual is living in, but also the place of employment.  You may want to research the company your ancestor worked for.  You may find bits and pieces of information that will give you some insight to your ancestor’s life.  

Don’t confuse city directories with the telephone book.  These directories have been around far longer and may be the source that provides the missing information you have been waiting for.

WWI and WWII Draft Cards

Not everyone has an ancestor who fought in WWI or WWII, but they may have filled out a draft card.  

According to the website, there were three different draft cards for WWI.  First was the June 15, 1917, draft for men between the ages of 21 and 31 years.  The June 5, 1918, draft was for men who turned 21 after the first draft.  And finally, there was the September 12, 1918, draft for men between the ages of 18 to 45.  For more information on the WWI draft records, visit

WWII had several draft registrations, including an “Old Man’s Draft.”  To view the history of the WWII draft and the various draft registration dates, visit  

Like the U.S. Census records, draft cards reveal the name, address, age and citizenship of the applicant.  The record may also provide the applicant’s birth date.  In the lower portion of the front of the card you may find the occupation of the applicant, as well as the company for whom he worked. The name of a relative may be listed on the bottom of the front of the WWI draft card.  If the applicant is married, the relative may be his wife, however, it could be a parent or sibling.  Pay close attention to the name and address provided in the “closest relative” portion of the form. The WWII draft card asks for the “name of person who will always know your address.”  The response given will not necessarily be a relative.  It is possible that the applicant wrote down the name of his employer or a friend.

On both war draft cards, we now can see the signature of our ancestor, as well as learn his height, weight, and colour of his hair and eyes.  How nice to add to their description beyond the black and white photos of the era!  

U.S. Federal Census, City Directories and WWI/II draft cards are only three types of sources we can use to learn about our ancestors.  The descriptions of each of these sources have been brief and do not encompass all that these sources can and may reveal.  But you get a general idea of what you may find when you look in these records.   

Take time to review the entire record.  Don’t assume that the document facing you is the only page there is for your ancestor.  If in your search only one image appears on your screen, make sure that you “turn the page.”  The backside or next page of the document may be digitized separately.  It would be a shame if you missed vital information because you didn’t click over to the next image in the series of documents. 

Here is Your Five Point Review:

·       Look at U.S. Census records for the states and towns that your ancestor lived in or may have lived in.
·       Compare the various census records you have found and review any new information revealed regarding address, citizenship, occupation and family members.
·       Review City Directories in the towns or cities that your ancestor lived in or may have lived in.  Does the directory reveal the loss of a spouse? A possible move?  What occupation is given for your ancestor? To learn more about your ancestor’s occupation, research the company that employed him or her.
·       Did your ancestor complete a draft card for either WWI or WWII?  Did you notice any new information on his draft card?  Did you notice his signature?  Were you surprised to see his height, weight, and colour of eyes and hair?
·       Compare all the information you gleaned from each of the sources.  Do you see any discrepancies?  Did the records confirm information you had previously been told or discovered in your research?  Record your findings in your Genealogy Journal and cite your sources in your Family Tree.

Congratulations! You have completed day eight of the 21 Day Genealogy Challenge!  If you have any questions or comments, feel free to post them in the Blog Comment section below.  Invite your friends to join this challenge by sharing this blog with them on Google+, Twitter and Facebook.  The share icons are just below this blog entry.

Thank you for joining this challenge and remember…..

History not shared is History forgotten!