Military records are an incredible resource that can help us learn about our ancestors. Enlistment, discharge, pension, and service records, plus muster-rolls, draft cards and others, can provide valuable biographic and personal information about our family.
Some military records may even provide a physical description of the person – height, weight, eye color, hair color – which can help to paint a picture of the ancestor in the absence of photos. Draft Registration Cards for Word War I and II both collected information about the physical description of the registrant.
My second great-uncle, William Arthur Speedy, registered for the draft in 1918 and was recorded as medium height and build with gray eyes and brown hair. During the registration for World War I, the registrant was also asked Has person lost arm, leg, hand, eye or is he obviously physically disqualified? (Specify). William’s card reads:
“Left index finger entirely gone, also 1st + second joint of second finger left hand.”
Well now I have a better picture of what William looked like! I do have one photocopy of a picture of William, but his left hand is hidden.
These physical descriptions can be helpful in identifying unknown persons in our family photos. This picture is from my grandparents’ collection. Using other pictures, we easily identified the man sitting as Christian Linneman, my great grandmother’s Elisabeth’s brother. It was possible that the man standing was one of the other brothers, probably Gerhard or George since they lived in the same town (William had moved to Chicago).
George Linneman, registered for the draft in 1942 with the following card and information:
Besides learning that he was 5’ 7” and 145 pounds with gray eyes and brown hair, it was noted that he had a
“Fractured Knee-cap” and “Crossed left eye.”
George’s crossed eye is noticeable in this picture (and others) and was the key in identifying him!
Be sure to check out the physical features of your ancestors on the back side of the cards. Draft Registration Cards are accessible for free on the FamilySearch website, and at subscription sites Ancestry and Fold3.
Have you used records to identify an unknown person in a photo?
“United States, World War I Draft Registration Cards, 1917-1918,” index and images, Ancestry.com (https://ancestry.com : accessed 4 June 2018), card for William Arthur Speedy, serial no. 2298, Local Draft Board No. 14, Swissvale, Allegheny County, Pennsylvania; citing World War I Selective Service System Draft Registration Cards, 1917-1918, NARA microfilm publication M1509; imaged from Family History Library roll 1927074.
“United States, World War II Draft Registration Cards, 1942,” index and images, Ancestry.com (https://ancestry.com : accessed 4 June 2018), card for George Linneman, serial no. 1783, Local Draft Board No. 10, Monessen, Westmoreland County, Pennsylvania; citing World War II Draft Cards (Fourth Registration) for the State of Pennsylvania, NARA microfilm publication M1951; National Archives at St. Louis; St. Louis, Missouri.
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