(The following texts were originally published in the June 2017 issue of the Harrison Heritage News, the monthly newsletter of the Harrison County (Ky,) Historical Society, in a special supplement entitled "Winning World War I." Here the texts are presented with some slight revisions and additions to the original)
In May 1917 there wasn’t a whole lot that a citizen of Harrison County could do on his or her own regarding war preparations. It wasn’t like the Civil War, when willing young men would hop on a horse or take a train to travel with other like-minded citizens of the county and head for whichever side suited their sense of patriotism or politics. Before America’s declaration of war in April a few Americans, for reasons of their own, actually had traveled abroad to volunteer for service in the militaries of the Allied or Axis powers. For most, however, there wasn’t much to do except for to get ready for June, and June 5 in particular. That was the day that had been designated as Registration Day, i.e., registration for the new draft.
The routine of war was a whole new world for a citizenry which had experienced nearly a half-century of peace, and whatever resistence there had been to committing militarily to the European conflict since 1914 was largely pushed aside with the steady rollout of proclamations and regulations.
On April 21 a “patriotic meeting” was held at the courthouse in Cynthiana. It was reported in the April 26 issue of the Cynthiana Democrat that a “a large crowd was on hand, including a number of ladies, [and] speeches were made by several citizens[,] … all voicing enthusiastic endorsement of the stand of President Wilson and the Congress in the war with Germany.” Resolutions were passed pledging “to render whatever aid within our power to carry out his [President Wilson’s] plans to secure victory in the end.”
In May, as the draft bill worked its way through the Congress, the Democrat warned of how conscription would affect Harrison County, reporting that “[n]obody will be excused; no substitutes can be hired. The rich and poor, white and black, and will be affected alike,” adding that “numbers of young men of the town and county to whom the war has seemed a thing afar off will find themselves face to face with a stern reality. Just how many will have to go into training on the first turn of the wheel cannot be known until each state’s apportionment is worked out. But some will be called. All will have to register. The physically unfit will not go. Those who have families dependent on them will not go. Those engaged in farm work will not be compelled to go, or those engaged in other occupations essential to the maintenance of the army or military forces.”
It was projected that there would be some seven million registrants, with a rejection rate of nearly forty percent for “physical unfitness.”
“Get Ready for the Draft”—That was the title of the May 31, 1917 Democrat article (p. 10, col. 1) that, although relegated to page ten, was probably read with great interest by more subscribers than any other that year.
The Selective Serivce Act passed on May 18 required that “every male citizen between the ages of 21 and 30 years, both inclusive, [was] to go to their respective voting precincts on Tuesday, June 5, 1917, between the hours of 7 o’clock a.m. and 9 o’clock p.m.” and register. It also noted that “failure to register is punishable by jail sentence.”
The article said that “in order that those who will be required to register may familiarize themselves with the registration we publish the … rules for the guidance of both officers of registration and men who must register.” It was a “cheat sheet” of sorts. But more about that later. Cynthiana had a party planned.
A Day of “Interesting Exercises”—Since the demand upon such a significant proportion of the population meant that there was going to be a big turnout of the county’s population anyway, Cynthiana’s citizens decided to make the most of it. The “largest crowd that Cynthiana entertained in many a day” turned out to support their youmg men who were, after all, “inscribing their names on the Honor Roll of the Nation.”
June 5th was a Tuesday, and it rained some that morning, just enough to dampen the city, but not its spirits. In the afternoon the streets “were a mass of humanity, each struggling for a point of vantage to witness the parade or hear the address[es].” The flag was raised at the courthouse was at 10:30, followed by a few speeches and even recitations of poems. The sun did came out, but “the day became if anything too warm for comfort” for the large crowds in attendance.
The parade scheduled for 1:30 was said to have been “one of the longest parades the town has seen.” The procession included mounted police, ladies on horseback, boys on ponies, a regimental band, the registrants themselves, decorated auto cars, Red Cross in automobiles, Boy Scouts, Elks, Odd Fellows, Knights of Pythias, Masons, Jr. Order U.A.M., school children, high school students and "bicycles, buggies, etc.” Did anyone miss out?
