Sunday, May 1, 2011

Separate But Equal? WWI Draft Registrations

This will be a quick post.  It was inspired by a question posed to me by George Geder, of Geder Genealogy, after a comment I made on his recent post about his grand-uncle, Frederick Geder.  George had included a copy of his ancestor's WWI Registration Card, and I noticed right away that, although Frederick was clearly of African descent, the corners weren't cut off of the bottom of his registration paperwork.  So, I inquired about this to George, and responded by asking me to enlighten him about this practice.

Well, I don't have all the details, but I see this as an opportunity to share something (for once) that I'm aware of, and that perhaps others, like George, may not have been.  Quite some time ago, I was engaged in a discussion in what I believe was the Afrigenas chatroom  on this issue.  At that time, although I'd found and save several of my ancestors' WWI Draft Registrations, I hadn't even noticed that, on a large percentage of them, either one, or both of the bottom corners had diagonal cuts on them.  After the chat, I went back into my documents and looked at them, and this was indeed the case.  However, there were some, like that of my my own grand-uncle, William Green (who was passing for White in NY), on which the corners were not cut. (See below.)

Before I responded to George, I googled the topic, and found right away that had a copy of the blank registration form on their site, showing that it was actually a part of the written directions on the form to cut the lower left corner if the registrant was of African descent.  (All this time, I'd been thinking that it was just something that was being done "unofficially".  I know... I should have known better.)  You can see this copy, below:
Screen shot from

Another thing I did after responding to George's query is that I went into my files on Ancestry to take a look at a couple of my ancestors' forms, with the intent to send George a few copies.  I went right to my grandfather, Calvin YARBOROUGH, and his brother, Eugene, because I remembered having theirs and I knew that they had gone (presumably together) on the same date to register.  Upon revisiting their forms, I noticed something interesting:

Here's my great-uncle Eugene YARBOROUGH's first registration form, from June 5, 1917.  Notice the cut corners. World War I Draft Registration Cards, 1917-1918 [database on-line]. Provo, UT, USA: Operations Inc, 2005

 I also noticed the writing across Eugene's registration form, indicating that his registration was "Cancelled by order of the Adjucant General, May 12, 1918.  (I can't read the line under that.)  I guess finding out the reason for that gives me another "mystery" to work on solving.

Now, look at my grandfather's registration.  He and Eugene were brothers, less than two years apart, in age.  The corners are not cut. World War I Draft Registration Cards, 1917-1918 [database on-line]. Provo, UT, USA: Operations Inc, 2005.
Here is a picture of my grandfather, Calvin R. YARBOROUGH, Jr.  Like with George's ancestor, there is no question of his African ancestry.

On that day, my great-uncle Eugene re-registered.  Apparently, September 12, 1918 was the main registration date for Franklin County, NC.   Notice that this time, his corners are not cut, either.  Here's his second registration: World War I Draft Registration Cards, 1917-1918 [database on-line]. Provo, UT, USA: Operations Inc, 2005.

I have visited all of the WWI Draft Registration cards for surnames beginning with D, G, and Y for Franklin County, NC on, and I've found that fairly consistently, the corners were cut for African-Americans.  What made them not cut them for my grandfather and his brother on September 12, 1918, is a mystery to me.
Oh!  I almost forgot: Here is the registration form for my grand-uncle, William A Green.  As you can see, he is designated as White, and his corners are not cut.  What makes this even more interesting (to me) is that less than two decades before this, when he was still a North Carolinean, William had actually served in the 3rd NC Volunteer Infantry, a colored regiment in the Spanish-American War.  Just one of those things that makes you go, hmmmmm, huh? :) World War I Draft Registration Cards, 1917-1918 [database on-line]. Provo, UT, USA: Operations Inc, 2005.

I hope this information has been helpful to other researchers.  If you weren't aware of this distinction being made on the WWI Registration Forms, you might want to go back and take a look at the ones you have for your ancestors, to see how they were "assigned".



Mavis said...


One of the few things I actually knew. Another tidbit of information that I've learned is that for the first registration for WWI, everyman had to sign up on that one day, 5 Jun 1917. Don't know if it was the same for the later registration or not. I've read that at least for that first registration it was actually a big community celebration.

I know I use to think that it was great that my grand uncles signed up together until I realized everyone signed up that day.

Renate said...

Ooooohhh, I didn't know that! Thanks for sharing that with me, and thanks for your comment!


Greta Koehl said...

Fascinating! When I pull up a WWI Draft Registration card, I will often scroll forward and backward in the list. Now I will be watching for those cut corners!

Tonia said...

Wow, this is interesting. I knew about the corner cutting, but like you, I assumed it was more of a custom and not part of the official instructions. (I'm shaking my head as I type this - I'm always stunned at the racist practices sponsored by our government).

Thanks for sharing, Renate!

Kristin said...

I just discovered this recently when looking for WW1 registration cards. some were cut and some weren't on one that wasn't, i think i saw the instruction to cut if the person was african, or was it colored. I hadn't really paid much attention to it before.

Renate said...

Thanks, Greta, Tonia, and Kristin.

I appreciate your comments and your readership!


George Geder said...

Hi Renate,

This is great! Excellent research and analysis. I will look into some of my other ancestors' registration cards to see if this was a hit-or-miss thing or not.

This nation has a lot of questions that need to be answered; especially in regards to military agenda.

Peace & Blessings,
"Guided by the Ancestors"

Saving Stories said...

Thank you for this very informative post and the great screenshots, Renate!

I am so grateful to have been able document family members using the WWI Drafts when I could not locate them any other way at first.


Renate said...

George and Robin, I'm so glad you both stopped by. It still amazes me each time I think about the institutional racism that our country got away with. (And, in some ways, it still happens!) George, thanks again for inspiring me to write this post.


a3Genealogy, Kathleen Brandt said...

Great eye for detail (she says as she digs through her pile of military records). I wonder if all states and counties practiced this. I will have to check. My great uncles/cousins were all in Kansas. Will have to take a look. Thanks for this post!

akellmurr72 said...

Awesome information. I never knew this. Thanks :)