Saturday, May 26, 2007

Earl Warren's WWII Draft Card and Military Records of Millions of Americans: on-line and free until June 6

"Military records featuring 90 million Americans who have fought in wars from the 1600s through the American Civil War to Korea and Vietnam have been brought together online," BBC reported recently. Hat tip to HNN.

The huge collection of documents, which includes draft registration cards, photographs, prisoner of war records and news reels, is the work of family history website

It hopes to help millions of Americans uncover their ancestors' pasts through their military records, and to shed a little light on the nation's history as it marks Memorial Day on 28 May.

About a third of the records - some 30 million names - are now visible for the first time on the internet following the collection's launch on 24 May. Others were already searchable online.

And, I might add, it hopes to make a bundle along the way. Ultimately you will have to pay to access these records. But searches of the military records datebase are free through D-Day (June 6).

How useful is this? Supreme Court Justice Frank Murphy signed up for the Reserves during World War II, even though on the Court. I found no World War II records for him, but I did find his World War I Draft Registration record. Earl Warren was California Attorney General and then Governor during World War II, but even he had a Draft Card. Warning: specific links in this post will expire soon.

To get a sense of how easy it is to find ordinary people, I looked up my dad. He served in World War II. I can find no draft card or enlistment records for him, only a record of where he is buried. But he was a brilliant young science student, and was taken out of basic training and sent to Oakridge, Tennessee. His records may have been classified. So then I looked for the records of a friend's father and grandfather. No luck there either.

As for historic figures, BBC reports:

Gangster Al Capone found, listing "paper cutter" as his occupation on his WWI draft registration card, filed in 1918 in Brooklyn.

Baseball legend Babe Ruth registered for the draft in both World War I and World War II, by which time he was 47, giving "baseball player" as his occupation.

One of America's most famous magicians also registered for the draft in 1918, filling out his full name on the card as Harry Handcuff Houdini.

There are other interesting resources, particularly newsreels, including this one with seeming upbeat images of Japanese Americans being interned to camps, "not as prisoners, but free to work and paid by the United States Government." (Film footage doesn't show the guard towers, barbed wire, and armed patrols, and government sponsored professional photographers were barred from taking pictures of them.)

Overall, the search function for this site is valuable, even if the records are spotty. Use it while it's free.

Photo credit.