The coverage of other communities was minimal, but the paper did publish a list of where regristrants of Cynthiana and other registrants were to go. The precincts listed with their respective registrars and assistant registrars were broken down and listed as follows: Lumber Yard, L.C. Rice, J.M. Douglas; Engine House, John W. Woodhead[,] John T. McKee; Court House, L. Benton, J.B. Berry; River, Chas. L. Ewing, Edgar Gragg; Elmarch, Homer McCauley, C.K. Bailey; Oddville, J.J. Rose, Fred Toadvine; Sylvandell, Luther Mastin, Everett Hickman; Park, W.T. Payne, R.T. Berry; Lair, Jno. W. Hinkson, John Jett; Leesburg, J.M. Brock, Frank May; Belmont, W.H. Ashcraft, W.W. Ammerman; Cason, Leslie Martin, Jno. Magee; Connersville, J.L. Burgess, J.T. Laughlin; Kinman, George Renaker, J.J. Baker; Berry, Harry Berry, J.H. Doan; Colemansville, Frank Day, Ira Elmore; Claysville, T.W. Beckett, A.J. McDowell; Richland, E.C. Elliott, Orie Sandy; and Poindexter, I.J. Caldwell, C.T. Barnes.
What Did the Registrars Want to Know?—If you are a genealogist or family historian, then you probably have seen at least a few of the draft registration cards generated by the three registrations: the first and second registrations of June 4, 1917 and 1918 repectively (The second registration also includes the Aug. 24, 1918 registration of men who had turned twenty-one since June 5), and that of Sept. 12, 1918. By the time the war ended on November 11, 1918, nearly 25 million men had registered, almost a quarter of the entire U.S. population. It was almost an absolutely complete record as it included almost ninety-eight percent of all males who were required to register.
The May 31 Democrat provided its readership a cheat-sheet of sorts, i.e. a list of all the questions that registrants should be prepared for.
“Questions will be asked for you to answer in the order in which they appear below. These questions are set out below with detailed information to help you in answering them. They should be carefully read, so that you will have your answer ready when you go before the registrar.”
Most interesting for some are the cues given for the third question. They might explain why so many reported birthdates are always off by a year, no matter what the record. Here is the “cheat sheet” verbatim:
1. Name in full? Age in Years? This means your name as you ordinarily sign it. If you sign only your initials as “S.L. Brown” give that as your name. If you sign “Samuel L. Brown” give you name in that way, or if “S. Lawrence Brown” give it that way. State your age today in years only. Disregard additional months today. Be prepared to say “10” or “25” not “19 years, 3 months” or the like.
2. Home Address. This means the place where you have your permanent home, not the place where you work. Be prepared to give the address this way: “
232 Main street, , Cook county, Chicago ” that is give the number and name of street first, then town, then county and state. Illinois
3. Date of Birth. Start to answer as you would if some one asked you your birthday, as “August 5th.” Then say, “on my birthday this year I will be (or was) . . . . . years old.” The registrar will then fill in the year of birth. Many people do not carry in mind the year they were born. This may be obtained by the registrar by subtracting the age in years on this year’s birthday from 1917.
4. Are you (1) a natural born citizen; (2) a naturalized citizen; (3) an alien; (4) or have you declared your intention to become a citizen. Specify which.
(1). If you were born in the United States including Alaska and Hawaii you are a natural born citizen no matter what may have been the citizenship or nationality of your parents.
