Do not stop at the index, go to the source. Research in the source, read it page by page. See how the book, journal, card file, however it was kept, and then, read about the source, why was this record created, why was it kept, who needed it, who used it, where was it kept, when was it created and how was it used? Examine the handwriting to get used to it and increase legibility, check the organization to see who should be included or excluded from any subset of the data. Use the who, what, where, when, why and how questions to understand the “life and times of the source.” Knowing that certain census books were copied in triplicate helps understand how and why the ditto marks are off.
I listened to my grandpa tell stories about his childhood and his brothers all the time, but never heard any military stories. He was twelve in 1917 and thirty-six in 1941 with a wife, family and farm, he was just not in the age group. Before publishing the story of the Breitensteins in Louisville, I searched for my great-uncles in the World War I Draft Registration cards. My grandfather and his eight brothers were born between 1888 and 1908. I can not imagine my great-grandmother Elizabeth Ann (Steinmetz) Breitenstein, mother of nine boys, sending her six eldest sons off to war much less to register. Technically she might have only sent off four, as Ed and Mike were married with homes, wives and children of their own at the time. Could all the parades and patriotic songs in the world cover that angst?
Researching in the Source is Good, So is Researching the Source
Of the six eligible brothers, the closest to my grandpa was Herman. Here is his card. Herman Joseph Breitenstein, Route “A” Box 161 B, 18 years old born 15 February 1900. He was white, native born, a farmer, worked for his dad Mike Breitenstein and his closest relative was his mother. His parents were at the same mailing address. He was of medium height, medium build with brown eyes and light hair. There are two pre-printed numbers, 563 near the serial number spot and A1633 in the order number spot. The draft board was 16-1-12 Jefferson “C”, the card was signed by Ernest N. King and dated 12 June (sic s/b Sept.) 1918.
Here is Lawrence’s card which has slightly different questions and numbering. Lawrence Jacob Breitenstein RR “A” Box 165 Louisville Ky, 21 years old born 20 March 1897 Jefferson Co., Ky U.S.A. His father’s birthplace was Jefferson Co., Ky he worked for himself at his own address, his nearest relative was Doris Breitenstein his wife at the same address. He was white. He was tall with brown eyes and brown hair. There are two numbers, 121 order serial no and registration no. 34. The draft board was 16-1-12 Jefferson, the card was signed by T. G. Humphreys and dated 5 June 1918.
Next oldest was John Louis Breitenstein. His card is again a little different, questions and numbering. The John L. Breitenstein card was signed by T. D. Chimes Spring Garden Precinct 5 June 1917. Selective Service Draft Board Number 16-1-12 Jefferson “A”. In the top left-hand corner is 345 and in the top right-hand corner was 81 lined out and replaced by 517.
Next would be Uncle Theo aka Theodore Peter Breitenstein with the exact same card and questions as John. Selective service district 16-1-12 Jefferson “A” signed T. D. Chives Spring Garden 5 June 1917. Three numbers 346 in top left hand corner and 78 lined out and 2140 added in.
Mike’s card is next, Michael Henry Breitenstein Jr. Mike Breitenstein Jr. In the upper left-hand corner 347 upper right-hand corner 75 crossed out and 3056 written in. Board 16-1-12 Jefferson “A” signed by T. D. Chines 5 June 1917 in Spring Garden.
Last but not least was the eldest, Edward Lawrence Breitenstein. The number 344 is in the left-hand corner and in the right was the number 89 lined out and 1283 written in. The registrar’s name is not legible to me, though he did write in 5 -8 for height and 140 for build before he wrote in medium for both.
Three of my great-uncles were essentially pacifists, not a popular stance during World War I for Americans of German descent. I didn’t need these cards for their middle names or their birthdates so until I checked them all recently, I never knew about their feelings about war.
These records were created on specific days by enrolling men at the local selective service or draft boards. A double sided card was filled out by the volunteer by asking each man all the pertinent questions and then having him sign it. They were created geographically and stored alphabetically within each district, 4648 districts by state, county, and sometimes city, then microfilmed, subsequently the microfilm was purchased and indexed by various groups. Recently, the microfilm has been digitized and indexed by different entities, Ancestry, Fold3, Heritage Quest, and FamilySearch. So what does this mean? The Breitenstein men/boys who registered for the draft from rural Jefferson Co., specifically my great-uncles from Okolona, Edward Lawrence, Mike, Theo, and John L. in the Spring Garden District registered on the same day along with their cousin, Henry Palmer Breitenstein, but their “intown” first cousins and first cousins once removed, registered in Louisville, most of them in District 2. Lawrence was in the second wave of registrants and Herman in the third.
FamilySearch has a nice explanation of the WWI Draft Registration collection and its known issues. The National Archives includes a description of the 18 rolls of microfilm that contain Indians, Prisoners, Insane, In Hospital, and Late Registrants within M1509. Ancestry also includes history, facts, browsing and search tips for World War I Draft Registration Cards, 1917-1918. At first many of the cards on Ancesetry were connected to the card in front of them rather than their own verso.
Then read about the source in the online database reference notes.
Researchers will find complete coverage of Alaska, Delaware, Florida, Idaho, Mississippi, and Nevada and a good representation from Alabama, Arkansas, California, Colorado, Hawaii, Illinois, Kansas, Louisiana, Maine, Maryland, Massachusetts, Michigan, Nebraska, New York City, North Dakota, Oregon, South Dakota, Texas, Utah and Vermont.
These notes appear to not have been updated as I have located Henritze and Breitenstein men from Kentucky from this file.
Alaska, Arizona, Arkansas, California, Colorado, Connecticut, Delaware, District of Columbis, Florida, Georgia, Hawaii, Idaho, Illinois, Indiana, Iowa, Kansas, Kentucky, Louisana, Maine, Maryland Massachusetts, Michigan, Minnesota, Mississippi, Missouri, Montana, Nebraska, Nevada, New h;ampshire, New Jersey, New Mexico, New York, Northa Carolina, North Dakota, Ohio, Oklahoma, Oregon, Pennsylvnaia, Puerto Rico, Rhode Island, South Carolina, South Dakota, Tennessee, Texas, utah, Vermont, Virginia, Washington, West Virginia, Wisconsin, Wyoming and Alabama.
So these notes are up to date.
Check in the citation section of each database, another way to verify exactly which database you have been searching.
Finally the reason all six men did not register the same day in 1917, to quote the National Archives about World War I Draft Registration cards:
During World War I there were three registrations. The first, on June 5, 1917, was for all men between the ages of 21 and 31. The second, on June 5, 1918, registered those who attained age 21 after June 5, 1917. (A supplemental registration was held on August 24, 1918, for those becoming 21 years old after June 5, 1918. This was included in the second registration.) The third registration was held on September 12, 1918, for men age 18 through 45.
This is the exception that proves the rule. John Hoertz came in to help his grandson Herbert Hoertz Breitenstein fill out a card since he was born in 1900 and did not have all his faculties. While there, John Hoertz may also have filled out a card for his son-in-law. The signatures on this card make no sense, unless George Frederick Breitenstein really was a registrar.