The Washerwoman’s Genes

February 27, 2006

Searching for Mr. M & M s

Filed under: Washboard — by WWG @ 10:33 am

I just learned a few days ago that Ancestry.com has opened the World War I draft registration records to public searching—but just for the month of February. I also read up on the records; registration was mandatory. During another previous free period, I had found my grandmother’s cousin, but not my grandfather. I redoubled my efforts on the assumption that he was there in the records, but obscured by, most likely, a spelling or transcription error.

I searched his name; then I searched a variation; then I searched a mutation. I have learned that plugging in an aberrant version drives spelling weirdnesses to the front of the results; I have found Burgel and Merriman and McNeninam. This time I looked over the first page of results and realized I had strayed into another paradigm: McNamara and McNulty. I clicked on “Next” anyway, because so many times I have made discoveries on the second or third page of results. I scanned.

There it was: John Mcmman. I knew him by his consonants. I clicked on the image. The first word I noticed as the registration card formed on the screen: Plumber. Sure enough, the signature line on the bottom was clear: my grandpa.

But the card had been folded up on itself when photographed for the microfilming. It’s a miracle they got as much of a name as they did from the first line. (Why didn’t the indexer just look down at the signature? Every letter was clear.) His address at that time is covered up (probably it’s the familiar 17th Street family bastion) Also covered is his date of birth, which I would like to know for sure as I search for his birth records, and place of birth. We presume it is Brooklyn, but much about his birth is mysterious, and I would love to know for sure. It may be tragic that I can’t access this part of the record, if I can’t locate his birth certificate in Brooklyn or NYC.

The first line really visible is line 5, listing an address I have never associated with my grandparents, on 47th Street in Brooklyn. (It turns out that this line is for workplace address.) He is self employed.

The reason grandpa was exempted: wife and two children. That would be my dad and . . . Rachel? According to my research,* grandpa’s card is type A, and he would have been registered in the first cycle, for men born between June 6, 1886 and June 5, 1896. The blank type A registration card I accessed at Ancestry indicates they were completed June 5, 1917. Rachel lived between 1915 and 1919. When was Josie born? 1918, I think. The registration occurred before baby John—and his missing twin–was born (July 23, 1917) and died in Oct. 1917. So grandma must have been about to give birth at the time of the registration.

The card tells me little else of use. I already knew my grandfather had no military experience. And the upper right, which contains a physical description, is obscured. I would have loved to have seen that: his hair color (probably brown), his eye color (definitely blue), and his height and weight, here charmingly queried as “tall, medium or short?” (probably tall), and “slender, medium, or stout?” (probably slender). But it’s possible he was blond, and more medium in form. I only remember him as an older bald man, tall of course, as all men are tall to children.

*The Italian Genealogy site has a relevant newsletter article, “World War I Selective Service System Dreaft Registration Cards 1917-1918,” from the Oct. 1997 Newsletter, updated March 17, 1998. The blank Card A downloaded from Ancestry shows the full roster of questions asked.

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