5. Where were you born? First name the town, then the State, then the county, as “
”; “ Columbus, Ohio ; “ Vienna, Austria ;” “ Paris, France .” Sofia, Bulgaria
6. If not a citizen, of what country are you a citizen or subject?
This need be answered only by aliens and declarants. Remember that a declarant is not yet a citizen of the United States. If an alien or declarant, state the name of your country as “
,” “ France ,” “China..” Japan
7. What is your present trade, occupation or office? This does not ask what you once did, nor what you have done most of the time, not what you are best fitted to do. It asks you what your job is right now. State briefly as “farmer,” “miner,” “student,” [“]laborer (on farm, in rolling mill, in automobile wagon or other factory)[,]” “machinist in automobile factory,” ect. [sic]. If you hold an office under State or Federal government, name the office you hold. If you are in the military or the naval service of the
, state “Army of the United States ” or “Navy of the United States .” If you are in one of the following offices or employments, use one of the names hereinafter mentioned: “Customhouse clerk;” “employed in the transportation of the mails;” or “employed in the armory, arsenal or navy yard;” “mariner actually employed in the sea service of citizen or merchant within the United States.” United States
8. By whom employed? Where employed?
If you are working for an individual, firm, corporation or association state its name. If in business, trade profession or employment for yourself, so state. If you are an officer of the State or federal government say whether your office is under the
, the States, the county, or a municipality. In answer to the question as to where you are employed, give the town, county and State where you work. United States
9. Have you a father, mother, wife, child under twelve, or a sister, or brother under twelve solely dependent upon you for support? (Specify which.) Consider your answer thoughtfully. If it is true that there is another mouth than your own which you alone have a duty to feed, do not let your military ardor interfere with the wish of the nation to reduce war’s misery to a minimum. On the other hand, unless the person you have in mind is solely dependent upon you, do not hide behind petticoats or children. Remember that this answer alone will not exempt you from liability or service.
10. Married or single? (Specify which.) Race? (Specify which.) This does not ask you whether you were once married, but whether you are married now. In answer to the question as to your race, state briefly whether “Caucasian,” “Mongolian,” “Negro,” “Malayan,” or “Indian.”
11. What military service have you had? Rank? Branch? Years? Nation or State?
No matter what country you served you must give complete information. In answering these questions, first name your rank, next state the branch in which you served, next state the number of years service, not counting time spent in the reserve. Finally name the nation or State you served.
12. Do you claim exemption from draft? Specify grounds.Fame, Fate, & Fortune—Kentuckians of every every background registered, some younger, some older, some famous, a few privileged, most were not so. It is interesting to search the WWI registration databases at FamilySearch.org or Ancestry for those who had yet to make their fortunes, such as Kentucky Governor Albert B. “Happy”Chandler or Colonel Harlan Sanders, or who met their fate earlier than expected, as William Floyd Collins did in Mammoth Cave.. Few soldiers thought of fame or fortune; most just wanted to come back alive. Thankfully, most did.
Because you claim exemption from draft, it by no means follows that you are exempt. For the information of the war department you should make a claim now if you intend to prosecute it. Some persons will be exempted on account of their occupations or office. Some on account of the fact that they have relatives dependent upon them for support. You answer touching these things will be important in supporting the claim you intend to make in answer to these questions. Be sure, therefore, that the grounds you now state are in conformity with your answers to questions 7 and 8. In stating ground you claim as exempting you use one of the following terms: If you claim to be an executive, legislative or judicial officer of the State or nation, name your office and say whether it is an office of the State or nation; if you are in the military or naval service and this is your ground, simply say “military service of the United States” or “Naval service of the United States.” If you claim to be a member of a religious sect whose creed forbids its members to participate in war in any form simply name the sect. If you are employed in the transmission of the
mails or as an articifer or workman in an armory, arsenal or naval yard of the United States , if you are a mariner employed in the sea service of any citizen or merchant within the United States so state. If you are a felon or otherwise morally deficient and desire to claim exemption on that ground, state your ground briefly. If you claim physical debility, state that briefly. United States
There isn’t enough room on these pages to tell all that there is of the records, or what you can do with them, but if you want to know and explore more, just visit www.WinningWorldWarI.com and, in addition to the articles posted there, look for the list of links under “Finding the Records for Soldiers, Sailors, & Marines of Kentucky, Ohio, & Indiana.” And, as always, check out the resources on the WWI homepage at HarrisonCountyKy.US.