Tuesday, February 20, 2018

Was Your Ancestor in the Military? It May Not Matter

One of my best family history clues came from a World War II draft registration card for a 64-year-old man.

My grandmother's uncle barely made the deadline for the "old man's registration". In late April 1942, local draft boards recorded facts about men born between 28 April 1877 and 16 February 1897. The men were 45 to 64 years old. How badly did the war have to go before they called up 64-year-old men?

Born four months into the date range, my great uncle was about to turn 65 when he went to the draft board in the Bronx, New York.

His name was Semplicio Saviano, known as Sam. His World War II draft registration card tells me was was 5'6" and had an artificial left eye. My mother remembers being so afraid of him, and her mother would scold her for it. "He's my uncle. Don't be silly!" But maybe it was that fake eye that spooked her as a little girl.

Sam's registration card also tells me that he was living in my mother's building. That confirms her story of seeing him at the end of the hall, staying in a little room that wasn't much bigger than a closet. He lists his sister (my great grandmother) as the person who will always know his address. That makes sense, too, because Sam's wife had died, and my great grandparents owned my mom's building.

But the fantastic clue needed so badly was his place of birth. All I'd ever heard for so many years was that my great grandmother's family was from Avellino, Italy. The problem is Avellino is both a city and a province. So where did they come from?

Although riddled with errors, this draft registration card holds a vital key to my family history.
The answer, though completely misspelled, is printed neatly on the card. It says "Tofo - Province Avilino". I had no doubt that "Avilino" was meant to say "Avellino". So I checked an online map of Avellino for a town with a name anything like Tofo.

Aha! Finally, I had hard evidence pointing to the town of Tufo, Avellino.

Shortly after this discovery, I was visiting the Family History Center in Doylestown, Pennsylvania. It was my first time at a Center, so I was just checking it out. One of the volunteers suggested I look at which films were sitting in their "Italy drawer". Would you believe I found a reel of film from Tufo?

I made a big discovery thanks to that film. Sam was born there, and so was an older brother that no one in my family knew about.

If you're searching for someone in the World War II draft registration cards, keep those birth dates (28 April 1877 and 16 February 1897) in mind. I'd been searching for my paternal grandfather's card for a long time before I realized he was too young. He was born in 1902—probably too old to serve, but too young for this registration.

World War I draft registration cards are important to gather, too. It's another moment in time to see where your relative lived and worked. These cards were filled out on three separate dates, each with its own birth date ranges:
  • On 5 June 1917 they registered men born between 6 June 1886 and 5 June 1896.
  • On 5 June 1918 they registered men born between 6 June 1896 and 5 June 1897.
  • On 12 Sept 1918 they registered men born between 11 Sept 1872 and 12 Sept 1900.
My paternal grandfather fell through the cracks again! He was too young to serve or be registered.

Draft registration card images are available on Ancestry.com and FamilySearch.org. If your ancestor didn't serve, you may have overlooked this important family history resource. Which of your male ancestors should be in these record collections?

If this all seems a bit familiar, I did write about draft registration cards 9 months ago. Finding Sam's place of birth was such an important breakthrough for me, I want to encourage you to find your ancestors' cards, too.

Stay connected! Follow me on Twitter or Facebook and know the moment a new article comes out.


  1. I'll have to remember to look for draft registration cards!

  2. I also wondered about the "old men"s draft registration cards when I saw them for my grandfather and his brothers - all of them pushing 60. Here's my guess: they certainly weren't going to be drafted to fight a war in Europe or the Far East, but were registered just in case, as a last resort if G-d forbid mainland US were invaded. Does that sound like a possible explanation?

    1. I found a good explanation in the first paragraph of this page: https://www.newberry.org/old-mans-draft --

      "The purpose of this registration was to collect information on the industrial capacity and skills of men who were born between April 27, 1877 and February 16, 1897 (ages 45 to 64). It was not intended that these men be drafted into military service but to determine if their labor skills could be used in the war effort. The registration would provide a complete inventory of manpower resources in the United States."


Want to receive email notifications about new posts? Email me at diann@forthecousins.com.