Genealogy: U.S. World War I 1917-1919, Develop a search profile for military records

WWI SoldiersBy Barry J. Ewell
I have made it practice to search for World War I records for males that I find in the 1900-1920 U.S. Federal censuses who would have been between ages of 16 and 50 during the World War years of 1914 and 1919.  With the online availability of records, searching for military records should be part of your research process for males who were born between the years of 1867 and 1901.

Build a search profile for each male. Begin by developing a short profile for each male you will be researching. You will use the list as a reference for your search.  Include the following

  • Name of male and variations
  • Approximate age at the beginning and end of the World War I
  • Approximate birth year or birth date
  • Approximate death year or death date
  • Name of the wife and children during their life time
  • State (include county if possible) where male lived before, during and after WW I

Where to find the personal information
I would begin to build my search profile viewing the information on the 1860 and 1870 U.S. Federal census.

Check the 1900 U. S. Federal census to identify

  • Living males between the ages of 0/12 and 33
  • Place of birth for the male
  • If married, name of spouse and children and their ages
  • Place of residence (state and county) at the time of the census

Check the 1910 U.S. Federal census to identify

  • Living males between the ages of 9 and 43
  • Place of birth for each male
  • Whether they were single or married
  • If married, name of spouse and children and their ages
  • Place of residence (state and county) at the time of the census.

Note: If you can’t find you ancestor in the 1910 census, look at the 1900 census and see if they appear in the 1920 census.

Check the 1920 U. S. Federal census to identify

  • Living males between the ages of 19 and 53
  • Males who are in the 1910 census and not in the 1920 census (may indicate he died in the war)
  • Place of birth for the male
  • If married, name of spouse and children and their ages
  • Place of residence (state and county) at the time of the census

Check the 1930 U.S. Federal Census

  • Living males between the ages of 29 and 63
  • 1930 census asks if a person was “Veteran?” of military service through WW I.  The wife, widow, or under 18-year-old child of a veteran was also required to answer the questions. The codes used were as follows:
    • World War (W)
    • Spanish-American War; Philippine Insurrection or Boxer Rebellion (S)
    • Spanish-American War & World War (SW)
    • Regular establishment (Army, Navy or Marine Corps) Peace-Time Service only (R)
    • Other war or expedition (Ot)
  • If married, name of spouse and children and their ages
  • Place of residence (state and county) at the time of the census

Check the 1940 U.S. Federal Census

  • Living males between the ages of 39 and 73
  • For the first time, the census did not ask if a person served in the Civil War.Veteranswere asked if they served in the previous engagement. The wife, widow, or under 18-year-old child of a veteran was also required to answer the questions. These questions were only asked of about 5% of the population.  The codes used were as follows:
    • World War (W)
    • Spanish-American War; Philippine Insurrection or Boxer Rebellion (S)
    • Spanish-American War & World War (SW)
    • Regular establishment (Army, Navy or Marine Corps) Peace-Time Service only (R)
    • Other war or expedition (Ot)
  • If married, name of spouse and children and their ages

Start with at least the 1910, 1920, and 1930 census and expand to the 1900 and 1940 censuses as needed. A sample search profile is as follows:

World War I male search profile
Census yearNameAge and apprx birth year/DateFamilyLocationPlace of birth
1900 CensusThomas Stewart3 (1897)Living with father James Isaac StewartBlackfoot, Bingham, IdahoNebraska
1910 CensusJay Stewart13 (1897)Living with father James Isaac StewartBlackfoot, Bingham, IdahoNebraska
1920 CensusJay Stewart23 (1897)Living with father James Isaac StewartBlackfoot, Bingham, IdahoNebraska
1930 CensusThomas J. Stewart33 (1897)(F) Cleofa 31
(F) Mary 7
(M) Robert 5
(M) Joshua 4
(F) Martha 1
Salt Lake City, Salt Lake, UtahNebraska
1930 Military Service QuestionServed in WW I
1940 CensusJ. Stewart43 (1897)(F) Cleofa 41
(F) Mary 17
(M) Robert 15
(M) Joshua 14
(F) Martha 11
1940 Military Service QuestionWas not asked question

For more information see the article “Genealogy: Researching and finding military records, World War I 1917-1919.”